Britain’s First Female Muslim Referee Dreams of Scoring Ultimate Goal
A frothy stout. A colorful tattoo. Exciting casino games
. What are common everyday occurrences for most are often taboo for young Muslim women. In fact, even the game of football can be scandalous. But one young woman is determined to break the mould and forge her own path on the pitch.
, or JJ as she prefers to be called, has recently been making a name for herself as Britain’s first female Muslim referee. However, from civil war to public skepticism, paving her road to history hasn’t always been easy.
From Civil War to Incivility: Paving the Road to Making History
JJ was born in Somalia, which has suffered an on-going civil war
since the 1980s. This has caused serious damage to the country’s infrastructure and economy, driving countless Somalis to flee as economic migrants or refugees. JJ’s family left Somalia as refugees and immigrated to the UK when she was just 10-years old, settling on the northwest side of London.
One of nine siblings, JJ grew up playing football with her brothers, first in Mogadishu, then in her new home near Wembley. JJ would take her younger brother out on the weekends, often spending the entire day playing. She quickly grew to love the sport; a love that wasn’t always encouraged by those around her.
“My parents were not so keen on my involvement in football at first because they thought I was embarrassing them,” she says. “In my culture, you wouldn’t see many girls interested in football. But I always knew.” JJ says she used to have to hide her football shoes and change clothes before her parents caught her. But she knew the lying had to end. Finally, one day, she gained the courage to tell her parents, “I want to become a referee and I want to take my football seriously.” While they weren’t overly thrilled, they relented.
With her family on board, JJ says often players are shocked to see her, not only as a woman, but also because she wears a full hijab. According to a BBC interview, she recalls, “‘When I first turned up to the match you could hear some boys just giggling, “No way she is the ref?“ But she doesn’t let their criticisms keep her down. “As soon as I blow the whistle, all of the rubbish that happens in the world literally doesn’t count during that 90 minutes. Sport should be an escape.” she says.
Big Dreams. Bigger Vision.
Her passion and dedication has taken her from playing football with her brothers to a becoming a full-fledged referee. She first began officiating in 2012 when she took the helm of a Capital Girls League game on short notice. The league was short on referees and JJ was quick to volunteer. Since then she’s gone on to referee larger, more higher-profile games. Her dream job, she says, is to referee the Women’s Super League.
It’s a realistic desire. Still based in London, JJ‘s career seems to be blossoming. In 2017, she won the Match Official award at the Football Association’s 2017 Respect Awards. Out of over 1,000 nominations, just 11 winners were chosen. JJ was recognised for her volunteer work with the education charity Football Beyond Borders (FFB) and Middlesex FA. She was also rewaded for coaching FFB’s first ever women’s team and reaching her Level Six referee qualification.
Beyond awards and recognition, football provides an even bigger vision for JJ -- one that isn’t a paying job, but will leave a lasting impact. When she was just 19, JJ wrote, “I have a dream that one day my fellow Muslim sisters will happily play sport. My aim is to engage young Muslim girls into sports from the ages of eight years to 15. My overall aim is to promote football as a tool to engage young girls and then to run workshops that help develop team-building skills, boost confidence and also promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Being a referee is an exciting and rewarding career. But making history and changing the lives of countless Muslim women? That, she might say, is the ultimate goal.
See what JJ has been up to by following
her on Twitter.