NEW DELHI, India, Jan 18 (IPS) – As a Muslim woman who was born and raised in Denmark, Nadia Helmy Ahmed broke many stereotypes when she started boxing at the age of 15. “Back then it was not common for girls to get involved in elite boxing, let alone Muslim girls, I was the only girl in my gym along with ten other boys,” Nadia told IPS News.
Elite boxing is defined by who the boxers fight, how they fight, and how they consistently handle high level competitions. Nadia has been an elite boxer for over 15 years and one of the few ten Danish women in sport to represent Denmark at world championships.
“Being a girl in a male dominated sport means learning to deal with all of the obstacles that come with it. Sometimes you are treated differently, both within the sports community and outside the Muslim community. At times the tone in the gym can be a little harsh, but I quickly learned to turn that direct language into positive fuel.
“Boxing happened in my life by chance and I fell in love with the sport and it stayed with me. I am fortunate to say that my family has always been very supportive and that’s why I was able to pursue my passion, ”said Nadia.
As a boxer, Nadia continues to question various gender stereotypes and cultural discourses. Nadia says, “By living my life the way I imagined it, I have challenged many norms and expectations of what a Muslim woman should look like, what she should do, what her goals and ambitions should be. I’ve chosen a different path for myself, a different path, and I feel at home when I work out. ”
Part Egyptian, part Danish, Nadia says she no longer wants to be caught between the discourse about identity and nationality, between her parents’ countries of origin and her own country of residence.
Almost 320,000 Muslims live in Denmark, which is around 5.5 percent of the population. The country’s share is thus slightly higher than in the rest of Europe. Since mainstream political parties began to take action against immigrants, more Danish Muslims claim to have suffered verbal abuse, marginalization and hate crimes, according to a report published in Reuters. Immigration to Denmark has become a particularly strong issue in elections.
In December 2020, the Danish government decided to separately classify people from or with inheritance in mainly Muslim countries and regions in their official crime statistics. A step that has been deeply criticized by many. The Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye supported the differentiation of the people of Denmark from the heritage of the Middle East and North Africa.
“Pluralism is based on trust and recognition between people, whether they like it or not,” said Nadia. Religion plays an important role in cultural encounters, also because it highlights differences and opens up new insights into plurality and community. As Muslim women, we must use our understanding of liberal European politics to protest against the exclusion of immigrants from the public.
“I long for an attitude of cultural dignity, for a moral community of mutual acceptance and purpose. The crucial problem for us was to achieve a status in which it is both legitimate and acceptable to be a Muslim woman and a Danish woman at the same time, ”said Nadia.
In recent years Nadia has passed on her passion for boxing to Muslim girls in local communities who live in Braband in Gellerup, an area to the west of Aarhus, where Denmark’s largest housing associations are located. Nadia encourages women to empower themselves by teaching them how to use their physical and mental strengths.
“When I started coaching young girls from the community, I wanted to transfer my passion for boxing to them. My mission was to empower them, to empower them, to give them a space in which they can be themselves and at the same time have fun using their bodies, ”said Nadia.
“Boxing is a way of life. The combination of body and mind in sport gives a smaller picture of life itself. If you think you can’t give more, there is always a little more to give in sport. Without individual strength and power it is impossible to fight for your rights and a better society, ”said Nadia.
Integration remains a debate and challenge for those who come to Denmark, especially from Muslim countries. Human rights organizations have reported numerous violations of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers and have often described Danish policy towards immigrants as one of the most aggressive in the western world. In the current climate in which European countries have opened their doors to immigrants and refugees, it is important for Denmark to rethink its value-based policies, which have become one of the main reasons for the polarization of countries, especially towards their immigrants, theirs Religion and identity and culture.
According to Nadia, the way for Denmark is to identify the challenge of integration without politicization and to interpret differences and similarities in real contexts and to define common goals and interests.
Sania Farooqui is a journalist and filmmaker from New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show, which invites Muslim women from around the world to share their views.
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