After record breaking performances, her dream to play professionally quickly ended due to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rule prohibiting head gear larger than five inches. Unwilling to stray in her beliefs, Bilqis chose faith over basketball. Through an op-ed published by TIME, an open letter signed by Olympic, retired and professional athletes, high-level speaking engagements and interviews with BBC Sport – and their 55 million strong audience, Bilqis raised her voice for the next generation while her own dream was benched. In May 2017, FIBA overturned the hijab ban.
From a young age, Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir knew she wanted basketball to be a part of her life. After first picking up a ball at the age of four at a local YMCA, Bilqis’ love for the game began. Living in a practicing Muslim household, Bilqis was to follow her religious beliefs as she grew older. She began wearing a hijab, a traditional head covering for Muslim women, and practiced modesty on the court by covering all skin except her hands.
She became a standout at New Leadership Charter School in Springfield, Mass. where she excelled on the court and in the classroom. As class valedictorian, Bilqis also set the Massachusetts state record for both boys and girls, with 3,070 points scored – breaking Connecticut and WNBA star Rebecca Lobo’s previous state record of 2,740. She was also named the state’s 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American nominee.
She parlayed her skills into a full ride scholarship to the University of Memphis where she played four years (2009-13) and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in exercise science. During her freshman year at Memphis, she was invited to the White House for Ramadan feast and was acknowledged by President Barack Obama as the first Muslim woman to play covered in collegiate basketball.
In 2011, Bilqis was awarded the United States Basketball Writers Association “Most Courageous” award at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in recognition as the first Muslim woman to play covered in NCAA history.
Bilqis battled through a torn ACL during her freshman season and wrapped up her time as a Tiger in 2013. Using her extra year of NCAA eligibility, Bilqis transferred to Indiana State where she led the Sycamores to a Missouri Valley Conference title on her way to becoming the league’s Newcomer of the Year. She ranks 10th all-time in a single season for points scored (454), was also named First Team All-MVC, Second Team Scholar Athlete and earned a combined seven conference Player, Newcomer and Scholar Athlete of the Week awards.
Her goal was to continue playing professionally in Europe, but quickly ended due to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rule prohibiting head gear larger than five inches. Unwilling to stray in her beliefs, Bilqis chose faith over basketball and became an advocate working alongside other Muslim players who began a Change.org petition and with Shirzanan Media and Advocacy Organization as an Athlete Ambassador. Through an op-ed published by TIME, an open letter signed by Olympic, retired and professional athletes, high-level speaking engagements and interviews with BBC Sport – and their 55 million strong audience, Bilqis raised her voice for the next generation while putting her own dream was benched. Both a full-length documentary film “Life Without Basketball” and a 14-minute activist film entitled “FIBA Allow Hijab” have been developed by Pixela Pictura to share Bilqis’ story.
She has started an online campaign called “Muslim Girls Hoop Too” to raise awareness for Muslim women in sports with emphasis on female basketball players. Through her campaign, Bilqis was once again invited to the White House in March 2015 for the Muslim Leaders Meeting as one of 15 representatives that met with President Obama and his senior officials. That experience led her to an invitation to the 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll where she was able to raise awareness for physical activity under the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign.
After earning her master’s degree in May 2015 at Indiana State, Bilqis sought to inspire young Muslim women through sport as an instructor and motivational speaker.
In May 2017, FIBA overturned the hijab ban. Bilqis has not decided if she will revive her dream to play professionally, but she will continue to advocate for the human right to sport.
Muslim Girls Hoop Too: A Personal Narrative
Dribbling Down Barriers: Clearing Misconceptions
We Belong in All Spaces: The Importance of Diversity