A Sisterhood, Run by the Sisterhood, For the Sisterhood
Skateboarding is not just a sport. There is a myriad of reasons why people fall in love with skateboarding and what it personally means to each of us. Despite our differences in culture or location, skateboarding teaches us a lot about ourselves and the world around us. I am intrigued by the interconnectedness of skating to activism and religion.
The global Muslim female skate crew and sisterhood, Skater Uktis combines religion with skateboarding. It’s more than a skate crew. It’s a community of Muslim female skaters making the world a better place by embracing their authentic selves, becoming ethical leaders, and inspiring others to do what they love. I recently sat down with the head of social media, Hafsah Mohammed (she/her), to learn more about how this global skate crew incorporates religion into their skate meetups and collective.
Photography Statement: To protect the individuals, Skater Uktis photographers have blurred out some of the member's faces to protect their identities.
"Developing leaders through faith and skateboarding. Becoming better skateboarders and becoming better in our faith" is the main mission of Skater Uktis explains Hafsah. Skateboarding and faith have a lot of similarities. She defines one being self-awareness, “When you’re learning about faith, you’re learning about your strengths and weaknesses. Same with skating. Learning tricks takes lots of practice, and you need to develop a positive mindset - push yourselves and not be scared.”
Ukti, or Ukhti translates to "my sister" illustrates the closeness of the members and how Skater Uktis is not just a skate crew but also a second home and a safe space for all. What started as a small sisterhood has expanded into a community of 21 representatives from 17 countries, including the UK, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, USA, Malaysia, and Iraq.
Becoming Ethical Leaders
Becoming ethical leaders and sparking positive change by serving the community is another core goal of Skater Uktis. To become leaders means to “be the best version of yourselves and lead with integrity and strive for perfection while also applying faith to skating and continue to grow as people. We want to empower others to do the same,” emphasized Hafsah.
For this reason, they created weekly halaqah’s or spiritual seshs on Zoom that are accessible to all women globally. Acclaimed speakers from around the world discuss a wide range of topics, including social justice, mindfulness, and religion. They strive to connect Muslim women together on a global scale and develop a safe space to learn about Islam.
The group started Spiritual Seshs during the pandemic and still continues them today. Hafsah reflects on what the pandemic taught her about herself and building community,
"A community does not revolve around physically being in a space. Utilize the resources you have and make the best of it. Figure out how you can grow together. Don’t let your surroundings impact your growth. Use what you can at the moment."
Skater Uktis currently hosts online workshops on self-development and a wide range of topics surrounding well-being. In September, they were invited to speak at their very first in-person international workshop in Dubai. Their workshop was titled “Skateboarding & Psychotherapy (An Islamic perspective)” and covered “the impact of skateboarding on mental health, community activism and prophetic leadership.” (Skater Uktis Instagram). They hope to continue to spread their message globally by hosting more workshops.
Creating a Safe Space for All
The skatepark can be an intimidating space where you must be vulnerable with yourself and develop a confidence within to be okay with not only falling but also people watching you fall and the occasional chuckle from those who think they’re better than the rest.
Yanbu, Saudi Arabia representative, Saffiyah reflects, "There were times when other people would judge me for skateboarding as a girl. Saying it's for boys (are you a boy blabla), and why am I skating if I'm not that physically fit? But that was back then, now it feels like there's a growing number of women skateboarding, so it's becoming more common, and I love to see it."
I asked Hafsah if she has any advice for other skaters who may not feel comfortable at skateparks. She responded, "It’s a change in mindset. They might judge you for being a woman and a Muslim woman. It’s easier to start skating with someone you feel comfortable falling over with, and you can help each other grow with skating. Understand you're there for your own purpose and do what you want."
Providing a safe space for Muslim female skaters is Skater Uktis’ priority. Some of their skate meetups are indoors for more comfort and ease. To keep the members safe and comfortable, all Zoom meetings are confidential, and the reflections/Q&A’s are not recorded. "Everyone knows the value of their words, and it is to be kept in this space,” Hafsah notes. It is a choice whether or not one wants to speak, use the chat, or listen in."
What Islam Says About Skateboarding
Skater Uktis has faced backlash from some communities about skateboarding. Hafsah notes, “If Muslims say women can’t do any sports, it’s coming from old ways - a traditional and cultural way. They know it’s not Islamic to take away sports from women. In Islam, we are encouraged, regardless of gender, to do things that we are capable of doing and be a leader in our community.”
