For this teen passionate about boxing, her fight to go toe-to-toe with an opponent goes far beyond the ring. She’s fighting for the right to compete in her hijab.
Amaiya Zafar, 16, started boxing three years ago and is already making waves in the boxing community. Not only is the Minnesota teen competing in a male-dominated sport, but she’s also a devout Muslim.
“When I walked into a real boxing gym for the first time, I knew this was it for the rest of my life,” she said.
In the ring, Zafar wears a hijab, long sleeves and leggings under her uniform. She was disqualified at a bout in November for wearing her hijab; it violated USA Boxing uniform regulations.
“Why should I have to compromise the sport that I love? This is my life.” Zafar told WCCO. “I go to the gym every single day; why should I have to compromise that for my religion?”
She continued to train several days a week and study matches, just waiting for the chance to compete in the ring.
— Mohammad Zafar 💧 (@Mohammadzafar) January 3, 2016
Zafar, her family, gym (Circle of Discipline) and The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, have been petitioning the USA Boxing Association to add a religious exemption to its policies.
“You know, the battle is not given to the swift but to he who can endure it to the end,” Zafar said. “At the end of the day, if I never get to compete but get the rule changed so other Muslim girls in the US can compete, then I have won.”
The amateur boxer just won a victory last week that will allow her to compete in her religious attire. The USA Boxing Association granted Zafar a wavier to compete at local matches.
“USA Boxing is excited that our youth boxing programs attract stellar athletes from diverse walks of life, and we are in the process of amending our domestic competition rules specifically to accommodate the clothing and grooming mandates of our boxers’ religions,” said USA Boxing spokesperson Mike McAtee in a statement to CNN. “These rules will provide exemptions so that athletes can box without running afoul of their beliefs.”
Years in the making, this weekend will be Zafar’s first official match where she is allowed to wear her hijab. And, she’s also making boxing history.
She will be the first boxer allowed to fight in a USA Boxing-sanctioned event while wearing hijab, according to CAIR.
“It starts with one person, and it doesn’t matter how small you are. It takes one person to spark change,” she said.
Zafar has her eyes set on the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. She has already started petitioning the International Boxing Association to have a religious exemption added to the rulebook.