Mashallah! Allah Grants Her Hard Work.

In a momentous and emotional night in Adelaide, Moroccan defender Nouhaila Benzina etched her name in history by becoming the first player to wear a hijab at a senior FIFA World Cup. Her groundbreaking appearance on the pitch was part of Morocco’s historic victory against South Korea, securing their first-ever win at a Women’s World Cup.

Morocco, one of the eight debutant teams at the tournament, showcased a remarkable performance, responding courageously to their initial 6-0 defeat by Germany. The win not only marked their first goal and clean sheet but also demonstrated the rapid closing of the gap between established and emerging powers in women’s football.

Benzina’s appearance was more than just a milestone for Morocco; it served as a symbol of inclusion in a sport that, in the past, did not allow hijab-wearing women to play. Her visibility as a role model provided inspiration and hope to millions of hijab-wearing Muslim women and girls worldwide, proving that they too have a future in football.

However, the journey leading up to this moment was far from easy. Historically, football authorities had not created space for players like Benzina. In 2007, FIFA and IFAB banned a young Canadian player from competing while wearing a headscarf, citing health and safety concerns, as well as labeling the hijab as “religious symbolism.” The ban extended to the international level, resulting in Iran’s exclusion from competing in an Olympic qualifier.

Former Matildas vice-captain Moya Dodd, part of a round-table meeting to discuss the issue, argued against the ban, pointing out the lack of evidence to support the safety concerns and the need for inclusivity and freedom for Muslim women worldwide.

Thankfully, in 2014, FIFA lifted the ban on hijabs, and companies began designing hijabs specifically for sports with breathable and flexible materials to adhere to governing regulations. The under-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan, held in 2016, marked the first FIFA-sanctioned tournament where women footballers wore headscarves.

While international football has embraced this change, there are still places where the hijab ban persists, as in France. This ban limits opportunities for women to participate in the sport and conflicts with the International Olympic Committee’s anti-discrimination policy as France prepares to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

Morocco’s participation in the Women’s World Cup and their investment in women’s football reflects a growing movement in African and Middle Eastern nations to promote women’s football and advocate for the rights of hijab-wearing players to compete on the world stage.

Nouhaila Benzina’s World Cup debut not only represented her team and her country but also symbolized hope and possibilities for millions of women and girls worldwide who can now envision a future in football. Her appearance is a powerful step towards greater inclusivity and representation in the beautiful game.

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