Maria Toorpakai Wazir, New Media Project

Posted on May 17, 2013 by


Josh Portner

New Media Project 

            Maria Toorpakai Wazir grew up in Waziristan, Pakistan.  She is a Muslim and the area where she lives is home to a very conservative branch of Islam.  Maria fell in love with the game of Squash around age 12.  However, it was frowned upon for girls in her community to play sports.  She faked being a boy by cutting her hair and wearing her brother’s clothing.  This was very controversial with her people, and she was said to be bringing shame and dishonor to her tribe.  Maria received a death threat for her involvement in squash and realized if she wanted to continue her career, she would need to leave the country.  Maria is now seen as a representative of Muslim women who wish to break through the barriers that their culture thrust upon them.  She is playing an active role in trying to get other Muslim girls to play sports and receive an education and is starting a foundation with this purpose in mind.

            The main finding upon investigation into this event was the type of sources available.  There are many western articles that popped up about Maria in late March, but no sources were found from the Middle East or any Muslim dominated area.  Maria’s home in Pakistan never published an article mentioning the success that she was having in Squash around the world.  This shows how much the Muslim culture disapproved of what she was doing.  There are Muslims in the world that accept her, but most Muslim men would look at her and call her a disgrace to their culture.  The people in charge of what the news contains are men, and would not want to publish articles promoting this type of behavior.

            The article that went most in depth into the issue and the hardships that Maria faced was from BBC news, written by Bethan Jinkinson.  This article was longer than the others and presented more quotes that Maria and her father said.  This article was one of two that mentioned that Maria received an award from the President of Pakistan while still living in Pakistan.  The other article that mentioned this was from The Mary Sue by Susana Polo.  This article did not quote Maria and her father very often, but described the situation through Susana’s own words.  The award from the President changes what most people might believe.  The government of Pakistan has a stereotype in the west that they have the same expectations of women as the extremists.  This is turned around when Maria receives the award.  Both of these articles mentioned her receiving it, but did not say anything about the impact.  The only thing said was that the extra attention brought the family trouble.  The articles did not take the opportunity to delve into the opinion that the government has or the role that they played in Maria’s story.  It can be assumed from lack of mention that the government did not offer her any help or protection from the threats she received, but did recognize her nationwide.  The articles did not make a point to say that the rest of Pakistan is not as conservative as Waziristan, which could have been a good point to make. 

            With all the threats that Maria received, she was offered protection from one group.  The Pakistan squash federation offered to protect her at her house and at the gym she practiced at.  Again, the protection was only mentioned by the BBC and The Mary Sue.  A checkpoint was set up outside of her house and snipers were positioned around the squash court.  Both articles mentioned that she chose to stop practicing at the gym because there was a lot of glass, and if a bomb went off, many people would be injured.  The impact of the other articles not mentioning this protection is that it seems that it was Maria and her father all alone with no support, making the story that much more dramatic.

            Veiling is a common topic that is brought up in discussions about Muslims.  In class we learned that there is controversy about what the Qur’an meant when it addressed how women should behave in society.  The passages are vague and open to interpretation.  Three of the articles examined mentioned veiling concerning Maria, the two already examined and also an article from TIME by Sorcha Pollak.  All of the articles only briefly mention veiling and its context in this story.  They all mention that the threats all had to do with the fact that Maria showed herself indecently by not wearing a veil and also by wearing shorts when she played squash.  These threats were from the Taliban.  In class we discussed differing interpretations of the Qur’an, and the Taliban is one of the more fundamentalist, extremist groups.  They don’t believe that women should leave the house without a veil or without the presence of a male family member.  This comes from the passage in the Qur’an that says a woman should only show her beauty to her husband and family.  The articles avoid delving into the topic of women’s rights in Islam, and choose to only briefly mention this aspect.  They also mentioned how she faked being a boy when she was younger and how that was also shocking to the conservative Muslim community.

            The two articles discussed most above, the BBC and The Mary Sue, were the ones that portrayed the story through Maria’s struggles.  The other three sources, TIME, MSN, and TEDxTeen, all had a different approach to the story.  These articles were shorter and went into less detail about what happened for Maria growing up.  Instead, these articles focused on the impact that Maria was having on other Muslim girls and the success that she was able to attain even though she faced such dire circumstances.  This is something that is meant for a quick read in western culture to show that women’s rights are not guaranteed everywhere, but there are people that are trying to change that.  The articles emphasize that Maria is a role model for other young Muslim girls, and that they should not be afraid to pursue what they want.  She encourages them to play sports and get an education.  The articles also emphasize that she is starting a foundation to help young girls follow their dreams without being held back by the culture that they live in.

            Two of the articles, the BBC and The Mary Sue, examined went a lot further into the details and struggles that Maria faced.  One article, the TIME, was in the middle by still giving more background information than others, but still promoting Maria’s success and her commitment to help other young Muslims as a priority.  The last two articles, the MSN and the TEDxTeen, described some background information about Maria, but were short articles meant to get a glimpse of the story and understand the big picture that there is a Muslim woman out there who is breaking the status quo and trying to make a change in her culture.  The media has different ways that they approach these types of stories and have a specific goal in mind.  For some, the goal is a more complete picture of the events that happened and impacts that consequently occur.  For others the goal is a short blurb to play into the hands of average westerners. It is important to realize what the source is trying to communicate when reading about new information.  In this case, different articles found different aspects of the story most important.  The authors chose to emphasize either the struggle that Maria went through, or the message that she and her story will be able to send to other young Muslim girls.



  1. BBC, Jinkinson, Bethan. March 19th, 2013.  Maria Toorpakai: The Pakistani squash star who had to pretend to be a boy.
  3. MSN, Lackel, Daniel. March 20th, 2013.  Get inspired by this woman who dressed like a boy to play squash.
  4. TEDxTeen, Maria Toorpakai Wazir.
  5. TIME NewsFeed, Pollak, Sorcha.  March 25th, 2013.  Pakistani Squash Player Fights For Women’s Rights.
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