Let’s talk about #BlackMuslimGirlFly! I had the honor of interviewing this amazing young woman, and she is the epitome of #BlackMuslimGirlFly to me. After our exclusive interview, I’m thinking @qis_mo is MY hero! ✊🏾❤ Over the course of the week, you will get to know this modern day Muslim Woman Hero, and appreciate how powerful Black Muslim Women and Girls truly are.👊🏾 Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir is the #FridayFeature!🌟
TeamBMGFly: #BlackMuslimGirlFly is defined as that “it” factor Black Muslim Girls & Women have that makes them amazing, dope, & fresh-to-death awesome. How would you describe your #BlackMuslimGirlFly?
Bilqis: Number one I think that we’re just very dynamic, and what I’ve learned through my experiences as just being, you know a Black Muslim girl, is that I could fit in almost every group; regardless of the stereotypes or the racism that maybe you know are prevalent in certain communities. I felt like I was fine. You know we can adapt, and you know what I think is fly is just personally that. I’ll wear J’s with my abaya, or I’ll rock a sweat suit, and feel fine with my hijab on. I think we can still pull things off like that, and it can still be Islamic, and it still be dope. And, you know we do it with swag.
TeamBMGFly: How did you grow into your Muslim identity? And, how does being a Black girl impact that? (Or, if you’re bi-racial, or of multi-ethnic heritage, how does that impact your Muslim identity?)
Bilqis: I grew into my Muslim identity through sports. I know it sounds cliché but legit that’s what it was and I would say that happened for me when I learned I can play professional basketball. That’s pretty much my story right now; that beforehand, of course, you’re Muslim. It’s because you know your parents are Muslim. As like any other faith you inherit, but growing up, we’re not taught what it means to be Muslim exactly. We’re not taught Islam in a way where it’s something that you choose. Being born a Muslim, you just know that you’re Muslim as an asset, and we don’t get to fall in love with it like a person who compares it to other religions does. So the way I grew up learning Islam was just a lifestyle and it wasn’t something that impacted my heart. You know growing up it was the rule; it was a rule book for me. Like, oh that’s allowed, and that’s not allowed. You know what to stay away from, but you really don’t know why and you want to know why. So sometimes you test those waters, and then you figure out why but, overall, I would say my faith, you know my Iman, was tested when I couldn’t play and that’s when I questioned Islam, that’s when I questioned wearing hijab; I questioned everything. I never questioned my race at the time, but I would say within the past year and a half, I saw that as being an issue trying to go play in European countries because the organization was FIBA; which is an international band like the NBA- WNBA overseas. It’s a huge organization and when I learned who was running the board of this organization, it was a group of ten European men, who, when they probably heard about my story, thought “who cares about a black Muslim girl trying to come to play basket? You know we’re not paying any attention to it”. So I learned that my race then played a part, but before then it was me having to figure out who I truly was, and then there comes that dual identity that you talked about earlier. It was early on before I realized I couldn’t play just as a basketball player.
TeamBMGFly: How do you maneuver your industry as a Black Muslim Woman?
Bilqis: I’m honestly still figuring that out, but the platform that I have now is speaking. And not once in my life did I think that I was going be a public speaker, but I’m doing just that. You said Allah places us on certain paths for certain reasons, and it’s crazy because like I say now, as I transition from a court every day practicing, that’s training; grinding. All of a sudden I’m standing up on stage, on the stage with the mic and I said my court is my stage. My basketball is my mic. I score points through my words and I wanna make sure that whenever I speak my, my goal is to change one mind or to change one heart. In regards to Islam, whether it’s a Muslim, whether it’s a non-Muslim, and because we all struggle, I wanted to do what I can to make everybody believe that Islam isn’t exactly what they think. I feel like a lot of times we as Muslims feel like we have to portray this perfect lifestyle. Like we’re all following the cinema, we’re all reading Quran every day, we’re all making our five prayers every day and that’s just not the reality of it. If that was the case, Allah would say that in the Quran verbatim. Instead, He tells us to follow them as guidelines of life, and I feel like what I learned through my journey, my little short 27 years of life, was that Allah is gonna guide you. Guidance is a gift. Allah is gonna guide you if He wills, and when you feel that guilt in your heart when you’re doing something that you know is not really right, or you missed that crane, He’s still trying to pull you back on that path. I felt like now that I have this platform, I want to try to do it in the right way. Being an African-American woman, I didn’t fully realize the importance of being a black girl until now.
