Embracing Cycling as a Muslim Woman in Glasgow

“And can you cycle?”

If I had a penny for every time somebody said that, I would be able to … buy a coffee from Long Short Black or iCafe – my 2 favourite coffee haunts in Glasgow!

I cannot actually remember when I started cycling. I have a photo of me wearing all white in Pakistan on a bike in my early primary years and then another in my 20’s in Sardinia with some friends. That’s as far as cycling memories went.

Fast forward a number of years to working at Al-Meezan, a Muslim women’s charity, and my role in running a climate change project which included sustainable travel. I got back on a bike. In white joggies. Don’t worry, I have learnt a lot since then about clothing on a bike!

Not only did I get inspired to get back on a bike as an adult; but in working alongside other passionate Muslim female cyclists, the Al-Meezan Cycling group was formed. The glue and mother figure was in the form of a surrogate mum to all, Mahnoor, (check out her blog post too).

Together Mahnoor and I received training, and went on to train others in basic lessons and rides. Then we trained up ride leaders, started venturing out and doing charity bike rides (iCycle, Callander, Pedal for Scotland). It was soon clear that cycling had become a major passion of ours.

We supported women to learn to ride a bike overcoming religious, cultural and health barriers. Our trainees included an ex Transport Minister’s mum and sister!

Champion of ethnic minority cycling, Shgufta Anwar

For me, being on a bike was one thing, but seeing other ethnic minority women on a bike, who all came to us with barriers the length of my arm was what really fuelled me.

Four years later, a job advert was shown to me and I tentatively applied for the role of Development Officer, with the task of setting up a cycling Hub in Govanhill. However, there was a catch… The ideal candidate needed mechanical skills. And I had a big skeleton in my closet; I didn’t really like the mechanical aspect of bikes, let alone understand what I was doing.

However, I shouldn’t have doubted myself or my ability to learn! I was offered the job (for my sins), and now run a successful cycling hub in the Southside of Glasgow. We are now heading into our third year and have just moved into a much bigger premises so we’re able to cater for the growing demand of cyclists and wannabe cyclists.

And who are our biggest users? The ethnic minority (EM) women of Govanhill, who are facing the same barriers that the affluent EM women of Al-Meezan did.

I have grown and developed my cycling skills over the years, and passed on my passion to my two daughters who are strong cyclists for their ages (8 and 9).

Despite my growing confidence and love for cycling, I have very little support from my family (who claim I’m going to get killed on a bike), and a husband who would prefer to drop me off than see me get on my bike.

What effect does that have on me?

Well, it makes me more determined to do things by bike at every given opportunity. Whether that is commuting to work, going to class, getting to the gym, or getting my groceries. But, I do have a long way to go before cycling is my main form of travel. I am confident that I will get to that point, but it takes work!

As for my closet? It’s a priority for me to remain true to my Muslim faith and modesty. I’ve gone from wearing my gym clothes (hence the white joggies), to ruining everything long-ish I owned by getting it caught in a bike. Now I buy clothes through the lense of a keen cyclist.

Would this look good on a bike? Check. Am I modestly covered up? Check.
What are my aspirations? To go touring around Scotland by bike, whilst overcoming my biggest personal barrier.

No, not the weather. Packing light!

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If you are a woman of ethnic minority (or not) and interested in cycling, why not try out a ‘Spokes Not Blokes’ session at the Bike For Good Southside Hub?

Blog post by Shgufta Anwar, Bike For Good

Bike For Good on Aye Cycle