Hijab bodybuilder breaks stereotypes

25th Jan 2019
Hijab bodybuilder breaks stereotypes

(Photo: Majiziya_Bhanu/Instagram)

Aqila Mumthaz

Majiziya Bhanu has bagged the Best Lifter Award in the World Powerlifting Association’s World Cup held in Moscow from December 14 -16 2018. The Kerala hijabi girl won gold in the Open Category powerlifting. The Indian team won several medals and the overall Gold for team points.

All eyes were turned to the hijabi woman who first took to the stage to compete in Miss Kerala, the women’s bodybuilder segment of the Mr Kerala competition in Kochi, Kerala, India, in February 2018. Majiziya Bhanu, 24, proved that the hijab was no hurdle for her or any other woman when she went on to win the competition.

The dental student from Orkatteri in Kozhikode district of Kerala is the only Muslim woman donning a hijab in the world of arm-wrestling and powerlifting. She believes that the hijab is never an obstacle for a woman with burning passion, and if a woman is free to show her body, she should be free to cover it as well.

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Attitude Is A Little Thing That Makes A Big Difference.

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“I reached the international stage with my hijab and if I could do that, I don’t think there is any reason for me to stop wearing that now since it’s a part of my identity, it’s who I am.”

She told The Muslim News that because of her hijab she has faced prejudice and discrimination in many forms but powers through it all. “The kind of powerlifting I’m doing requires a strong mindset and confidence,” she said.

Unlike other contestants, in order to compete, she has to go in early and meet the judges “to grant permission to wear the hijab.”

It took two years for her metamorphosis from an ordinary dental student to a local celebrity, not just in her little village, but across Kerala.

Despite her interest in the sport, training proved to be a challenge; her village did not have any facilities, so every day after her dental classes she would travel sixty kilometres by train to a neighbouring town gymnasium in Kozhikode.

“The village I live in did not have any facilities back then and seeing my interest in fitness, my parents often inquired about activities in other towns,” she said.

“I used to return around 9 pm. Initially, it was tough, but I slowly gained the confidence to travel alone and, eventually, it became a part of my routine.”

Bhanu wears her hijab be it at practice sessions or during competitions. “I feel proud to wear the hijab, which is a part of my identity. It does not limit me in any way but gives me dignity and strength.”

“In the initial days, men used to stare at me as I had my hijab on. But soon they realised that I was as serious as them in my workouts. Then all the eyes disappeared,” she said.

Today, she is an inspiration in her village for many other girls like her. After her success, the village has now got its own gym, which is frequented by women just as much as men.

“Many young girls and women have started coming to me to seek advice on what needs to be done as they also want to do what I am doing. Now there is a gym in my village,” she said, adding that now she goes to Kozhikode only three to four times a month.

Bhanu grabbed a gold medal in the National Arm Wrestling Championship held in Lucknow which made her eligible to represent India for the World Arm Wrestling Championship in October 2018.

Companies that previously agreed to sponsor her backed out and she was almost unable to represent her country until a few well-wishers stepped in and offered to sponsor her trip.
“Five or six companies had promised to sponsor me for the World Championship. Some of them have even helped me in other championships. But after receiving all the media publicity

I received in the last few months, they have refused to fund me. When you sponsor a Muslim woman sportsperson, things are different. It is not like sponsoring any other player. They do not want their names to be attached to a hijab-clad sportswoman; there’s still a stigma associated with a Muslim woman venturing out into sports, especially the way I do.”

Banu told The Muslim News she has struggled to find sponsors as “they think that sponsoring me might affect their reputation.” She added that some sponsors have gone as far as telling her they would be willing to sponsor her if she competes without her hijab.

After many difficulties in finding sponsors for the World Arm Wrestling Championship 2018 that was held in Turkey, she managed to participate under the senior women’s 55kg category for both right and left handed.

In addition to winning national medals in powerlifting and arm-wrestling; she also continues her dental training. She said her first goal is to finish her studies as it is her parents’ dream to make her a medical professional.

Her childhood dream was to break the mould and represent her country all over the world while making her parents proud and she plans to do this by competing and encouraging other girls to feel empowered to do the same.

“I will pursue my dream of setting up an academy which will be a multi-disciplinary one, including martial arts, powerlifting, arm-wrestling and bodybuilding. It would give special importance to girls. I am sure I will be able to pursue my passion and wish to empower women.”

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