A nervous hijabi with a shy smile and determined gaze enters a boxing club, surrounded by an atmosphere of sweat, blood and rhythmic thuds on punching bags — “a scene out of a Rocky movie,” as she describes it.  

Fast forward seven years and she holds a PhD in Public Administration from the University of Ottawa and is a Professor in Disaster and Emergency Management at York University, a recipient of Cadieux-Léger Fellowship, and is a competitive amateur boxer and fitness instructor. This is the story of Aaida Mamuji. With a diverse set of achievements, here is what she had to say on her path to success.  

What is the secret ingredient your parents used to mold you into what you are today?   

Trust and communication. My parents told me at a young age that they trust me. I knew trust was precious and fragile. Trust is two-way – I had responsibility to protect that trust and my parents had responsibility to give me the freedom to explore my world and make mistakes. 

In my undergrad I volunteered in Haiti. I wrote an email to my parents explaining everything, from my intentions to the nature of work involved. I opened up my world to them so they could understand my motivations, and they were willing to consider and honor my intentions.  

With boxing, my parents had hesitations at first – my mom’s initial reaction? “How are you going to get married?” (chuckles). We were both willing to engage in discussions about my desire to box. They shared their opinions but never imposed their decisions on me. We talked, we debated, and we remained open. 

Why boxing? 

Sports gives confidence, belief in oneself, and self-esteem. When I think of times when I was facing difficulties in my life, I wish I was involved in sports then. It would have definitely helped me. I want my internal strength to be reflected outside, and this helps me on the inside too. 

Aaida, you are an all-rounder. What keeps you motivated?  

I want Allah to be pleased with me. I try to make sure that the way I conduct myself with family, friends, colleagues, and students is grounded in gaining His pleasure. I am constantly aware that I am a visible hijabi Muslim and that I can perhaps change some misconceptions about our community. Boxing is a service to my community and I hope I am positively impacting girls. 

How has being an immigrant impacted you? 

It actually motivates me to do more. The idea of being a visible Muslim, especially when my community is seen in a negative light makes me want to contribute more. In a small way I want to bring a positive story to the world, something that shifts the narrative.  

Have boxing and hijab ever clashed?

SubhanAllah, nobody in the boxing community made me feel that they were bothered by my hijab. I have never felt that hijab prevented me from any opportunities within boxing. As a boxer you come into the club, you do the hard work, and you get into the ring. No matter what you look like and who you are, as long as you do the hard work, that is all that matters.