Clerics order Mirza to cover up

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2005, 12:00am

Rising Indian star Sania Mirza, 18, has been told by Muslim clerics to cover her arms and legs when she is on court.

A religious scholar in Hyderabad, the south Indian city where Mirza lives with her conservative Muslim family, has accused her of 'dressing indecently' and reminded her that Islam required women to refrain from exposing their bodies.

'The dress she wears on the tennis court not only doesn't cover large parts of her body but leaves nothing to the imagination either,' said Maulana Hasheed-ul-Hasan Siddiqui soon after Indians celebrated Mirza's homecoming on Wednesday after becoming the first woman from the country to enter the fourth round of a grand slam at the US Open. She lost the match to top-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova, who herself is a pin-up for the sport.

With her long ear-rings, nose-ring, cheeky smile, cover-girl looks and T-shirts emblazoned with slogans such 'I'm Cute? No S---?' and 'Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History', Mirza has become a huge celebrity over the past year as her ranking has jumped from number 206 to 42 in the world.

Companies are queuing up outside her home, hoping she will agree to endorse their products.

This fame is precisely what worries men like Siddiqui and others of his ilk. 'She is becoming a role model for an entire generation of young Muslim girls. She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence,' grumbled Siddiqui, who plans to start a campaign against her 'inappropriate' clothes.

Mirza insists she is a devout Muslim who prays several times a day, but she doesn't fit the stereotype of a Muslim woman with her low-waist jeans and tank tops.

Another Hyderabad cleric said he was proud of her achievements on the court but couldn't understand why she wore such outfits on it. 'Is there a dress code that says the skirts should be smaller and shirts tighter? Why can't she wear the long skirts and full-sleeve shirts that players used to wear 25 years ago?' asked Aslam Razi, advisory member of Jamaat-e-Islaami.

Some Muslim newspapers in India have deliberately not used Mirza's photograph to avoid 'offending sensibilities'.

Mirza has refused to comment.