CHARLOTTE, August 7, 2012 — Saudi Arabia’s first female Olympian has returned home, but the reception, which should have been applauded within the Kingdom, was either ignored or harshly rebuked domestically.
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkhani, the 16-year old judoku, who was soundly beaten in her opening match and clearly outclassed by her field of opponents, received global recognition for her groundbreaking appearance.
Internally however, Shaherkhani suffered a barrage of insulting racial comments on social media outlets including being called a “prostitute” by some Saudis.
Two other Islamic countries, Qatar and Brunei, also permitted women to compete in the Olympics for the first time, but none has been as controversial as Saudi Arabia’s concession. As women continue to battle for rights and reform within the Kingdom, the state is holding firm to its commitment to a hard line against female athletics.
Reporting of Shaherkani’s participation in the games has been virtually non-existent within the state-sanctioned media including The Arab News which is the daily English-language newspaper within Saudi Arabia.
Despite the Kingdom’s attempts to restrict female athletes, the Saudi Arabia’s stance is steadily becoming more formidable to justify internationally, even within the Muslim world.
A second female athlete will compete under the Saudi flag on Wednesday when Sarah Attar runs in the women’s 800 meter track and field competition.
Dr. Qanta Ahmed, Associate Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York Stony Brook, and the author of In the Land of Invisible Women, disputes the idea that earliest 7th century beliefs in Islam were as restrictive as they are today.
As Ahmed writes, “The thrill of physical activity, perversely forbidden by the Saudi government, was one Muslim women have long known. There was no immobilization of women in the early Islamic era. The Prophet’s wife was famed (as recorded in the Hadith) for her playful races against her husband the Prophet—who called play and folly with one’s spouse integral to a happy and fulfilled Muslim marriage.”
The controversy among Islamic states widens with the fact that Qatar will host the World Cup Soccer Tournament in 2022. It is the first time a Muslim country has been chosen as the home nation for such an event which also means that fans will be allowed to drink beer at tournament games.
The coup for Qatar is a thorn in Saudi Arabia’s side which is witnessing a number of Islamic cultural mores gradually disappear. Qatar’s success has resulted in a massive program for the development of sports facilities and training programs within the country.
Just across the causeway from Saudi Arabia, on the island nation of Bahrain, women are allowed to drive, there are open bars and pork is sold in many stores.
On weekends, which are Thursdays and Fridays in the Islamic world, traffic on the causeway between the Kingdom and Bahrain can take hours to complete the commute as Saudis scramble to escape the restrictions of their country.
Recently, Human Rights Watch published a scathing report titled Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia which outlines and decries the Kingdom’s cleric’s misguided objections to women’s sports.
Saudi Arabia’s vice-like grip on its society is reminiscent of the internal decline that led to the fall of communism in Easter Bloc countries in 1989. Slowly women’s voices are being heard within the Kingdom. It will likely be their influence, and not that of the West, that will change the thinking of those in power in the desert kingdom.
So while the pioneering efforts of Wodjan Shaherkhani and Sarah Attar may go largely unrecognized or reviled within Saudi Arabia, they have made serious inroads into women’s rights within that nation.
To paraphrase the words of astronaut Neil Armstrong, they have taken “one small step for women, one giant leap for womankind.
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. He played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte. Taylor is founder ofThe Magellan Travel Club which creates and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries.
Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check hislist on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.
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