Atlanta (CNN) — Kulsoom Abdullah is a 35-year-old with a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering. But it’s her passion outside of work that has put her at the center of a debate — one that could affect athletic competitions worldwide, even the Olympics.
Later this month, the International Weightlifting Federation will take up the question of whether Abdullah may take part in officially sanctioned tournaments while keeping her entire body covered, aside from her hands and face, in keeping with her Muslim faith.
“It’s what I believe in. It’s what I’ve chosen to do,” Abdullah tells CNN of her decision to wear modest garb. “I’ve always dressed this way publicly.”
Abdullah is not an Olympic athlete, but enjoys lifting weights. She can deadlift 245 pounds (111 kg) and get up 105 pounds (47.5 kg) in the snatch, in which the competitor lifts the barbell from the floor to over her head in a single motion. She likes to compete with other women in her weight class — she generally weighs in the 106-pound (48 kg) or 117-pound (53 kg) classifications.
“It guess it’s empowering,” she says. “There’s a lot of technique involved, so someone who’s this big muscular person — it’s possible I could lift more than they do. There’s speed and timing to it — you have to be explosive. I think it’s great just for confidence building … I guess I got hooked.”
The Atlanta resident wants to take part in tournaments in the United States, including one coming up in July. But USA Weightlifting informed her that those events are governed by IWF rules. And those rules preclude her dressing in keeping with her beliefs.
Abdullah generally wears loose, long pants past the ankles, a long-sleeve, fitted shirt with a loose T-shirt over it, and a hijab, or head scarf, covering her hair.
The outfits — officially called “costumes” — worn at competitions must be collarless and must not cover the elbows or knees, according to the IWF’s technical and competition rules. read more