Indira Kaljo is a 26-year-old professional women’s basketball player from Sherman Oaks, Caifornia, who has played in Ireland and in Europe after starring at Tulane University. Kaljo is also a Muslim. Her family is Bosnian-American and has always practiced their traditional faith.
But when Kaljo announced that she now desired to wear the Muslim head covering known as a hijab during games, in keeping with her religion, she suddenly found herself out of a job. The reason — the international basketball governing body, FIBA, bans any type of headgear, religious or otherwise, worn by players during games.
“I shouldn’t have to decide between faith and sports,” Kaljo told the political site Think Progress in an interview this week. “And not just me, players around the world. It’s extremely disrespectful. There’s no other way to put it other than, it’s disrespectful.”
Kaljo has yet to sign with a pro team for the upcoming basketball season, because she now insists on wearing the hijab during games. The FIBA ban on headgear also forbids Jewish men from wearing the yarmulke head cap, and Sikh men from wearing the turbans that their religion requires they wear at all times — and in most cases have worn for their entire lives.
In fact, earlier this month, the Basketball Federation of India lodged a complaint with FIBA after a Sikh player on the country’s Under-18 national team was forced to remove his turban during a game in the Asian U-18 Championship tournament in Doha, Qatar.
FIBA says the issue is not religion, but safety, a stance which Kaljo says she just doesn’t get.
“I’m trying to understand it, I really am,” Kaljo told Think Progress. “The only thing I can think of is if somebody were trying to tug at the hijab for whatever reason. I don’t know why they would, but if they tried to rip it off the head of a player, well that’s the only thing I can think of.
She said that scenario is likely to occur only during a fight — in which case the hijab is not the issue.
Kaljo, 26, has not yet worn the hijab in an official pro or college game, but she did wear the head scarf during two unofficial summer league games this year. She said that the head covering was actually safer for her opponents than her long hair which could easily hit them in the face.
FIBA has said it plans to review the policy, but so far has failed to do so — a delay which prompted a letter signed by 20 members of the United States congress protesting the religious headgear ban.
In the meantime, Indira Kaljo waits to resume her career under conditions that allow her to practice the Muslim faith in which she was raised.