The Fight Over Women’s Basketball in Somalia
Aisha got her first call from the terrorists when she was fourteen. It was 2013, and she was at home, in Mogadishu, Somalia, when an unknown number appeared on her phone. She picked up. The man on the other end told her that Islam does not allow women to play sports, or to wear shirts and pants. It was immodest and indecent, he said. His voice was harsh and menacing. He told her that he was going to kill her if she didn’t stop playing basketball. The next day, another man called to say the same thing.
Aisha changed her phone number three times, but the calls kept coming, and she became convinced that someone at the mobile-phone company was giving out her contact information. After a while, Aisha began to argue with the callers, telling them that she was going to do whatever she wanted. When they threatened to kill her, she responded that only God was permitted to be in control of people’s souls. She was just a teen-age girl, but even she knew that—unlike these supposedly pious men. Then her mother started getting calls, from men who warned that she was going to lose a daughter. Trying to appeal to her faith, they told her that basketball was haram—forbidden. Her mother was worried, and wanted Aisha to stop playing.
Aisha had first picked up a basketball only recently, but she had taken to it quickly. Her phone filled with photos and videos of the basketball player she most wanted to emulate: a famous American athlete named LeBron James. She had seen James on the Internet and found him mesmerizing. “He is black and tall and a really nice player,” she said. He was powerful and agile, endlessly clever. She wanted to have that kind of magic. Full Story