Fight for it

Meet Ruqsana Begum, the first British Muslim woman to become World Kickboxing Association Champion

A year ago, East London born Ruqsana Begum beat Susanna Salmijrävin from Sweden at The Round Chapel in Hackney, to become the Muay Thai champion of the world.

 

‘I consider myself to be a modern Bangladeshi female.’

 

 

WKA World Muay Thai Champion, European IFMA GOLD Medalist, Global Adidas Athlete and the first British Muslim woman to become World Kickboxing Association Champion (2016). Bethnal Green native Ruqsana Begum has not had an easy path to victory.

Begum took her first kickboxing class aged 17 at college, she was hooked.

Instead of telling her family about her new found passion, Ruqsana kept her training a secret

‘I was afraid of how my family would react to me taking up a sport that was so male-dominated.’

She trained at least once a week, financing her training with holiday and weekend work and by 19 Ruqsana was competing and winning trophies that she stowed away in her bedroom.

‘I had a lot of inner conflict for many years when I first began this sport; I felt that I was going against my religion and it used to tear me apart. At the same time, I loved the sport and couldn’t understand how that could be wrong.’

Ruqsana’s decision to keep boxing a secret was reaffirmed when her brother was scouted by Arsenal training camp and her father refused to let him go. ‘If they weren’t going to let him go, why would they let me, their daughter?’

In 2006 while Ruqsana was in her final year studying architecture when her parents told her she was to have an arranged marriage. At 22 Ruqsana found herself married and living with her new husband and  in-laws, commuting to her job at an architectural firm and looking after her new family. Her training stopped altogether.

After 8-months in her new life, Ruqsana, who had been experiencing extreme panic attacks collapsed and spent 2 days in hospital; an empathic GP advised her to leave her in-laws and move back in with her parents.

Back home recuperating, her husband filed for divorce, the recession hit and Ruqsana lost her job.  23-years old, without a job and divorced, she was prescribed antidepressants; she decided to go back to the gym, and this time she took her father.

‘After they saw the gym they didn’t stop me and I saw it as my chance to dive right in and within a year I was selected for Team GB.’

 

 

3-years later Ruqsana won gold in the European Club Cup Amateur Muay Thai Championship in Latvia, transcending generations of tradition, she was the only Muslim woman to be Muay Thai Kickboxing national champion. ‘My father was so proud, he showed off my trophy to my grandmother.’

 

In 2010, 26-year old Ruqsana was diagnosed with ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) ‘When my ME cuts in I can barely climb the stairs let alone go into the ring and have a world-title fight.’ But despite the sometimes debilitating effects of ME, she fights on.

The following year, after being diagnosed with ME, Ruqsana swooped the gold in the European Club Cup Amateur Muay Thai Championships.  In 2012 she won bronze in the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur World Championships, the same year she met Queen Elizabeth and carried the Olympic torch. In 2016 she became the British Atomweight Muay Thai Champion.

 

In March this year Ruqsana made the switch from professional kickboxing to boxing, signing a 3-year managerial contract with gold medal-winning UK boxer Joe Joyce’s handler Sam Jones. She has also signed with former British heavyweight champion David Haye’s company Hayemaker Promotions.

On 17 March this year Ruqsana made her professional boxing debut against Ivanka Ivanova from Bulgaria at York Hall on her home turf, Bethnal Green. The fight was aired on Channel 5 and ended in a draw.

Ruqsana understands more than most the importance of strong female role models, particularly within the Muslim community,  and she’s launched a sports hijab to encourage ‘a new generation of sisters’ to engage in sport.

‘It would have broken down a big barrier for me if there were more women in boxing when I started. So I’ve trained as a coach – I know it will make all the difference to women who want to build their confidence, who want to learn a new skill.’

‘Sport shouldn’t  be just there for certain types of people it should be there for everyone.’