Playing ball, breaking barriers: GTA Muslim women's softball league growing in popularity

A softball league for women is hoping to promote the sport to an under-represented group - Muslim women. It's called the Sisterhood Softball League.

The league has grown from 20 to 100 players since it started in 2016

Muslim women in the GTA have created a league of their own called Sisterhood Softball League. (CBC News/ Grant Linton)

"One, two three, Bismillah (In the name of God)!"

With a quick team huddle and a chant, they're off.  

Every Sunday, dozens of women gather at a Mississauga softball diamond. With lots of practise swings and plenty of pep talk, the scene looks like it could be from any other recreational league.

But this one is a little different.

The Sisterhood Softball League is made up of Muslim women from the GTA who play and grow the game with other Muslim women.

It's co-founders say the league is the first of its kind in Canada and it's quickly growing in popularity.

"It's kind of similar to a concept of a church league so it's heavily faith based," Maryam Dadabhoy told CBC's Our Toronto.

"We have a lot of women playing sports who wouldn't otherwise be comfortable playing sports in front of men and that's something that you kind of have to deal with when you play in normal league, because there are spectators."

The founders say the league is the first of its kind in Canada. (CBC News / Grant Linton)

Dadabhoy and her best friend Hina Mirza started the league in 2016 after borrowing some basic equipment from a men's league. Around 20 to 25 women showed up for the first game and from then on, the league took off. 

Today, they have 100 players and eight teams and hope to become even bigger. 

Sisterhood Softball meets on Sundays at River Grove Park in the Britannia Road and Queen Street South area. Muslim women of all skill levels are encouraged to join the league.

"Coming from the Muslim faith we have some preferences of modesty ... You'll see it in the way that we dress," says Mirza. 

"So to be able to translate a Muslim woman's dream into reality meant playing with that accommodation.

The teams ask male family and friends not to come to games so the women can dress whatever way they feel comfortable on the pitch. (CBC News/ Grant Linton)

Other accommodations include encouraging only female spectators to come out and support the league so the women can feel comfortable while playing. 

"We ask that all male family and friends not come to the games just to provide that safe environment for women to play who otherwise would not be comfortable wearing this clothing," says Dadabhoy.

"Some of them wear longer robes, longer scarves and they modify their wardrobe to play sports comfortably because you don't want it in your face and you want to be able to run comfortably."

The support extends beyond the softball diamond. The league has raised funds for women's shelters and served meals at local banks in the hopes of giving back to their community while shifting perceptions about religion. 

"There is a stigma around Muslim women, that we are either oppressed or we don't venture out," says Aisha Qureshi, a pitcher for the league.

"I really, really hope that people looking at us see that we're just like anybody else out there ... We love sports. For me it really is about breaking barriers." 

More than sports, this league is about growing their sisterhood and supporting one another. (Sisterhood Softball League)

The league's umpire, Janice Colachee, says in her 20 years of calling balls and strikes, she has never seen a league quite like this. 

"It's just the camaraderie they have. They cheer for each other ... You don't find that usually," she says. "They just care about each other they get along. It's really nice to see." 

At the end of the day, the league says their main focus isn't the sport – it's their sisterhood.

"I love the fact that we have members from opposing teams cheering on somebody when they first come to bat," says Mirza.

"It makes me feel so proud ... to be able to give opportunities to all these women to step up to the plate — pun intended — and try something different knowing that everybody, not just their team but the entire league, has their back."

Sisterhood Softball League meets on Sundays and encourages Muslim women of all skill levels to join. (CBC News/ Grant Linton)

Watch Our Toronto Saturday and Sunday at noon, or Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC Television

With files from Grant Linton, Marivel Taruc