Lifting a Heaven Burden
The inspiring story of a Muslim weightlifter who never gave up on her dream
After this response the situation began to impact her lifting; “Sometimes it was hard because a lot of the lifts are mental,” she said, “you have to really be focused.” It was in those down days that her story became known to CAIR, the Council on American-Islaimic Relations, an advocacy group that seeks to take on Muslim stereotyping and pursue equality.
Until this point, Kulsoom had been taking most of the rejection inward. However, the research she had done about women who faced similar challenges combined with the interest of an organization like CAIR, made her realize that this cause was much bigger than her individual situation: “Part of that was my faith, and part of it was thinking about other people, “ she says, “not necessarily just Muslim women, but women of other faiths that dress conservatively and maybe had never thought about being in a sport.”
Despite her resistance to being in the public eye, Kulsoom agreed to have a press release issued in expectation of the International Weightlifting Federation meeting that took place in June. The IWF is the body that determines the rules that the national competitions follow, and Kulsoom hoped they would hear her request. The press release was intended to bring awareness, and it did. There was a huge influx of support and media interested in her story. She even got coverage in her families’ native country of Pakistan.
Of course, detractors were fervent as well. The media articles published after the press release were often followed by disdainful comments. Many claimed that if she wanted to be in the sport then she should play by the same rules. Her response to that claim represents her overall attitude – “If you can include more people, isn’t that the whole attitude of the sport?”
Another, more alarming response, has been an expressed fear that she and other Muslims are trying to take over the sport and change it. This was particularly difficult to see for someone who didn’t desire the public eye: “if people look at my story they don’t even know me or who I am,” says Kulsoom, “I’m just asking to participate, I’m not telling people they have to do this.”
Support was also not consistent within her religion. While many Muslims have supported her, some even asking her to come speak to their youth, more conservative Muslims expressed concerns over weightlifting also being a male sport or over a woman being out in such a public position. Even with those discouragements, Kulsoom was positive: “I can understand that perspective and the context that it would exist in. If you’re in a different country and the situation is different.”