Book review: Fighting against all odds, a journey of a Muslim woman

25th Sep 2020
Book review: Fighting against all odds,  a journey of a Muslim woman

Born Fighter By Ruqsana Begum. Pp 298 Pages. 2020. Simon and Schuster. Paperback. £12.99

Representation matters. It matters in all our walks of life. It allows the diversity of the talent in our communities to shine. Ruqsana Begum’s — a Muay Thai World Champion — story is a testament to that. Begum, like so many Muslim women, has to grapple with the expectations of an immigrant community who want nothing more than economic and social stability.

However, growing up in East London, Begum chances upon a boxing gym and begins a life- long love affair with combative sport — not quite your typical Muslim girl love story. She shows us that Muslim women can achieve and improve the crafts we specialise in, adding a layer and richness of culture to our stories.

Begum is a Bangladeshi woman raised in a practising Muslim home and her personal journey sounds very familiar to many of us — if not all. She grew up in Bethnal Green in a small flat with her siblings, her grandparent and parents. She was expected to go to mosque, to finish her chores and get married one day.

Winning a trophy in a combative sport does not fit into that narrative. Begum, for the sheer love of the sport, doggedly keeps training, in secret at first, and fighting irrespective of — what could be debilitating — conditions including a messy divorce and a chronic fatigue disease.

It is a story of how her fitness and training journey fired her personal growth. ‘That was my mentality: even if I have to die, even if I have to lose an arm, I am going to give it my all because I don’t want any regrets.’ (p171).

Her determination and grit, which she seemed to have in abundance, was developed in the boxing ring and it helped time and time again overcome obstacles. At each point, it is her love of the sport and the fight that brought her back.

In addition to her battle with ME (a chronic fatigue syndrome), Begum also had to experience — according to her — severe bullying from her fellow gym partners who resented her success. She went to compete at home and abroad, before winning the Muay Thai world championship in 2010.

Begum was signed on by David Hayes and stepped into the professional boxing arena which was a whole different world to Muay Thay. When questioning whether she should step into boxing her brother pointed out that no one looked like her in the realm of sports. She writes, ‘I felt a responsibility to try to make a difference.

Because I believed I could do so much more for my community by challenging myself — by coming out of my fear and all those emotions, I was feeling and trying to suppress. Whether I became a world champion or not, it doesn’t matter. Just stepping into that boxing arena is going to have a huge impact.’(p255).

What started as a hobby for Begum has become a quest for representation paving the way for others in our communities a viable choice to pursue the sport.

his book is well written, very easy to read — thanks to Sarah Shephard the ghostwriter. However, I am uncomfortable with the repeated mention of individuals (and their actions) that Begum has had personal disagreements with.

I understand that the actions of others have had an adverse effect on her life, but to mention their actions when they are not given an equal platform to present their views seems highly unfair.

Aasiya I Versi

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