TeamBMGFly: What made you decide to play ball? What was your beginning?
Bilqis: Going back, we were a basketball family. I’m the youngest of eight and I have four sisters and three brothers. Everybody played basketball. My Abu, he put our first basketball hoop in the backyard, and we used to have the whole neighborhood in our backyard; just every day coming out to play a little basketball tournament. So, I grew up watching my brothers play outside, and of course, they would never let me play with them because I was too young at the time; but soon, I got my first little plastic hoop. I was about four years old and it really took off from there. I wanted to be just like my brother. At the time when I was born, there was this pretty large gap between my sisters and myself. So by the time I was born, they didn’t really play basketball as much as my brothers; and when I saw them doing crossovers and spin moves, I wanted to do exactly what they were doing. That was my motivation and it was a grind from then on. It began to grow as a passion when at first, it was just a hobby; a hobby to stay active. Growing up we were a low-income household, not poor but getting by to the point where my parents couldn’t afford college for all of us. I remember when I was around 12 years old, hearing my Umi and Abu talk, and I was in the room, and they were looking to attain my bother and me, who’s right above me in age, scholarships. They were like, you guys are gonna have to get scholarships. It was then I figured it out. That’s when it became more than a hobby, but a passion.
TeamBMGFly: If and when you came up against the backlash, what was the driving force behind your continuing your campaign against the FIBA ban despite any negative responses?
Bilqis: Okay. If you ever watched college basketball you see who are in the top schools. I didn’t go to a top Division school. I went to like a mid-major school. So a lot of times you’re overlooked no matter how good you are; overlooked from the WNBA. So, unfortunately, the WNBA only has 36 spots to fill every year, and not all of those 36 spots are filled either. They bring in 36 people, but you can also be cut; it doesn’t guarantee a spot. So I knew that my chances were kind of slim getting to the WNBA, but my plan was to go overseas, work my way up, and then possibly get scouted so I can just be able to play overseas get to travel the world; so I can live my dream job. When I got an agent to help me get a job over there, they called me one day and was just like, “Oh you know I came across this rule that FIBA has in place about headgear” and I’m like, “Oh no, that’s a problem. I’m Muslim, I have to wear this. You know it’s my choice to wear it, but, whatever. It is what it is. I will just get a waiver like I did in college to waive it for religious reasons”; that’s how easy it was when I played in college. I just had to give them a waiver just in case somebody asked why I was covered. This is was the issue, they didn’t accept the waiver. As a response, FIBA, and it wasn’t easy to try to convince and discuss this, they basically responded by saying that they wanted to keep the game of basketball religion free.
TeamBMGFly: How did it feel to be in the spotlight? You also have a documentary about you. How did that come to fruition?
Bilqis: It was and is difficult at times. Difficult because you don’t want to get caught up in that limelight, and I think I’m in a better place now because I’m not letting the spotlight warp me. I was that Muslim girl who played basketball, I didn’t want to get lost in the spotlight; I didn’t want to lose who I am to an excessive ego. You start to think that, you’re better than others, or that you deserve more, or even put yourself on a pedestal. I can thank Allah I was reminded real quick who I truly was when I was tested with basketball, and now, I try to be as personable as I can; I always remind the people who I speak to who admire me and are fans, who I am and where I stand. I’m no different than you, I’m human. I want people to know that I’m your sister in the same regard and I’m not just any special story; mine just happened to get heard by the graces of Allah. You don’t want a bigger platform to manage than that because having a platform in the first place is already hard to balance. Plus, you need to know, remember and understand, that all of it is temporary. So don’t get caught up in it, because Allah can take it away at any movement; but like I said earlier, I’m just trying to use this little spotlight that I have to make as much change as I can. I want to use my platform in a positive way, all the time. Inshallah that’s, that’s my prayer. To just be humble and understand that Allah put you on this path for a reason. I’m speaking through my story, and I want to make sure that I keep that in mind.
