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Hustles + Hobbies: Rugby With Zainab Alema

by in Careers on 4th October, 2021

At Amaliah, we’ve started a series talking to women who are championing the art of hobbies. We’ve spoken to Esra Alhamal about the art of Islamic Illumination Azeezat Adeola about mindfulness in knitting, how to get started and knitting for social issues, Neda about pole fitness, body confidence and online trolls, Chaimaa Creates about baking and cake design, Katie Haseeb about illustrating and fine arts, Brooke Benoit about jewellery design, Nur Hannah Wan about documentary-making and painting, and Firdaws Clotaire about ceramics and pottery-making.

This time, we’re speaking to Zainab Alema about her journey to becoming a professional rugby player and encouraging more Muslim women to get involved in sports.

If you would like to interview a Muslim woman about her hobby, get in touch on

So Zee can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a rugby player by passion and a neonatal nurse by profession. When I’m not playing rugby  for Richmond women rfc or working of my project ‘Studs in the mud ‘ im busy being a mother to my 3 children .

How and when did you start playing rugby?

I started at aged 17 . I needed to do a practical element to complement my A level P.E coursework and my teacher suggested rugby , she got me into my first club at Ealing trailfinders u18s- I’ve never looked back since !

So as well as a rugby player, you are a mother of 3 and a nurse- how do you balance these?

My support system is pretty solid. I’m one of 6 sisters and they all help with childcare- my husband looks after the children when I’m out playing or training.

What’s the most challenging part about playing rugby?

Aside from the physicality , the mental strength you need to keep going when your body is exhausted is a big challenge but that grit and determination that helps build one’s character and resilience even off the pitch. 

You are the founder of @studsinthemud. Can you tell us what this is and what are your goals?

Studs In The Mud is A project that I launched in 2019. I wanted to help people using my passion for rugby. The project is about giving grassroots clubs access to rugby essentials e.g boots, balls, bibs etc. I’m also using it as a way of empowering and inspiring women and children. Rugby is more than just a sport, it has great values that can help bring out the best in people . If I can use my project to bring out the best in others I’m happy.

How do you stay motivated?

I’m not always motivated but I find reminding myself of why I enjoy rugby helps.  I also have the desire to inspire more people especially women and girls from ethnic minorities to give rugby a go.

Who are your biggest inspirations?

Maggie Alphonsi is a big inspiration to me. She is a former Rugby player for England. At the time where I didn’t feel like I belonged in rugby, as a black woman herself she encouraged me and made me realise there is a space for me in rugby.

You have also told us about a new project of yours called ‘Muslimah Rugby’ which is creating a space for muslim women playing rugby and it becoming a space to empower and inspire each other. Why did you decide to create this project?

Muslimah Rugby is a space for Muslim women rugby players to connect, share experiences, inspire and empower each other – it also itself a tool for smashing stereotypes of Muslim women in sport.  Most of it will be online content  however I do plan to create a community  so we can have meet ups – train together, watch each others games etc. I want the women to feel they have a safe space within the Rugby community where they feel a sense of belonging. No doubt rugby is a welcoming sport but it’s easy to feel different when your the only one covered or don’t share a pint after matches.  I struggled with this when I started my rugby journey so I don’t want that for any Muslim women coming into the sport or those that already in the rugby community. There aren’t many of us around so that in itself can feel alone but I’ve connected with a handful and we’re all excited about this.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start playing rugby?

 I’d say find out where your local club is and give it a go. You may like it you may not but you won’t know until you try.  If you’re looking to make new friends whilst keeping  fit then it’s defiantly a shout- I’d also say that rugby is beautiful in a way that no matter who you are what your body type is or the challenges you may fave in your personal life theirs a spot for you on the team

Selina Bakkar

Selina Bakkar

I'm a simply striving to be better and improve in different areas of my life through more self awareness, experiences and learning more about the deen. You'll find me talking about community, connection, planting & growing, seeking the truth in an age of propaganda and misinformation. This year I want to document more to do with food heritage and history so watch this space or reach out. Have a listen to the Amaliah Voices podcast where I talk passionately about Islam, nature, motherhooding and back home. Link in bio peeps. To join the Amaliah Writer Community email me at IG: SelinaBakkar