Hijab-wearing Taekwondo champion divides opinion in Turkey

Kubra Dagli won gold with a teammate in the Poomsae category at the World Taekwondo Championships in Lima, Peru earlier this month

Thursday 20 October 2016 14:53 BST
Kubra Dagli of Istanbul won gold for Turkey in an event at the Taekwondo World Championships earlier this month
Kubra Dagli of Istanbul won gold for Turkey in an event at the Taekwondo World Championships earlier this month (Kubra Dagli/Instagram)

A Taekwondo champion from Turkey has sparked a national conversation by challenging stereotypes about women and sport by competing wearing a headscarf.

20-year-old Kubra Dagli, from Istanbul, has been praised for winning a gold medal at the recent World Championships in Lima, Peru, but her clothing choices have managed to eclipse her athletic success.

Both secular and religious elements of Turkish society have strong opinions on Ms Dagli’s position as a sporting role model. As al-Monitor points out, the hijab was frowned upon during modern Turkey’s founding as a secular state, and to many, is seen as a sign of ‘backwardness.’

The reemergence of politicised Islam in the country in recent years has, however, also seen a growing trend towards ‘moral’ anxiety over women’s conduct and propriety, to the extent that in 2014, then-deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said that women shouldn’t smile or laugh in public during Ramadan celebrations, instead remaining “chaste” at all times.

While the conservative-leaning media has mostly praised Ms Dagli’s achievements in showing that “headscarves are not a hindrance,” she has still been pilloried by ultra conservative commentators on social media.

“Why is your head covered, as you already open your legs, enter every position, you can do it with your head uncovered too, this way be sure is more problematic, may Allah give you common sense,” one comment read.

Another advised Ms Dagli her time would be better spent at home, where she could become a champion in reading the Qu’ran instead.

Ms Dagli herself called the criticism “disturbing,” saying in several interviews that she is against discrimination in all its forms, and her professional ability is what matters.

“They don’t speak of my success, but of my headscarf. I don’t want this. Our success should be discussed. We made so much effort... We made our country and our team world champions. This is our joint pride,” she wrote on social media accounts.

The champion said headscarves are permitted by international bodies overseeing the sport - although once in 2013 she had to wear a bandana instead - and the biggest challenge she faces is training during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink in daylight hours.

Asu Maro, a columnist from daily newspaper Milliyet, offered Ms Dagli her support.

“One [sexist ideology] is against covering women’s heads, another against her uncovering, but they unite with the same demand: 'Stay at home,'” she wrote.

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