To answer the second question, the documentary is called ‘Life without basketball’, and it’s crazy. Crazy that these two random white men approached me about filming the story of my life and putting it in a documentary form. I was just like, I knew them. I knew of them through one of my old teammates. Since I trusted her, I trusted them to really come into my bubble, come deep into my family’s bubble, and make this very personal documentary correctly. They just finished it, and I saw it for the first time in theatre from back in Boston at a film festival in Massachusetts. The audience was a full house, a full theatre, and I feel like what they did, how they portrayed my life, it wasn’t a story about basketball; it was a story about family and it was a story about a normal African-American Muslim family who happened to love basketball.
TeamBMGFly: How did it feel to have the ban finally lifted? Have you ever wanted to play professionally, like with the WNBA?
Bilqis: I was happy the ban was lifted. Yes I wanted to and still do wish to play professionally, and I honestly would have had an easier time four years ago because I was at my physical prime, but that did not happen in the beginning. Allah knows best and I trust His judgment, but I’m glad they just removed the rule this past May of last year, then the rule of allowing those of religious background to play became effective in October of the same year. Now Muslim women can play, Sikh men can play, and even Jewish men who wear Kiddish or Yarmulke could play. So, I actually did get the opportunity to play after the ban was lifted. This past year, I was invited to play in Somalia in this Arab women’s sports tournament that they had outside of Dubai, and it was amazing. It was crazy because they had almost no teams in some countries. So it was like Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and of course, Somalia. That was the first year that African country was in this tournament. So this tournament was basically like a mini Olympics for women. They had everything from track, to field, to archery, like it was legit. All in the city called Sharjah UAE. When I first got there, I’m thinking that this is some small tournament that they had. This tournament had billboards all across the city with lights illuminating the event. It was so lively and pretty, it was really nice, and I played really well. I surprised myself because I didn’t do any formal training and it’s been years since I really competed at that kind of level like that. I went there with low expectations, thinking that these girls weren’t gonna be that good. I was so surprised when I saw these girls from the Muslim countries could really play! The tournament also had WNBA players, like professional athletes on these teams. So, overall, it was a good challenge for me and I think I made my mark and gained some interest from some other teams as well. I would like to play with them in the future, and it was a good opportunity for me. It was also there that I met Indira face to face. She was with the Saudi team and currently lives in Saudi Arabia now. So I was able to meet up with her there and see her for the first time, because we met on the internet and communicated by phone, email and social media; which meant no face to face ever since the ban; we learned about the ban together, so it was nice to see her and everyone there.
TeamBMGFly: What’s the number one thing you hope people will gain from witnessing your endeavors in sports?
Bilqis: To keep trying and never give in. I had my friend Indira to inspire me and push me to petition the rule of religious attire in basketball. If not for her, the rule would not have been lifted, and I would not be able to play basketball in my hijab and even overseas. My actions with my good friend Indira should serve as an example to all that no matter how long, or how hard, Allah will guide you and aid you on your journey to reach your goals; you just have to put your love and trust in Him.
TeamBMGFly: What is your typical day like? And, tell me about any special events you recently attended or hosted as an athlete?
Bilqis: So my typical day would be, well going to an assigned school; the usual regular one. I haven’t this year, but a typical normal day hasn’t been a normal consisting one. It’s basically me now working out in the morning, not basketball workouts, but some here and there exercise like running, lifting weights and some aerobic exercises. I do some basketball as well, but not as much. I mainly work on speaking practices and exercises, learning as much as I can to improve my speaking abilities or like trying to learn how to do this other type of stuff that I’m not used to doing; broadening my horizons and thinking outside of the box. My husband helps me in my endeavors all well, but I also aid him too. When finished at the court, later in the day, my husband is a trainer and a coach. So I’ll be in the gym with him with his girl trainees and help them out. Aside from that, I’m traveling a lot. So when I just have downtime, I have my downtime due to all that traveling. It takes a toll. It takes a toll but Insha-Allah, I might work back at the Islamic school. I used to work out here in Memphis Tennessee and my goal for the school is to really grow and improve the sports team. I want these children, these kids, to know that they have opportunities in sports. It can benefit your schooling because not everybody’s gonna get an academic scholarship; some have talents elsewhere.
