As a 14-year-old preparing for the U15 British Junior Open, Aifa Azman made a promise. Win it, and she would commit to wearing hijab as a professional athlete.
After beating USA’s Marina Stefanoni 3-1 in the final in Sheffield, Azman was determined to keep her word, despite concerns that it could affect her movement.
While wearing hijab on court initially caused Azman some discomfort, she quickly adapted, and is currently ranked World No.28 after reaching a highest ever ranking of 21 last year.
“I’d made that commitment. At first, it was really hard but I’ve got used to it,” the Malaysian explains.
The 21-year-old, who grew up idolising local legend Nicol David, now plays with a sports hijab that helps her play her natural game better than ever.
“I’m wearing a Nike dryfit, which is very comfortable to wear instead of what I use for daily use. This one is very different, it’s a sport hijab and very easy to wear and not hot.”
After a promising start to her career that has seen Azman win the Bronze-level Malaysian Open on the professional circuit and lead her nation out as the flagbearer at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, a childhood dream is beginning to seem less an aspiration and more an achievable target.
“I’ve been playing this sport since I was six years old. From the very beginning, I wanted to be the World No.1,” she says.
Should she achieve her goal, Azman is determined that she will do so wearing hijab: “Hijab is not something that can stop you playing sport.
“I think it’s a good thing as a Muslim. Nothing can stop you.”
Aifa Azman was sharing her thoughts as part of the More Than Just A Ranking series. Watch the full interview with Aifa and her sister Aira below.