I wanted to get some insights into what it’s like to be a group of women leading spiritual talks and having a woman-only space to practice religion.
"It’s unifying because we want to nurture one another and be in one another’s womanhood. Explain our stories without any judgment and not be mansplained. There’s always something to take away at Halaqah’s. By listening and understanding other women’s perspectives, you learn more about yourself. What can you do or who can you speak to, and what change can you make in your community?" Hafsah explains.
Inclusivity or Lack Thereof
As a whole, in skateboarding, there is a lack of diversity at competitions and parks, but over the years, I’ve observed more LGBT+ and female skaters. I want to be optimistic that things are changing, but are they really? Let’s look at the data.
Skateboarding marked its debut in the Olympics in 2021 in Tokyo, Japan, with both a women's and a men’s team. For a lot of skaters, this was their dream come true, but for some other skaters, they still were left on the sidelines. Analyzing just the countries alone, there were 25 participating countries for the skateboarding competition - not one being from the top countries in the world that practice Islam: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, or Iran.
Examining the skateboarders individually, there are no Muslim skaters on either the women’s or men’s teams. This is a necessary change that is needed for the 2024 Olympics.
Muslim Representation in Skateboarding
Hafsah reflects on her experience growing up and not seeing individuals like herself on skateboards, “I didn’t see the representation. I didn’t think too much of it because I got into skating in 2019. Now, I get a genuine rush of excitement. Because I know the amount of confidence, it takes to skate.” She believes that the representation of Muslim skaters has progressed over the years, "I get to see the representation that I was lacking and be the representation for others."
Ways to Support Muslim Skate Brands
Some non-Muslim brands are creating inclusive campaigns but sometimes end up just using them to make money out of the community instead of actually supporting Muslim communities. I asked Hafsah if there were any Muslim skate companies or skate brands that others should support, and she emphasized, “We are one of the only few. When it comes to starting Muslim inspired by skate crews are scared to create because of backlash. We want to pave the way for others to start.”.
Follow Skater Uktis, and spread the word to stay in touch with any updates, including skate meet-ups and merch releases!
The Future of Skater Uktis
The future of this skate crew is very bright. They want to keep expanding globally and building on their initiatives of being ethical leaders. Hafsah explains, “Some of us are pro skaters and may potentially join the 2024 Olympics in Paris.”
Skateboarding & Finding Yourself
Skateboarding teaches you a lot about yourself and your worldview. Through a manifold of interviews I’ve conducted with skaters from across the world, I believe we all share the belief that skateboarding helps you find yourself and discover things about yourself that you never knew. It pushes us to our limits.
Skateboarding makes you believe in yourself more. It shows us that we are far more capable than we imagine. It makes the impossible possible. "I’m able to build resilience and understand my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve accomplished things I never thought I could. I can transfer skills I've learned in skating elsewhere in my life." Hafsah said.
I asked Hafsah what she would tell her younger self and if there is any advice she’d tell her. She responded, “Stop thinking about what others think of you and how others think you feel based on your emotions. They’ll decide what you feel. Understand yourself first and understand how you are feeling. Take your time with yourself and your emotions. Experience emotions properly and then try to find solutions.”
Hafsah concludes, “Women of all faiths and non-faiths are welcome in this sisterhood if they have an interest in learning a bit about Islam. We do everything as a community, for the community. The small changes we make will create a domino effect and spread the movement. It all starts with building community.”
Bridget Johnson (she/her) is an award-winning Chicago-based Writer/Director who started her production company, Dare to Dream Productions, at only seventeen years old. They specialize in creating thought-provoking and inclusive films that inspire audiences to follow their dreams and ask life's biggest questions. Currently, she is working on her first feature film, Breaking the Barrier chronicling a group of non-traditional skaters designing and building Chicago's first non-traditional public mobile skatepark during the global pandemic. Her films have been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the AMC Theater in Times Square. In her free time, you can catch her skating down Chicago streets, reading tarot at a cafe, or visiting haunted houses for a script and praying not to get possessed. Join her adventures on her Instagram.
Other Articles published:
The Muslim Women Redefining Sport — Skater Uktis (2020) By Anthea Islam
by Joelle Firzli (Vogue Sept. 2022)
See also the Article in About Her, which offers an intimate look into the lives of influential Arab women through award-winning features and fascinating real-life stories.
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