Born to Fight
World, meet Lareb.
The more I get to know her, the more inspired I become. Lareb is 22 and in the application process of becoming a member of the RCMP. She is a woman of passion, strength and confidence.
As Lareb began high school and started the path to discovering her passions, she found herself inspired by the combat arts. In a phase of her life at 14 years old when she questioned many things, Lareb started to notice the desperate lack of Muslim female representation in combat sports such as Muay Thai and Boxing. She always saw young Muslim boys take part in sports like Karate, but was repeatedly told that girls are too weak and too pretty to be fighters.
I visit Lareb at Ajax Boxing Club where she practices 4 times a week, with mostly older males. As I wait for Lareb to put on her handwraps, I can’t help but dwell into the atmosphere inside the gym. A buzzer goes off every few minutes, which I later learn is the cue for fighters to stop and switch up their routine. People come in one by one, smile and say hello, butt knuckles with Lareb and go on their way to prepare for their training. From the wall of the gym, hangs a poster which reads “Ajax Boxing Club Rules” and some humorous rules with slight truths to them. One of them says “If you bring somebody new to the class and they break a rule, you do the punishment”. I read over the rules a few times. I don’t want Lareb do any punishments on my behalf.
Lareb is the only female fighter in her club. However, that does not stop her from training her hardest and putting her 100% into every training session. Since boxing in a traditionally wrapped headscarf can sometimes be physically challenging, Lareb covers her hair at the gym with a beanie.
Lareb bundles her fists with her handwraps and changes into her indoor boxing shoes, I notice her hoop earrings still hang from beneath her beanie. Before I have a chance to ask, Lareb tells me she always wears her earrings when she is training by herself in the gym. “Boxing is a very personal sport. It helps me discover myself”. Lareb had been told several times that she was "too pretty to fight" or "fighting would ruin her face". She keeps her earrings on because it makes her feel beautiful. It is a symbol of exactly the stereotype she wants to break: that pretty girls CAN fight.
Wearing earrings is not a hazard until she goes into the ring to spar, which is when she takes them off. She shows me a spot in the gym in between two rows of boxing pads, facing the mirror. This is her favourite corner to practice her moves in. It helps her focus on her fighter self. Lareb shares that boxing is very much a mental game against yourself and your opponent. It’s all about outsmarting your opponent: making them get used to a pattern, and then catching them by surprise.
“I had to prove to myself and those around me that girls aren’t fragile. They aren’t just meant to sit at home.”
Her first encounter with combat arts was at a beginner kickboxing course at the Pickering Community Recreation Centre. As her interest grew and she signed up for more boxing classes, her parents began to feel concerned for her safety and she heard statements like 'Muslim girls aren't allowed to fight' from people in the community. At that point, Lareb didn’t think her identity could be composed of both her religion and her love for boxing. She wondered “How can something I love so much be so looked down upon?” Lareb gradually found that the limitations lay not in her religion but in her culture; and although it stemmed from an innocent idea of protection and safety for a woman, it ought not to limit her from pursuing her dreams. Lareb knew boxing was her passion and she wanted to continue it:“I had to prove to myself and those around me that girls aren’t fragile. They aren’t just meant to sit at home.”
Lareb’s parents had raised a passionate, devoted and fearless woman and Lareb wanted to be nothing less. As the eldest child, Lareb takes pride in caring for her younger siblings and cousins. With her enormous family (consisting of 62 cousins), she always finds opportunities to teach her younger female cousins how to defend themselves. Everyday, Lareb is one step closer to eliminating the cultural barriers and limitations that still exist regarding Muslim women being fighters.
Path to Discovery
For Lareb, boxing paved the path to discovering herself. When she read about Islamic warriors in pre-dated times, she learned that many of them were women. Lareb has combined her identity as a fighter and as a Muslim to become an unstoppable force. “My sole belief is that all my capabilities and success comes from Allah, and He has made me powerful in my sport and showed me success through it.”
Although people see boxing as a violent sport, Lareb finds it rather safe and spiritually healing. She says boxing is all about controlling yourself, your anger and who you are inside of the ring. It comes down to knowing yourself and your capabilities. Often when Lareb shows her friends and cousins how to box, she finds that many of the girls have never thrown a punch before or are too scared to do so. However, after teaching them a few tricks, she can see them light up with confidence and empowerment. Lareb is proud to be able to help girls and women discover their inner fighter self. Boxing allows her to be confident in her everyday life, knowing she is able to defend herself if she needs to do so.
With Islamophobia on a distinct rise, she finds that many women are afraid to represent their religion and to wear the hijab in public. Lareb is so passionate about changing that; it is what drives her to be a pronounced boxer. She wants people to know that Muslim women are far from weak. They are undoubtedly strong and capable.
And people told her girls couldn’t fight. Lareb was born to fight.
If you want to get in touch with Lareb, you may reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please leave a comment below or email us with any feedback.
We are posting blogs featuring more inspirational and dedicated hijab-wearing athletes- Muslimahs with all kinds of different backgrounds, sports, and stories. See you soon on our next episode.