4:20pm 11/10/2023
The silence of the sports minister and Malaysian women about syariah-compliant gymnasts
By:Mariam Mokhtar

The PAS state government’s ban on Muslim women gymnasts wearing leotards and other form-fitting clothes is a regressive act and one that may change the course of participation of Malay women in sports.

We are still reeling in shock over the PAS directive because there has been a concerted and continuous attack by the conservative elements in our society on the Malaysian rakyat.

Malaysians who visit government departments are told to cover their aurat. Stewardesses’ uniforms are criticized for being figure-hugging. Business owners are fined and punished for wearing shorts even in their own business premises.

Trolleys and lifts are not spared, either, as many goods and services now have to be syariah-compliant.

On Oct.9, the PAS-led Terengganu government said it would not rescind its decision to bar women athletes from gymnastic events because their attire was non-syariah compliant.

As a result of this ruling, the state’s women gymnasts were given the option to do wushu martial arts. If they chose this sport, they had to prepare and train for the upcoming Sukan Malaysia (Sukma) Games. At the same time, the Terengganu Gymnastics Association (PGNT) said it would focus on its male athletes.

What good does this ruling by PAS politicians do? It’s all about control.

Have any of these men given their decision much thought? Have they considered the consequences of their action?

What gives these male politicians the right to impose their religions inhibitions on the rest of the population, especially the women?

How are Malay women going to represent their nation on the world stage when we have clerics or conservatives in charge?

Placing numerous restrictions on Malay women will eventually lower their self-confidence and contribute to the feeling of insecurity.

The PAS ruling fractures society. It pits men against women because as we have just seen from the gymnasts experience, the PGNT will now focus on their male athletes.

The PAS ruling fractures society along religious and ethnic lines. Muslim females have to observe the restrictions on their clothing but non-Muslims are not covered by syariah-compliant laws.

The female athlete has to work twice as hard to excel in her field to be chosen to represent her state or nation, but it appears that the Muslim female athlete is not allowed to reach her full potential in her chosen sport, not because she is not disciplined or good in her sport, but because she has to satisfy the syariah compliance laws.

The PAS ruling is not just regressive but it kills any burning desire of our women athletes to fulfill their ambitions on the sporting field.

Most Muslims are Malay and therefore Malay women face intense pressure from the most absurd source–the PAS politicians clothing directive.

The east coast of Peninsular Malaysia is physically divided from the west coast by the Titiwangsa Range. Just like the mountain range, the PAS ruling fractures Malaysia by region because the east coast is more conservative than the west coast.

The PAS ruling fractures society along gender lines. Muslim males, like their non-Malay peers, are more or less free to wear whatever they choose. Muslim female athletes have no such liberties.

The PAS ruling fractures sports. How can female Muslim athletes be subject to so many restrictions while their male counterparts are not? Non-Muslim athletes don’t have this additional stress.

The gymnast’s attire allows for maximum freedom of movement. Gymnastics requires a lot of flexibility and agility, and the leotards serve this purpose; but why is their seemingly no widespread and public opposition to the PAS directive?

Why is Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh silent on this issue? Don’t the women athletes deserve her support, if she has not already made an announcement about this ruling?

The use by certain politicians of syariah-compliance rules to cover many aspects of Malaysian life presents many challenges.

Syariah-compliant clothing for Muslim athletes is not just a huge distraction, but it is unnecessary. The women are competing in high level sports. It appears that education has failed many of the conservative politicians. It also shows the way these rules are made by men, for women.

These rules are about control, i.e., men’s control over the women. How she dresses. How she behaves and conducts herself in public and in the privacy of her own home. Who she socializes with.

In Malaysia, the Malay woman can only do something if the man gives her his permission.

The PAS ruling is not just regressive but it kills any burning desire of our women athletes to fulfill their ambitions on the sporting field. When will Malay women get the respect they deserve?

When will Malay women take the initiative and stop Malay male politicians from controlling their lives?

The nation suffers because of the actions of a few Malay men, and the apathy of the rest of the Malaysian community.


Malaysiakini: Barred over attire, T’ganu gymnasts to compete in wushu

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)


Mariam Mokhtar


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