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Raising a Muslim Daughter As An Athlete: Don't Be Afraid to Love Something Differently

by Arshiya Kherani x Yolanda Melendez |

Happy Mother's Day to all the incredible mamas in our community today. Whether we are able to celebrate together or are remoting into a Mother's Day suhoor/iftar, a special shout out to the moms that hold down the fort everyday. My own mom and grandma actually sewed the first Sukoon hijab prototypes...and for that, I don't know how to repay them, ever. <3

But today, we're catching up with our favorite athletic mom + daughter duo, Yolanda Melendez and Noor Alexandria Abukaram. Here's our chat with Yolanda (previous post features our interview with Noor!)

Yolanda! Thanks so much for sharing Noor's story with us at Sukoon Active. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family? 

Our family is a unique set of circumstances. My husband and I met in college and we both were college athletes. We will celebrate 20 years of marriage this month. We have 5 amazing kids. We are proud of our large family network and strong ties to our community.  I am a daughter of a US Army  Veteran. 

As a mom, what was your reaction to Noor’s disqualification? 

I really didn't believe it at first. It didn't make sense to me. I had every emotion, in the span of twenty minutes. I cried, I laughed, I was enraged.  I really had to dig deep and pull myself together before talking to her and her coach. 

Has anything like this ever happened before, either to Noor or any of your other kids? 

We had few instances, but nothing at this level of competition.  We felt it sometimes on the soccer teams, where we’d find that our girls were targeted with racial and islamophobic slurs. And felt it also when officials would ask for uniform changes that were unreasonable and unfounded. We have learned to move forward and grow thick skin. 

How has it affected your family to deal with such a polarizing issue for your daughter at such a young age? 

Our family is strong, large and unwavering.  We knew that this was not going to be easy, and we discussed the issue, and we left the ball in Noor's court.  It's her experience, it's her right to tell her story, and we ensured her that we supported her decision on how she wanted to proceed. She is strong, my girls are strong! They have to be!

Do you see any conflict at the intersection of Islam and sports?

I feel that Islam and sports complement each other.  To ensure a long life of worship and prayer, one has to be physically able to perform. Islam is not sedentary,  we move, we pray, we gather, we migrate, it's built-in.  We are one ummah and we learn from one another.  Sports are similar. We move together as a team to progress.  It's important that everyone is successful!  Just like in Islam. 

From what I know, you have 5 kids and all of them (both girls and boys) have competed in sports from a young age. Why do you think that’s important? 

Raising an active family was important for my husband and me. We both were athletes in college, high school and grade school. We value what we learned from coaches and teammates, and we want our children to have that as well.  We know the benefits of being active and being part of. something larger than you. It really aligns with our Islamic faith.

What advice do you have for Muslim families who struggle with uniform compliance and their Islamic beliefs? In the US and around the world?

Learn and understand the sport. Does it align with your belief system?  Do your due diligence, to keep the integrity of the sport and practice Islam wholely. If the answer is yes, take a stand. Talk to coaches, see what needs to happen. Seek opinions and advice on how to move forward. Don't be afraid to love something differently.

Thank you so much for joining us Yolanda. We can't wait to see Noor's next steps and we so admire you for raising such courageous, strong Muslim female athletes that inspire us so much!

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