When Zahraa Hendricks ran onto the field to play her first rugby match with the University of Cape Town (UCT), she had no idea what would happen after the game. Cheryl Roberts, a supporter of womenâ€
On a sports field in Cape Town today, a hijab wearing woman rugby player enjoys participating in rugby. And there are no objections to her religious attire on the sports field. In a country like France, a hijab wearing sportswoman was objected to. Not in SA ðŸ“· @cherylroberts00 pic.twitter.com/cSST0TAl8l
â€” cheryl roberts (@cherylroberts00) March 2, 2019
The viral picture of Hendricksâ€
She is a 21-year-old UCT student studying a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Media Studies. Growing up in a sports-enthusiastic family, it was never a big deal that she played sports and with a headscarf at that.
â€œI just started playing [rugby] as well so I have been playing for a few months. I have played touch rugby before but this is my first time playing full contact,â€ she says, adding that she grew up playing rugby because her whole family played it.
â€œAll the males were all playing like my grandfather and my brothers and my nephews and nearly everyone was engaged in the sport and they would always be speaking about. So Iâ€
Hendricks says her family supports her in everything she does. For her though rugby at the moment is just something she is trying out to see if she enjoys her and wants to do further with the sport. â€œIf I do grow and there are opportunities that come my way I will most definitely take it,â€ she said.
She says there has been some negative comments – which she tries to block out – but on the whole itâ€
Wearing a headscarf while playing is something that isnâ€
â€œWhen I started off at practise and when I initially signed up I was wearing my head scarf so it was basically like a part of the package. On the day of the first match someone did ask me if I was going to play with my head scarf and I was like yes, what do you mean. They had never even seen me without my head scarf. Itâ€
While for Hendricks wearing the headscarf is just about being true to herself she does hope it serves as an encouragement for other girls.
â€œIt could open doors for other girls that were like me who always yearned and longed to play a sport or any sport for that matter. There is an opportunity and they might feel confident and inspired to go and ahead do that,â€ she said.
She wishes that young girls donâ€
Hendricks says while she is just starting out with rugby and doesnâ€
Even the physicality of the sport appeals to her she says: â€œI feel it is physically challenging and you really have to work hard. When you put your body on the line itâ€
For the most Hendricks has appreciated the publicity and wants to use it to motivate her. The photo did present an unexpected side for her which is the pressure of being seen as some kind of role model for Muslim women.
However, she feels that as long as she keeps focused on doing this for herself, thatâ€
First-year UCT student Zahraa Hendricks, had no idea that running onto the field for the universityâ€
s womenâ€ s rugby team wearing her hijab would spark a discussion about inclusive spaces.
Read more: https://t.co/JNdcePMxRk
â€” UCT (@UCT_news) March 11, 2019
Whether she continues or not with playing sport, Hendricks finds a lot of inspiration from women in sport. Her particular favourites are athletes Ibtihaj Muhammad and Manal Rostom. â€œThey arenâ€
Niall Williams a New Zealand rugby player is a of Hendricks. Hendricks says: â€œI follow her as well and she is really amazing and she has two children. She is so strong and her work ethic and I love how she does her things. Williams is really amazing.â€
For many Muslim women in South Africa and around the world being visibly Muslim does not even mean being extraordinary. Itâ€