SHAFAQNA- Fitriya Mohamed came to Toronto from Ethiopia at age 10, attended school for the first time and fell in love with basketball. Now she wants to create space for other Muslim women to fulfill their own hoop dreams. When Fitriya Mohamed speaks about playing basketball, it sounds like a love story. In many ways, it was. At 10, she arrived in Toronto from Ethiopia and began attending school for the first time. In gym class, she sat on the sidelines, watching the other kids play. Her teacher, however, had strong ideas about participation: “I had no choice but to join in,” says Mohamed, 24, with a laugh. Moving off the bench and onto the court, Mohamed was introduced to a brand-new world of sports — the rush of competition, the thrill of victory. She had found the one in fifth grade. It changed her life.
The world around her was changing too. As girls playing sports became more common, schools began focusing on female athletics. When Mohamed got to high school, she signed up for team sports. “Coaches were pushing girls who didn’t even play basketball to try out,” says Mohamed. “I was a ‘niner’ — I never would have done it without that encouragement.” Mohamed credits her coach Greg Brohman for changing the way she saw herself: “He believed in me. He never treated me differently because I’m a Muslim woman.” She tried out for every sport he coached: basketball, soccer, badminton. When she graduated, she was the school’s Female Athlete of the Year.
Basketball was in her blood now; any future plans would have to include it. When Mohamed decided to study sports management, her mother didn’t initially support her choice of major. “She gave me this life here in Canada and she would have preferred something more traditional,” says Mohamed. Eventually, the pair came to an understanding. In 2015, Mohamed began studying sports management at Brock University.
Mohamed still loved the game, but she soon noticed that her own experience — growing up at Jane and Weston, in a city with as much diversity as Toronto — wasn’t reflected in the sports worlds she was now moving through. When she played intramural sports, she was often the only Black woman, Muslim or hijab-wearing woman on the court or on the field. After graduating in 2019, Mohamed decided to see the disparity as an opportunity. “My commitment to sports showed me I wanted to do something with it,” she says.
Mohamed was also inspired by Muslim women athletes around the world, including Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, the American Muslim woman who, in 2018, fought the International Basketball Federation’s ruling against women with hijabs playing professionally. “I couldn’t believe that if I ever wanted to go further in the international arena, it wouldn’t be possible,” says Mohamed.