Islam negates the possibility of women living conventional lives. Here in Glasgow, they are just now learning to ride bikes. One of the group’s first members, Mahnoor Sultan Campbell, prides herself on being able to take a wheel off, using the quick-release function that is basically the standard on all bike wheels today and involves nothing more than the turning of a small handle. In self-congratulatory fashion, she tells the reporter “I am not the damsel in distress.”
I’ve written before about Nike’s sports hijab and the dangers of getting overheated and dehydrated due to excessive and unnecessary sweating caused by wearing a hijab during training and sports events. And that’s not to say that your average Muslim mother, whose body has delivered upwards of eight children and hasn’t seen a day’s exercise in her life, will be peddling furiously as though possessed around the cycle paths of her local area on some kind of hell-bent mission, with her black robes whipping out behind her in the wind and the dust that she leaves in her wake; it’s simply to say that the chosen outfit will again impede her and dictate her ability and performance, as well as challenging her to adapt that outfit to a cyclist’s life.
This Glasgow group calling themselves “the Hijabi riders” have indeed taken this into consideration, and have modified their clothing so that they can be modest as they cycle. Possibly aware of the women who have been killed because of their clothing, group member Shgufta Anwar pulls a large dress tunic from her bag and says, “This is called an abaya… it’s quite long, it’s quite floaty, and there’s quite a lot of material that would catch in various bits of the bike and would probably kill you, because you could topple over quite easily.”
We may hope that she has learned the lessons from two of her sisters who regrettably met their ends whilst wearing their traditional and restrictive Islamic garb. One lady was strangled to death as the material of her burka caught in the wheels of a go-kart in Australia. Some fairs have policies against certain types of clothing being worn on their rides in a bid to ensure the public’s safety. A state fair in New York was met with mobs of outraged Muslims, and two park rangers were hospitalised, after Muslims determined that the safety policy of banning head coverings on rides didn’t apply to them, and that it could only have been initiated on the grounds of religious discrimination, and had nothing to do with health and safety. It’s not just on fun-fair and adventure rides that Islamic clothing poses a threat, either. Another woman was killed as her headscarf got caught in an escalator in a Canadian subway station.
But what about peripheral vision, which is critical when cycling on roads and also on paths through woods that are shared with dog-walkers? Cyclists are notorious for creeping up on each other, and for cycling in packs during rush hour, and the headscarves the women in the article are wearing do have lengths of material hanging down at either side which could easily be whipped across their face and eyes by a strong wind or from the air forced up by a passing vehicle as it overtakes them. Dogs are notorious for bounding out from nowhere as they chase small animals and balls on their walks.
Unless a hijab is skin tight like a swimming cap, it will move from side to side as the person goes about their journey looking for oncoming traffic from left and right, and end up restricting the rider’s vision with a constant need for readjustment. There’s room for improvement in relation to Muslimas riding on bikes, and while I’m not advocating for them to be lycra-clad from head to toe, as so many cyclists are, they can do themselves and fellow bike-riders and motorists a favour by becoming less visually religious on their rounds.
Just last week a Muslim woman was killed whilst riding her bike in London at a notorious intersection. I’m not suggesting it was her fault, but as usual, the reporting doesn’t go beyond meaningless sentiments such as “the go-to girl” and “truly kind soul,” so we’ll never know if her hijab was a factor. But at least Muslims in Glasgow, in relation to women riding bicycles, seem to be more progressive than their counterparts in the Islamic world; a fatwa in Iran states that riding bikes is haram.