IN PICTURES: India’s hijabi Muslim woman defies odds to invade male bastion
In recent years, many Indians especially women and youngsters are entering the field of power-centric sports professionally and breaking stereotypes.
Among them is a 23-year old Keralite Muslim girl, Majiziya Bhanu, who has proved her mettle in the world of strength-based sports by winning more than a dozen laurels in powerlifting, body building and arm wrestling events ever since her debut in 2016.
Hailing from Orkkatteri, a small town in Kozhikode District of Kerala, and pursuing dental course at the Institute of Dental Sciences in Mahe, this hijab-clad sportswoman has hogged the limelight and is an inspiration to many youngsters throughout India.
Currently, she is busy preparing for the upcoming 40th World Arm Wrestling Championship to be held in Antalya, Turkey from October 13-21 wherein she will be representing India for the first time in arm wrestling.
Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Majiziya said she was into sports and outdoor activities since her childhood days winning medals in athletic events in school and college.
“I was fascinated by boxing and weightlifting but was unable to pursue them as there were no training academies near my home. In 2016, in my 2nd year of BDS, I enrolled in a boxing training academy in Kozhikode city, 50 km away from home,” Majiziya said.
However, due to her dental braces, her trainer advised her to pursue powerlifting. “I was immediately hooked on to it and practiced the same with determination and dedication. Seeing my performance, my trainer encouraged me to participate at the District Level Powerlifting Competition in July 2016. I won a gold medal in that contest and then started to participate in other powerlifting competitions and began intensive powerlifting training by the end of 2016,” she says.
In the two years since she began her career, Majiziya has already won many national medals in powerlifting while continuing her dental studies. She likes to test her potentials and has debuted in bodybuilding and arm wrestling events; both in which she bagged gold medals.
When asked about her achievements till date, Majiziya narrates at least a dozen accomplishments. She was declared ‘Strong Women of Kerala’ thrice by the Kerala State Powerlifting Association since 2016; won a silver medal in Asian Powerlifting Championship in May 2017 held at Indonesia; bagged silver medal in Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship in December 2017 and was awarded the title of Miss Kerala Fitness Physique Model in 2018.
Majiziya has also been awarded as the “Best Lifter” of 2018 and has won a gold medal in the National Arm Wrestling Championship in May 2018, which qualified her for the World Championship in Turkey. Besides these, she has won numerous medals at district, state and national levels in powerlifting bench press and arm wrestling categories.
“I have intensified my training sessions with my two trainers and train twice a day. I have taken two weeks leave from my college to prepare for this event. I am on a restricted diet presently as I am contesting in the below 55kg weight category,” says Majiziya about her preparations for the upcoming event. In powerlifting, she participates in below 52kg weight category.
Power of hijab
Majiziya has been donning the hijab (headscarf) everywhere; be it at practice or in competitions, which has been highlighted in the media as she is probably the first Indian Muslim sport woman to do so.
Speaking about her views on hijab, Majiziya says: “Hijab is my identity as a Muslim girl and is part of my everyday outfit. I am very comfortable and confident wearing it. It has never limited me in any way rather it has made me feel proud and special”.
According to her, it gives her the strength and dignity to follow her passion while holding onto her religion. “I believe that if a woman is free to show her body, she should be free to cover it as well”, she says.
Reaching this far has come with its fair share of challenges for Majiziya who had to fight some stereotypes along the way. “Initially when I trained for powerlifting, many people were astonished and skeptical seeing a female in hijab lifting weights but gradually due to my dedication and achievements I earned their respect and admiration,” she recalls.
However, throughout her career, Majiziya’s family has extended support, which has made it possible for her to realize her dreams. “I take my inspiration from my mother whose unfulfilled dreams I am living,” says Majiziya.
Majiziya has three trainers to maintain fitness and prepare for various competitions. As a new gym opened closer to her home last year, she now travels to Kozhikode once or twice a month and trains at her hometown gym every evening after college hours.
Her fitness trainer, Shammas Abdul Latheef is all praise of her feats. “I have been training Majiziya since June last year and found her to be a dedicated and focused student who is always eager to prove herself in challenging situations. She is training hard to compete with international athletes at the upcoming event in Turkey,” Latheef said.
Majiziya laments that powerlifting and other such sports lack government and sponsorship support. “I have approached the government many times for my funding; but nothing has materialized so far. I had to miss the Classic Powerlifting Championship 2018 in Canada in June as I was unable to get anyone who could sponsor me,” she says.
According to Majiziya, her participation in all competitions so far has been due to financial support from her family, friends and generous well-wishers.
“Even for this competition in Turkey I had to knock many doors. Several people and companies promised to sponsor me and gave contracts if I won at national level. But when I approached them later, they made excuses. However, timely help from a group of well-wishes in the form of KPK group of companies saved me from missing out on this championship,” she says.
Majiziya is delighted to talk about her dream to build a sports academy in her hometown. “I want this academy to include martial arts, powerlifting, arm wrestling, etc. so that many youngsters, especially girls, get the opportunity to explore their talents and capabilities,” she says.
“For now I want to concentrate on finishing my degree and becoming a good dentist and at the same time participate in many international sport events as possible. After I return from Turkey, I want to start my training in weightlifting and increase my chances of being selected for the Olympics”, says Majiziya.