A group of an influential Somali clerics have warned women against playing basketball, describing it as, “unIslamic" and a "threat to their faith."
The Somali Religious Council (SRC) issued the statement Thursday, as preparations for the national women’s basketball tournament are under way in Garowe, the capital of Puntland.
“We warn that the women basketball violates the Islamic law, culture and its values, and it is a place where women can be easily corrupted," SRC chairman Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salat told VOA Somali.
The tournament is the country’s first national female basketball competition and will draw teams from four- federal member states and Mogadishu, the capital.
“We have a right to defend our Islamic values which does not allow women to wear soft sports attire and show their body and beauty as men watch in public,” Sheikh Salat said. “It is not an attack against anyone.”
He warned that such behaviors could give a chance to non-Muslims to change the minds of young Muslims.
“Women should know that they are susceptible to the enemy of Islam, and that youth in particular is the target for those who want to change your Islamic values,” he said.
The SRC, an Islamic organization run by more conservative clerics, is known for issuing fatwas [religious edicts]. It preaches against the radical Islamist group al-Shabab, which has stoned women and men to death for adultery, sentenced amputees for stealing, and beheaded individuals for espionage.
Earlier this year, the SRC issued a similar warning in regards to a quota reserving 30 percent of parliamentary seats for women.
Women's sports is still a contentious issue in some Muslim countries, including Somalia.
“I play wearing my Hijab [Islamic veil] on, and this is my favorite sports and I have a right to play as long as I am not against the major values and pillars of my religion,” Sahra Mohamud, one of the basketball players told VOA Somali. “We see sport as a peace-building tool to bring the Somali people together."
In the past, the Somali Basketball Association said it was determined to continue working on its mission to get more women to practice sports since it helps the revival of the country’s peace and stability.
Since the collapse of the Somalia’s central military government in 1991, Somalia sports has lacked a sports infrastructure and experienced threats from radical militants against athletes.
In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which controlled large swathes of the country's south and central regions, including Mogadishu, prohibited women from playing sports, especially basketball, labeling it as a "satanic act” against the principles of Islam.
But in recent years, the women's basketball has grown into a sports business in Mogadishu and different local tournaments have since been organized.
The Somali women's basketball team came to the international attention when the sky blue-clad national women's team performed well at the 2011 Arab Games with a tally of three losses and two victories.
They beat Qatar, the host nation, in a hotly-contested match that ended 67-57. Kuwait also lost to Somalia.