On a football pitch in a central London park, Sisterhood Football Club – a Muslim women’s team – is making a substitution.
“Your hijab, tuck it in. It can’t get in the way,” a teammate calls out as the replacement player runs ahead.
Despite the warmth of the afternoon, all of Sisterhood’s players are clothed from head to foot in the club’s all-black colours. Some wear training trousers, nearly all of them have hijab headscarves and one is in a body-length robe.
Founded in 2018, Sisterhood has doubled in size to nearly 100 players, allowing its members to enjoy playing football without anyone querying their Muslim dress code or asking why they refrain from socialising in a pub after their games.
“It’s a football club for Muslim women to come and feel free and relaxed and be able to play in their attire,” said Kamara Davis, aged 30.
She converted to Islam at age 17 and felt that she would never play football again because it seemed incompatible with the religion’s traditional dress. But when she heard about Sisterhood, she jumped at the chance to join.
“Honestly, it just feels so good, it’s like a release. It feels really nice when I am able to shoot the ball with power,” Kamara said.
The club also offers a chance to Muslim women to enjoy a break from traditional roles that many say are expected of them.
Yasmin Abdullahi, Sisterhood’s Somali-British founder, recalled the surprise of many fellow female Muslim students when she told them that she was playing football for London University’s Goldsmiths College while she was studying.
“They could not believe that they were seeing a girl that wears a hijab and saying that she plays football,” Abdullahi, a 30 year-old professional fashion model, said.
So she set up the football club as a way to reconcile the interest in playing sport among many Muslim women and their adherence to their faith.
To underscore the point, Sisterhood’s club badge features the image of a hijab, which was barred by football’s world governing body FIFA on safety grounds in 2007. The ban was only relaxed in 2012, with the hijab fully permitted in 2014.
Like many of Sisterhood’s players, Abdullahi is excited about the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.
“What comes with the World Cup is such a beautiful experience, watching matches with your family and your friends,” she said.
For Abdullahi, the Sisterhood’s founder, the most important achievement of the club is the sense of togetherness among its members many of whom have become friends.
“I think the thing that honestly brings tears to my eyes is the fact that we’ve actually built our little community,” Abdullahi said. “The name Sisterhood FC, it’s not by accident like we have literally built a sisterhood.”