This year, I decided to start a series of highlighting Libyan athletes in and out of Libya. I believe that sports have an important role to play in any society. It is not only about moving our bodies in different ways and forms based on the type of sport we play but rather, it teaches the person beyond. Sports teach us discipline, dedication, management, respect, teamwork, and support. I was lucky enough that I got the chance to interview the archery player Ebtehal Elkmeshi and I published the first article of this series about her and her journey in this game.
In today’s article, I am highlighting another female player in another sport and that is basketball. This incredible woman is called Ezdihar Abdulmula, a British Libyan who was born in Bradford, England. I reached out to her a few weeks ago for this piece and she agreed and we had an amazing interview.
When Ezdihar was young, she has always loved playing sports. She told me that she would stay after school to join all the sports clubs. She experimented with different sports and that helped her in many ways. She played netball a lot. The only period she didn’t play sports was the period before starting university. For her, those were the most difficult years, academically, and the reason was that she didn’t choose physical education in her studies.
She got into university and she immediately played netball and one day, her friend, Asma Elbadawi, asked her to go with her to a basketball session and it was her first time going with the hijab on and Ezdihar agreed as she never played basketball before. The session was for two hours and she absolutely fell in love with it. It was a much more intense and faster pace game for her in comparison to netball. Therefore, she decided to shift from netball to basketball. It was such a great coincidence for her.
I asked Ezdihar when she started playing basketball and she said that it was in 2012 when she started university and has been playing ever since. She played hundreds of games. She played in university and local leagues. In her master’s, she decided to set up a club with a friend and play local league and it is still going on until now. She played all over the UK and that allowed her to meet people and expand her reach in this game beyond Bradford. She told me she never played against anyone who wore the hijab. However, she hopes she does one day.
Within her team, she has Muslim players who wore hijab but never played against a team that had hijabi players. In terms of the challenges she might have encountered as a player, she hasn’t faced many challenges however they still exist but Ezdihar re-called one incident and she remembers a game in Wales, just before they started the game, one of the table officials approached them and told them they cannot keep their leggings and hijab to play the game but her coach defended her and stood by her. He took the sacrifice telling them that they won’t play if Ezdihar and Asma were not playing but they ended up playing the game and that was incredible.
Also, she was once invited to play a game in Turkey, an American player told them that FIBA (International Federation for Basketball) does not allow any religious headgear to be worn when playing and Ezdihar and her friends realized that no one who wore turban or any other hijab headgear was playing and they researched about it and found out stories about women who had to stop because of this.
So, they started a petition and managed to get over 100 thousand signatures and they eventually made FIBA overturn the religious headgear ban. As she is so passionate about sports, she wants to see more young girls pursuing sports and particularly Muslim girls and not have any restrictions that would stop them from playing freely.
Ezdihar does not only play but she coaches as well. I was curious to know how coaching differs from being a player because I am sure it requires another form of concentration and more effort to guide other players. So she told me that it gives a different perspective and it makes you reflect on how you play as a player as well. When she started coaching, she still thinks that she is new to the game as she has been only playing for 8 years and it is easy for her to understand the game as a whole.
Sports enhance many skills, such as leadership skills and particularly your communication skills. She always tells players to communicate and she was told the same thing when she was playing and she understood the importance of communication, even more, when she coached other young girls. Basketball works through communication and it strengthens the bond between players. It is amazing to see her taking both roles because it adds more to the skills she has and it is another aspect I was excited to know more about.
I could tell by how Ezdihar was describing and telling me things about this sport how passionate she is and how much she cares to make a difference for women in it. Her aspiration in this game is that she always wants to stay connected to it and play. She wouldn’t be the same person she is today if it wasn’t for sports as she said through the interview. She recently got qualified in coaching wheelchair basketball and she aspires to empower more girls through sports and women of ethnic backgrounds, especially in Europe, to pursue sports because it really strengthens many skills. When she used to coach young girls, she witnessed their transformation on so many levels and that inspired her.
Back home, she has always dreamt of Libya having a women’s basketball team. She hopes she can contribute to this. She knows that sports can do so much and it is important to revive the scene in Libya. She knows males who play basketball and they are not much but she doesn’t know any female players. It is something she hopes to see soon.
She heard about the ballet classes in Libya and she thinks that Libyan females are not far from starting a basketball team. She told me that if any aspiring female player or any woman who is passionate about this game can reach out to her and get her feedback on how to start a team and expand. Ezdihar’s experience is valuable.
Interviewing Ezdihar and learning so much about what she is doing as a female player makes me very proud that I know her and that I am sharing her story with the rest of the world to know more Libyan females in sports and their incredible achievements. I hope this piece inspires more people and especially Libyan females to pursue sports. Many thanks to Ezdihar for making this piece a reality.