Hijabi martial-artist: Punching stereotypes and kicking boundaries

Hijabi martial-artist: Punching stereotypes and kicking boundaries
While global media headlines insist 'stereotype-breaking' Hijabi Muslim women are revolutionary, Muay Thai fighter Nesrine Zakia Dally says it's all in a day's work.
3 min read
20 October, 2016
Weight-lifter and Muay Thai fighter Dally trains women in London

Geared up, gloves on .. and Hijab donned, this image is an uncomfortable sight for Islamophobic trolls online. That's because this 27-year-old Hijabi is a Muay Thai fighter that knows how to pack a punch.

Nesrine Zakia Dally, the Londoner and self-proclaimed 'tomboy' told The New Arab her journey into the martial arts world started at a young age where she attended her first session which left her "in awe."

"The session was one of the hardest things I'd ever done (physically) and decided this was something I needed to be good at," she said.

"Muay Thai is an obvious choice because of the tradition, respect, and physical challenge the sport brings - as you use punches, kicks, knees and elbows. It's all encompassing and beautiful in a brutal way," she joked, adding that she wanted to progress beyond boxing and use her whole body as a weapon for self-defence.

But her story does not end there. Three years ago, as the Western world continued to debate why Muslims are reluctant to integrate into societies, Dally took it upon herself to give back by launching her own 'halal' safe space where she trained other women how to defend themselves.

"I work with anyone and everyone," she quickly clarifies. "I do have Muslim clients but about 60-70 percent of are non-Muslim."

"Some have commented that they didn't expect me to 'look the way I did, but they were pleasantly surprised at how I was able to help them- which is the most important thing for me."

One of her trainees is 26-year-old Nina Kareem - a beginner who was looking for a new hobby to physically and mentally challenge her.

"It was very tough when I first attended and my entire body ached the next morning," she said. "But to be equipped with self-defence is definitely worth the pain," Kareem said.

In June, Britons were shaken awake after a controversial vote saw more than 52 percent of voters preferred to leave the European Union.

The decision sparked a messy debate about immigration, and naturally, visible Muslims, among other immigrant communities, bore the brunt of bigots and were attacked, vilified and shunned.

Despite this, Dally remains defiant as she dons the extra layer of gear, which she insists neither weighs her down, nor slows her speed.

"The Hijab represents our beautiful religion and shows how we, as women are precious diamonds with the choice and right to show what we want to show, and not what society tells us to."

"It's never a barrier," she insists. "It's an opportunity for me to break stereotypes and show that Muslim women are not confined to whatever stereotypes or preconceived ideas people have of us."

"We are not limited in our abilities. Look at Ibtihaj Muhammad the first Olympian to wear Hijab and compete in it. Times are changing and certainly for the better."

While global media headlines swarm like bees on honey when a 'radical' (disclaimer: we mean cool on this occasion) Hijabi Muslim woman 'breaks stereotypes and boundaries', these same headlines continue to associate the Islamic clothing with oppression.

The truth is, regular Muslim women break boundaries on a daily basis without much effort. For 27-year-old weight-lifter and Muay Thai fighter Dally, it's all in a day's work - literally.