In today's Guardian:
Fewer than one in five women do enough exercise, and many Muslim women are among them. But, says Peta Bee, with specially designed sportswear and single-sex classes on the rise, this could soon change.
.....Muslim societies, in general, do allow women to exercise; in fact, Islam positively encourages physical activity for both sexes. But, in some Muslim communities, female participation in sport and fitness is permitted only on the condition that women adhere to their religion's code of modesty. And for many Muslim women, outside of school PE lessons, there is little opportunity to exercise. For some women, swimming in public pools is not an option, and neither is any activity where men will be present......
Rimla Akhtar, chairwoman of the Muslim Women's Sports Foundation (MWSF), based in Harrow, says: "Religiously, there is still concern that sport is wrong but there are definite signs that this is being overturned with the younger generation." Every week, the MWSF runs two-hour training sessions in north London, which attract budding female footballers from as far afield as Leicester and Leeds. And at the East London Mosque, the Hayaa Fitness Centre holds yoga, kickboxing and other similar sessions. Zaynab Shirji, 23, who works out regularly there, says that the difficulties of finding a suitable fitness venue "mean that in the past many Muslim girls ended up doing nothing. There are still relatively few places Muslim women can get fit."
In Birmingham, the Sisters Games initiative, launched last year, provides Muslim women with single-sex sporting opportunities and exercise classes that allow them to adhere to Islamic values. Akhtar says a huge breakthrough was made when Britain became the first non-Muslim country to take part in the Muslim Women's Games, a four-yearly championship run like a mini-Olympics. Many of those who took part in the 2001 and 2004 competitions, including Akhtar, say they were inspired to take up sport by the emergence of elite Muslim women athletes from other countries. High-profile role models include Nawal el Moutawakel of Morocco and Hassiba Boulmerka of Algeria, both Muslims who have won Olympic track golds. Boulmerka was often forced to train outside her country after being criticised there for training in athletic vest and shorts.
For further evidence that a cultural shift is imminent, look to the £160bn-a-year global sportswear industry, which has started to turn its attention to the spending power of the 650 million women who practise Islam.
Meanwhile, an Australian designer, Aheda Zanetti, has come up with the so-called burqini - a two-piece bathing suit. Struggling to cope with demand for the outfit, Zanetti says it has been adopted by Australia's new Muslim women lifeguards and some swimmers with Olympic potential.
Zanetti has also developed what she calls a "hijood" - a hijab shaped like a hood. She explains: "As an active young Muslim girl I found it difficult to participate in most sports because of all the excess clothes I had to wear" ·