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Britain’s first hijab-wearing cricketer wants to be an inspiration for Muslim girls

Abtaha Maqsood, 22, plays for the Scottish women’s national cricket team. Photo: Twitter/The Hundred

BIRMINGHAM: Abtaha Maqsood is Britain’s first hijab-wearing Muslim female to play international cricket and she wants other young British Muslim girls — who might be facing cultural and religious barriers — to take up cricket as a profession.

Abtaha, whose parents are originally from Lahore, Pakistan, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on June 11, 1999 — the day Pakistan beat Zimbabwe to qualify for the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup played in England and Scotland.

The 22-year-old cricketer, who is currently playing for Birmingham Phoenix in the new short format 200-ball cricket tournament “The Hundred” in England, started playing cricket as a little girl in the garden of her house with her father and brothers.

Abtaha was just 11 when she joined her local cricket club “Poloc”. Only four months after joining the club, she was selected to represent Scotland’s under-17 squad against Ireland in a T20 tournament at the age of 12.

Speaking to at the Edgbaston Cricket Stadium in Birmingham, Abtaha said that the inspiration behind playing cricket are her partners and brothers, adding that she had the complete support of her family to pursue the sport as a profession. 

Abtaha termed her father as her top supporter throughout the journey.

“My dad and my mom are both massive cricket lovers. But my dad, in particular, says all sports are important,” she said.

Besides playing cricket, Abtaha Maqsood also holds a black belt in Taekwondo, which she got at the age of 11. She has participated in British and Scottish Taekwondo championships as well. 

The young cricketer said she never thought of choosing cricket as a career path at that time. But the experience of playing cricket so far has been amazing for her.

Speaking about her choice to wear the hijab, Abtaha said that she started it at the age of 11 after she saw her mother doing the same. She, however, stressed that her decision to wear one was completely voluntary. The cricketer said that her parents even gave her the choice of not wearing one as she was very young at the time but she insisted.

“Wearing a hijab was my own choice. I went away to perform Umrah with my family when I was 11, and on our way back to the UK, I saw my mum started wearing hijab. So I asked her why was she wearing that and then she told me [how it was a religious obligation], so I decided to wear one as well,” said Abtaha.

“It was really important for me at that time as it is now and I’m going to keep wearing that”, she added.

In terms of education, Abtaha is a third-year student at Glasgow University where she is pursuing a degree in dentistry. She said that at present, she’s managing her time between her studies and playing international cricket for Scotland and The Hundred as she loves both dentistry and cricket. 

“It’s quite tough for me at the moment but I am trying to give my cent per cent to both,” she said.

Answering a question regarding whether people should talk more about her cricketing skills rather than what she chooses to wear, Abtaha said that she thinks talking about her hijab is equally important as it is the representation that matters.

“This is the first time people have really seen a woman wearing the hijab and playing cricket at the highest level, so I think it’s still important to be talked about,” she said.

“I never really had a role model who looked like me when I was growing up. I think that would have really helped me and given me a sense of belonging. So, hopefully, I can be that person for young girls now”, she added.

She told that although she never faced any cultural barriers herself, she is aware that there are roadblocks out there for other young Muslim girls. She, therefore, wants to be an inspiration for those girls.

“I really hope that people, when seeing me, could realise that it is possible to play cricket and wear hijab at the same time. And there are people out there who can support young girls through it if they really want to play cricket at a high level or any other professional sport for that matter”.

Shedding light on her cricketing skills, Abtaha said that although she is a leg-spinner, she did not start her cricket journey with that specialisation.

“I used to be a seam bowler when I was young,” she revealed, adding that it was her father who discovered that she could be a better spinner than a seamer.

Recalling that incident, she said, “I was playing in our front garden one day and I was just bowling seam up and my dad was batting. He told me that my wrist was naturally moving like a spinner and it will be easier for me to bowl spin so I might just try that. Ever since then, I’ve never looked back and I love it”.

Being a leg spinner, her obvious role model is Australia’s Shane Warn whom she termed as the “King of Leg Spin”, adding that she has watched all of his videos on YouTube. Incidentally, Shane Warn is also part of The Hundred where he is coaching London Spirit.

Abtaha said that playing The Hundred and representing Birmingham Phoenix in the tournament is the most amazing experience of her life, 

“This feeling is unreal for me,” she enthused. Recalling how she made it to the tournament, Abtaha said that she got the call confirming her participation while she was at the university.

“I was over the moon! I was so happy as I wasn’t expecting that at all. I was completely buzzing and shared the news with my parents and they were obviously really excited as well. It’s just a surreal experience being here now at Edgbaston”.

Talking about her experience in the tournament so far, Abtaha said that she still can’t believe that she’s playing with some of the best cricketers in the world — an opportunity she never had before.

“In my team, I got players like England’s Amy Jones and Shefali Verma from India, and I’m learning so much from them and then playing against some of the best cricketers in the world. I’m enjoying and learning a lot and really excited to see where it goes from here,” she said.

Abtaha Maqsood has represented Scotland’s national team 17 times in international T20 matches, claiming 23 wickets so far in her career at an impressive average of 12.28.