• "Faith was a kind of cloud over my head…I took this thing and I owned it for myself. I didn't let people corrupt those ideas for me." (Muslims Like Us)
"I had to have a really defiant nature and kind of stubborn nature to fight through the walls of opinions, particularly what other people in my family told me was right and wrong."
By
Sarah Malik

22 Feb 2018 - 10:06 AM  UPDATED 26 Nov 2018 - 3:50 PM

Bianca Elmir is a born fighter.

The 35-year-old boxer grew up dancing between the pressures of a conservative extended Lebanese Australian family and white suburban Canberra.

A participant in the SBS reality TV program, Muslims Like Us, in February 2018, Ms Elmir joined the program to effort to connect with other 'hybrid' Muslims negotiating the fractures of immigrant identity.

“Going on the show it was so beautiful to see, I could connect with other Muslims trying to pave their own path through all of these different pressures,” Ms Elmir said.

She cites re-interpreting her faith, from a weapon used to control her, into a more uplifting spirituality as an important part of her journey. 

My actual belief in God and my own soul and spirit has never left me. 

“Faith was a kind of cloud over my head…I took this thing and I owned it for myself. I didn't let people corrupt those ideas for me,” she said.

“My actual belief in God and my own soul and spirit has never left me. One thing has remained the same - there is a God and I can connect with him at any time of my life.” 

Ms Elmir admits bucking tradition can be a lonely path but her defiant desire to prove herself has mellowed with age.

BAM BAM.
A Muslim woman who backs gay rights. A bare-shouldered boxer, her head uncovered, beside hijab-wearing relatives. “I’m different,” she says. "I'm different!" Kidnapped by her mother as a child and raised in Australia, Bianca Elmir has fought her way to the world championships. She won’t stop there.

“I have always been a fighter. I just had always been fighting something.”

“What I've recognised as I've gotten older, thank God, Alhamdullilah is that I don't need to prove my self-worth to anyone. For so long I've just wanted validation. I can only give that validation.”

Ms Elmir’s mother, celebrated Australian community worker Diana Abdel-Rahman, migrated from Lebanon as a young single mum, with toddler in tow in the early 1980s. For the young Elmir, boxing and faith were intertwined in her path to find herself outside of the strains of a traditional environment.  

For her first fight, the then 18-year-old snuck out of home and told her mum she was going to friend’s house.  She hid her first trophy in the cupboard.

They thought what I was doing (boxing) everyday was haram

Fighting was a ‘meditative experience’ providing an escape from family pressures. But it’s a path still treated with disdain by her more religiously conservative aunties.

“They thought what I was doing [boxing] everyday was haram,” Ms Elmir said. 

As an only child and the only non-hijabi in her family, the self-described ‘fringe-dweller’ says developing the confidence to live life on her own terms meant learning to tune out the noise of other people’s opinions.

“People feel very confident about giving to you their opinions about your life or about faith,” she said.  

“I had to have a really defiant nature and kind of stubborn nature to fight through the walls of opinions, particularly what other people in my family told me was right and wrong. I try to navigate what's right or wrong for me.”


Drama series On The Ropes exploring the world of women's boxing, airs over four weeks, premiering Wednesday 28 November at 8.30pm on SBS. Episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand.

Join the conversation #OntheRopes

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