TeamBMGFly: How does your career impact the other aspects of your life, including your family?
Bilqis: I just got married this past November. I don’t want to say I wasn’t looking to get married, but I honestly wasn’t. I wanted to get married but it wasn’t like I was actively pursuing or, you know, having my family look for somebody. I knew what kind of person I wanted and want to marry and he was at the school I worked at. We worked together for a year and a half at the systemic school and we knew each other for a while; for like eight years. We just knew of each other from being in Memphis, and it’s crazy just how it all kind of took a turn. So, that happened, and at the peak of my like speaking career; not the pristine peak, more so it just started to kind of pick up. So I was traveling a lot, and that was one of the reasons where I was a little apprehensive about settling down. It was due to my knowledge that I was always on the go, and my parents wanted somebody who was gonna understand what I had going on in my life. That I’m very active and have a lot going on. I realized he knew my life beforehand. He was very open about it, and it was at a time where he was able to travel with me a lot as well. When we first got married, he was able to come with me to a few speaking engagements and I was very grateful for that.
So when we got married, we weren’t apart from one another, we were together the whole time. So it worked out, and of course, I moved away from my family in Massachusetts; once I got married. So I ended up moving back to Memphis, and that was difficult because I’m a baby, and just having my father kind of letting me go and I had to let go of my father. When it came to my Umi, like our bond is a really strong one; so I could let her go but still feel close to her. So it was a tough transition, but they also traveled to some of my engagements; the ones that they can make. So, in the end, it worked out Mashallah. There wasn’t really any stress on the family dynamic. It all worked out well Alhumdullilah.
TeamBMGFly: Who did you look up to while growing up? Who inspires you now?
Bilqis: Honestly, I don’t feel I’ve looked up to people. I don’t know why that is but, I think it had to do with my competitiveness and that I wanted to be the best at what I did. I didn’t want to feel like somebody was better than me. I think that was my mindset then, but now, as I learn more about my Umi, and learn more about the things that she’s been through as a woman, a mother, and a wife, she’s a strong one and you don’t see any of the things that she’s been through. Mashallah, this lady, she’s crazy in such a positive way; and that adds to her strength. She converted to Islam at a very young age, and she’s been through so much. When I got older and she shared some things with me, I’m like, “What? You, I didn’t know you did that!” She was a single mother for a while before she married my father, and they knew each other for a while before marrying. She was married twice before him and of course some things don’t work out, or rather, didn’t work out for her, but just to see her survive as a single mother with six children, keeping a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, clothes on their backs and all the while trying to instill in this time with her kids; it’s a challenge in itself. She achieved it though, which makes her strong to me.
I can say now that I’m looking deeper into athletes who make a change. I recently was able to meet fellow WNBA players, but I didn’t look up to a lot of them. Recently I really learned about Mohammad Abdu a few years ago, and I had the pleasure of speaking with him on a few different occasions. Then after that encounter over the past few years, I’ve met a few Muslim athletes. Hussein Abdullah, who’s a Muslim football player, Ryan Harris, who also plays football, and all these people who kind of just came out of the woodwork after I kind of went through my struggle. I really thought that I was the only one who was kind of trying to balance Islam, your image on social media, and being an athlete; but Alhumdullilah I wasn’t. I had a meeting with Hussein, and his brothers from Hajj were there; including Ryan Harris. And it was not just them, a lot of just Muslim athletes, some rappers, Muslim singers were experiencing what I was; so it was cool and a blessing to meet these people. Of course, we all have different going on, we didn’t all play the same sport, had differing lives and jobs occupations, but it was nice to be able to talk about our struggles; because they all were one in the same in keeping Allah in our hearts.
