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.”
This heated, yet supportive, media blitz led up to the IWF meeting where a decision would be made. Kulsoom developed a presentation and planned to attend, but she was not allowed to. The outlook was initially bleak, and all she could do was get the presentation out on her own and wait. She recalls praying “that whatever is going to be the best situation would happen.” Then, just a few days after the meeting, she received their response.
It was a yes.
After a series of setbacks, Kulsoom Abdullah was finally cleared for national competition. She would be able to compete while dressing in a way that honors her religion. The burden was lifted. Kulsoom and her advocates were thrilled, and now she has already begun training for the next competition.
While the focus of her story has been on her Muslim beliefs, Kulsoom hopes that her inspirational story can impact all women. She hopes it helps them “to consider all sports. A lot of women won’t think about weightlifting because it is considered a masculine sport.” Those statements tell you all you need to know about Kulsoom Abdullah. She is strong in both mind and body, and her most central hope is that others would be inspired by her story. She also hopes that these changes will ultimately help the sport by allowing more diversity.
Though much has been accomplished, this is just the beginning of her journey to national competition. Now Kulsoom must secure sponsorships and donations in order to enter the competitions. She will continue to pursue her dream of competing in national weightlifting competitions, and you can follow her at her website!