Amaiya Zafar is a 16-year-old amateur boxer from St. Paul, Minnesota, who has never gotten the chance to fight in an official competition. She’s a Muslim who wears a hijab and covers her arms and legs while fighting ― which isn’t approved by international boxing regulations ― so she’s usually banned from the ring before her matches even begin.
When Zafar and her family arrived at the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships in Kissimmee, Fla. on November 20, they knew she may not be able to fight. But what they weren’t expecting was that a stranger ― Zafar’s opponent, in fact ― would come to her defense.
When Zafar was disqualified, her potential opponent, Aliyah Charbonier, was not happy. So Charbonier decided to put solidarity before victory, telling Zafar that she would share the winner’s belt.
In the end, both girls reportedly went home with belts. Although they were strangers before, Zafar said they’ve been in touch ever since the championships.
Sarah O’Keefe, Zafar’s mother, said that after she got disqualified, her daughter was trying her best to stay calm and patient. Zafar isn’t the type to get angry or upset ― instead her mindset is to accept whatever happens as the will of God. So when Charbonier gave Zafar her belt, it was a powerful reminder that in addition to working hard to get these rules changed and trusting in God’s providence from above, there are also people who were willing to stand in solidarity with her.
Zafar began boxing about three years ago. She fell in love with the sport after watching a live boxing game. She said she appreciates the discipline that the sport demands.
O’Keefe said that it’s been tough for her daughter to find opponents that are suitable to her weight and her age group. In addition, USA Boxing, a national governing body for Olympic-style boxing in the U.S., follows a strict dress code set up by the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
Michael Martino, executive director of USA Boxing, told MPR News last year that boxing while wearing leggings and long-sleeved shirts is a “safety issue.”
O’Keefe said that she’s hoping to see these organizations engage in a discussion about this issue, and about how to get more Muslim women involved in boxing.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national Muslim civil rights organization, is calling for USA Boxing and AIBA to make a religious exemption to uniform regulations ― following the lead set by organizations like the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), which have given Muslim women who wear hijabs a chance to compete in tournaments.
Zafar is also hoping that the rules will change in time for her to compete in the Ringside World Championships, a competition for amateur boxers scheduled to take place next summer. She said she’s been heading to the gym an average of three to four hours every day to stay on top of her game.