TeamBMGFly: Can you describe a moment where you felt defeated, and how did you overcome that?
Bilqis: Yep. I think the moment where I felt defeated was when I learned I couldn’t play. First time in my life I was sad, stressed, and couldn’t see or know what was next. I think that’s always scary of life, not really knowing what was next; I felt like I lost myself.
It was honestly, it was this one prayer that I made. Once I made the prayer to Allah, and I’m always describing it because I remember it like it was yesterday; because I got stuck in sujood. All of a sudden, I’m in sujood. I felt like I was stuck there and I felt like, I couldn’t get up, and I felt the blood rushing to my head. I was down on the floor. I was praying. I was asking Allah to guide me, and it was the craziest feeling ever. I physically felt like something in my heart turned low, and I felt that was the first time that I was one with my prayer. It was the first time that I cried in prayer, and I was like “What?”. It was this strong feeling, and now in retrospect, it was like Allah illicit change in my heart and soon, after that prayer, I swear I saw and I felt like things just started to happen in succession. Good things. For example, somebody asked me to come speak, and I was getting sent pictures of young Muslim girls across the country saying they wanted to be like me. So it was like I began to see why and that’s how I got over that and that’s why when I speak, I’m passionate on prayer. I don’t like the youth neglecting and letting go of your prayer because, that’s the only thing you have, that’s the only rope that you have to Allah, and we as human beings need Him.
TeamBMGFly: Can you describe a moment where you felt like you defied odds or broken barriers?
Bilqis: I honestly think I felt that moment when I stepped back on the court after the hijab ban was lifted. It wasn’t the determinant that I played. It wasn’t a FIBA sanctioned tournament, but it was the fact that I didn’t think that I was ever gonna have the opportunity to play again. I was so nervous before the game, and it was that I felt accomplished when I played. I’m a living change by Allah’s command and gift; He allowed me to fulfill my purpose. I think that’s why I felt that feeling of accomplishment, and even now, when I do step on the court to play, whether it’s just for practice or just to train or whatever reason, just being that Muslim woman on the court, you’re gonna be gawked and studied at because you have a whole bunch of clothes. However, you’re making a statement, and then you’re able to answer questions confidently because people are gonna ask them and you are comfortable in your own skin and decisions. Well, I feel that opportunity itself is huge. So every time I step on the court I feel accomplished.
TeamBMGFly: What would you cite as the foundation of your success?
Bilqis: If I didn’t have that test of faith, I don’t know who I would be, where I would be or even what I’ll be doing. Which makes me so grateful Allah gave me back basketball and even added speech, and so I’m glad that that happened.
TeamBMGFly: #BlackMuslimGirlFly is an empowerment brand created to uplift and remind Black girls that they are FLY in many ways. What advice would you give all the Black Muslim girls out there, worldwide, to cultivate their own individual #BlackMuslimGirlFly?
Bilqis: Not to live in your success, whether in your eyes or other people’s eyes because we weren’t made to do that. I always say, as I mentioned that trifecta earlier, that in society’s eyes we’re below. We’re beneath, and if we allow that to be our vision, then that’s gonna be our reality. So embrace. Embrace your and our blackness. Embrace our existence, and then at the same time, embrace the rights that we have as Islamic women that make us great. As I mentioned, I just recently embraced my blackness. I used to feel it was cool to feel like you look mixed or whatever. That was not a healthy mindset. So, do not try to change who we are our, who you are, your nature, our nature because we are gorgeous and people want to be like us.
TeamBMGFly: What’s something you haven’t done yet, but would like to do next?
Bilqis: This is going to sound cliché, but I want to make it overseas. So my goal is to be able to bring my family there; including my husband. Insha-Allah, that would be an aesthetic point of view of my future reality. As an athlete, you are not given your success, you have to work for the things that you want to be good at, but once you reach that level, then you’re given things by Allah.
Thanks again for sharing your story with us and the rest of the world. I believe it’s very important for us, Black Muslim Girls and Women, to stand up and speak up and let the world know we are here and we’re making things happen. For far too long, we’ve been made to be invisible.