Muslim women in a football league of their own

Her room was plastered with posters of the Liverpool players John Barnes and Jamie Redknapp and she was a regular on the terraces at Anfield. By the time the film Bend it Like Beckham was released in 2002, featuring Parminder Nagra as a footie fanatic, Ms Akhtar, 22, from north London, was streets ahead of her fictional counterpart.

Later this month, she will add to her international experience by captaining Britain's five-a-side football team in the fourth International Islamic Women's Games in Iran.

More than a dozen Muslim women from Britain are travelling to Tehran to compete in the futsal (five-a-side) competition. The week-long tournament features 15 games and 25 countries.

The players, who are sponsored by the newspaper, Muslim News, include mothers and married women as well as students and academics, and most are devout Muslims who have grown up wearing headscarves on the pitch. This will be Ms Akhtar's second visit to the Muslim women's Olympics - she was part of the British team who went in 2001 when the UK became the first non-Muslim country to take part. "It is empowering to play football as a Muslim woman. It goes against what society expects of you, from Muslims as well as non-Muslims, because there's such mixed messages around Islam," she said.

Her love of football began as a four-year-old who learnt to play the game from her two older brothers.

"The best night of the week used to be Saturday when I watched the Match of the Day highlights. By the time Bend it Like Beckham came out, I was already doing it, but without the family conflict. Mine have always been supportive and my mum was really sporty in Pakistan.

"I have always been a Liverpool fan and the feeling on the terraces is fantastic. I went to the Champions League finals in Istanbul in March and everyone was hugging everyone else. I've never had any trouble - often I've been the only one with a headscarf on," she said.

Ms Akhtar, who recently graduated from London University and is due to begin work as an associate at Pricewaterhouse- Coopers, is not the only British Asian woman to have been brought up loving football. Ayesha Abdeen, 21, who has just completed a degree in physiotherapy and is vice-captain of the team, attended a football academy in Richmond, south-west London, as a youngster to develop her skills. "I played for a football academy and was the only Asian and Muslim there. I've always played for local teams. I considered myself more British than English because it feels more multicultural. That's why playing for Britain in a Muslim women's team perfectly encompasses who I am," she said.

The team has faced some recruitment problems as there is a degree of resistance towards Muslim women playing sport from within the community.

Ms Akhtar said she had seen some talented players put under family pressure to give up playing. But she added: "The Koran encourages women to play sport. It's about transforming people's misconceptions."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all