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Zahra Lari, the ‘Ice Princess’ in the hijab

16 April 2012 General 6 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

By Emmanuel Barranguet (AFP)

CANAZEI, Italy — From the sand dunes of the Rub al Khali desert to the snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites in northern Italy, Emirati teen Zahra Lari made figure skating history this week.

The 17-year-old not only became the first figure skater from the Gulf to compete in an international competition but the first to do so wearing the hijab, an Islamic headscarf.

“In my country women don’t do much sport and even less figure skating,” the quietly-spoken teenager told AFP after competing alongside skaters from 50 countries in the European Cup.

A practising Muslim, her black headscarf and sober costume, stood out among the flashy orange tutus and fluorescent pink tights.

“I skate with the hijab, my costume is in line with Islamic tradition,” she explained.

“The other girls are very nice to me. I think they accept me very well. I haven’t had any problems, people are open. It’s not a question of an exhibition, but of sport and my father is in agreement.”

Lari’s American-born mother Roquiya Cochran admitted that it had taken some time to convince her husband to let their daughter compete.

“I had to convince him. In the beginning he saw it as his daughter dancing in front of a male audience

“But he came along to watch, he saw how beautiful she was on the ice, and he loves her, he wants her to be happy. She’s covered, she hasn’t done anything anti-Islamic.”

Lari explains that her love of the ice began when she watched a Disney movie at the age of 11.

“I watched The Ice Princess over a 100 times, I loved it! I said to myself ‘That’s what I want to do’.”

Three years later she realised her dream when she pulled on her first pair of skates at the Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi where she met her coach Noemi Bedo.

“Promising skaters usually start aged 3 or 4 years,” explains Romanian Bedo.

“But she’s very talented, she’s very powerful and jumps higher than the others. I also believe in the Olympic Games,” added Bedo, of Lari’s dream of competing at the Winter Olympics.

The European Cup in Canazei does not have the stature of the ISU Grand Prix events and Lari did not compete at the world junior championships last February, but she nevertheless finished in the top 15.

“This has been an incredible learning experience and I am happy to have been able to show what I have learnt in the last few years,” she said.

“I may not have the competition experience that the other skaters have but I feel that I held my own and look forward to participating in future competitions.”

“For Sochi (2014 Winter Games) I’m giving 100 percent, I can do it. Otherwise I’ll try for the 2018 Games,” she said.

She certainly has the determination, getting up six days a week at 4:30 to practice before her day begins at the American International School.

“I’m on the ice until 7:30 and at 16:00 I’m back skating for an hour and a half. It’s not difficult, I love that, and I want to succeed.”

Apart from wanting her own success, Lari added: “I want to encourage girls from the Emirates and the Gulf to achieve their dream too and not to let anyone tell them not to do sport, not only figure skating but all sports.”

Original post: Zahra Lari, the ‘Ice Princess’ in the hijab


  1. good for her. i just hope some “devout” muslim doesn’t think it his duty to put her in her place. she seems to be swinging her leg quite a bit?

    ““And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms in public beyond what may decently be apparent thereof; hence let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. And let them not display more of their charms to any but their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands fathers, or their sons, or their husbands sons, or their brothers, or their brothers sons, or their sisters sons, or their womenfolk, or those whom they rightfully possess, or such male attendants who are beyond sexual desire, or children that are as of yet unaware of women’s nakedness; and let them not swing their legs in walking so as to draw attention to their hidden charms. And always you believers, turn to Allah (God) in repentance so that you may attain a happy state.” [Quran Chapter 24, verse 31]”

    “It has come about now, because a conservative Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia has called on women to wear a full veil, or niqab, that reveals only one eye. Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan, an influential ultra-conservative cleric, known for cursing the Olympic games as showing ‘obscene scenes’ and giving a fatwa that permits the killing of the owners of satellite TV stations who show “immoral” content, who was answering questions on the Muslim satellite channel al-Majd, said showing both eyes encouraged women to use eye make-up to look seductive.”

  2. wonderful

  3. so another cleric is being stupid? what else is new. You got them in all religions and ideologies. I doubt you’ll find many women outside Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan following his rulings.

    as for the verse you just gave us, it pretty much depends on how you define “charms”. it could simply be a covert word for anything sexually appealing such as cleavage, belly, or butt cleavage. It can acutally be somewhat empowering, as it encourages women to not use their body as a sexual display for men, and not to judge themselves on their own appearance, but instead by their actual intelligence, personality, and talents. Nothing in there actually prohibits sports, dancing, etc so long as the object isn’t seduction. It is essentially tantamount to a father telling his daughter to put a sweater on. hardly what i’d call oppressive.

  4. Mike
    The swinging of legs this actually about swaying the hips and sauntering about like’ you know your sexy’ plus her intention is to figure skate not attract men. You cant possibly take everything literally.

  5. elle,

    my bad. i was kind of being tongue and cheek there. i thought that was a funny verse when i read it. of cource for the time i guess it made sense. lack of buttons and zippers and all. and it did remind me of the guy who called the olympics obscene. i thought, well if that is god decree in his mind, it makes perfect sense. those gymnist surely swing there legs. looks like i’m not the only one to take words literally.

    how much you want to bet if she gets in the olympics there will be clerics calling her actions unislamic?

    “You cant possibly take everything literally.” you never know. that’s why it’s important to say what you mean and mean what you say. that’s what has always perplexed me by these “divine” books. why not just say what you mean, not make it so there can be vastly different interpretions. i know it can be frustrating.

    how you been.

  6. […] Though Lari’s outfits are fully covered and different than her competitors’, she does not have a difficult time fitting in. “The other girls are very nice to me. I think they accept me very well. I haven’t had any problems, people are open,” Lari explained in an interview. […]

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