"Life Without Basketball" Recounts Bilqis Abdul-Qaader's Fight for Muslim Women Athletes’ Rights

"Life Without Basketball" Recounts Bilqis Abdul-Qaader's Fight for Muslim Women Athletes’ Rights

On Jan. 26, 2009 history was made when Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir became the record holder for the most points scored in high school basketballin the state of Massachusetts. Abdul-Qaadir, 19 years old at the time, was also the first Division I basketball player to play while wearing hijab, making her a trailblazer in the athletic world. “Life Without Basketball” (2019) documents Bilqis’s journey as a Muslim American athlete and the discrimination she faced because of her faith. 

This feature-length documentary follows Abdul-Qaadir’s story starting in Springfield, Massachusetts, “the birthplace of basketball” and the city where she was raised by her parents, Tariq and Alooah Abdul-Qaadir. It is in Springfield where Bilqis developed her love for the sport and where she first began to play as a ‘hijabi hooper.’ After her successful run in high school, Abdul-Qaadir was favored to be selected by the top college basketball scouts. She eventually decided to attend the University of Memphis on a full scholarship.

In the documentary, Abdul-Qaadir describes the early moments of her career as a whirlwind: “I literally graduated, went home, gathered all of my bags, and went to the airport.”

She played basketball for the next four years at the University of Memphis and had hopes of continuing on to the international level, until she was hit with an obstacle that changed the trajectory of her career. At the time of Abdul-Qaadir’s eligibility to play professionally she was informed by The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) of a ruling that prohibited players from wearing “headgear” during games. According to Rule 4.2.2. of FIBA’s Official Basketball Rules, “players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players.” 

At a time of great hope and excitement in her career, Abdul-Qaadir was faced with a grueling decision that challenged her faith: pursue her dreams in basketball or continue to wear hijab. Basketball was Bilqis’s life and FIBA placed her in an impossible position. This period of her life came with intense emotional turmoil. 

“When I was faced with that crossroad of basically choosing between my faith and my passion, I was really torn. I was having thoughts about taking my hijab off to play,” Abdul-Qaadir recounts.

Abdul-Qaadir stayed steadfast in her faith and leaned on her family and faith for support. Her career as a professional basketball player was sidelined but Abdul-Qaadir did not let that stop her from making an impact in the game. She took her energy off the court and fueled her work as an athlete-activist, motivational speaker and teacher. 

“After I chose not to play, my ultimate goal was teaching as many young Muslim girls basketball as possible so that they could see that sports could lead them to not only a career, but through life with strength and self confidence,” said Abdul-Qaadir, who went on to teach for two years at the London Islamic School in Ontario, Canada. 

After an arduous battle, FIBA ratified the proposal overturning the ban on head coverings in May 2017. Bilqis explains feeling mixed emotions about the timing of the decision, which in her case was made four years too late. 

A year later, Bilqis was finally offered the opportunity to play internationally, competing in Dubai at the Arab Woman’s Sports Tournament. She said  in a vlog, “To play my first international game with other Muslim women… it can’t get any better than that!”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Muslim Girls Ball Too (@muslimgirlsballtoo)

Bilqis continues to advocate for Muslim women in sports through her nonprofit organization “Muslim Girls Ball Too” (formally known as “Muslim Girls Hoop Too”). The organization’s mission is to “instill confidence, self-worth, strength, and most importantly, a sense of faith in our youth through sport.”

“Life Without Basketball” is available to stream on Amazon Prime, AMC+ and Peacock

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Fann.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.