A veiled young Malaysian, nicknamed “Phoenix,” breaks taboos in her Muslim-majority country by entering the male-dominated wrestling world.
Small in size, Nour Diana, a pseudonym, wrestles her male rivals with innovative moves to throw her opponents on the track and lock them in front of hundreds of jubilant spectators.
Phoenix is 155 centimeters tall and weighs 43 kilograms, helping it to speed and agility, allowing it to wrestle with almost anyone.
Far from being criticized by conservatives for entering wrestling, the 19-year-old has become a social media star and has stimulated the interest of other veiled women in sports.
“Although I am a Muslim and I wear the hijab, nothing prevents me from doing what I love,” she said at the wrestling ring after winning a match.
She participates in Malaysia Pro Wrestling duels, which are very similar to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) of America.
Like WWE, the Malaysian version is as much a stage show as a sport as participants compete in predetermined matches.
Nour Diana, who prefers not to reveal her real name, looks out of the ring, unlike strong wrestling who is not afraid of anything. She is shy and nice and works in a full-time hospital.
But when she wears a wrestling dress and puts her own equipment, she turns into a phoenix that everyone is afraid of.
“I am a very different person when I am Phoenix,” said Nur Diana at a wrestling hall in Puchong outside Kuala Lumpur. “I may be small but I can do things that people cannot imagine.”
“When I’m in the ring, I’m very fast and I always want to win.”
Nour Diana started her first training in late 2015, as a teenager dreamed of becoming a wrestler, and started playing the sport after a few months of training.
More than 60% of Malaysia’s 32 million people are Malay Muslims, a moderate form of Islam, but society is generally conservative. Many Muslim women in the country wear traditional hijabs and wear loose-fitting clothing in line with the Islamic requirements of females with modesty.
“At first it was difficult for me because many people said I could not wrestle because I am a Muslim and I wear the hijab,” Nour said.
But she persevered and worked hard to achieve her dream with the full support of her family. She reaped the fruits of her efforts, especially in early July when she defeated four men and crowned the Malaysian wrestling championship.
At first, she struggled with a mask to avoid being recognized. But after losing a game last year, she removed him from her face and has been wrestling openly ever since.
She remembered the fear of people’s reactions, but her popularity has increased since the mask was removed and thousands of people are now following her on social media.
While wrestling is becoming increasingly popular in Malaysia, the sport remains relatively limited in the Southeast Asian country. There are about 30 wrestlers and matches are held every two to three months in front of a few hundred viewers.
Nor Diana is one of only two wrestlers in Malaysia.
“As soon as she became famous, we started receiving a lot of messages from veiled young women asking how to enter the wrestling field,” her former wrestler Ayez Shawkat Fonsika told AFP.
“I broke the barriers and showed them that if they can do that, they can do it too.”