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Lisa Haefner's Fundraiser:

Female Heroes - Shirzanan Athlete Ambassadors

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Lisa Haefner



Help us produce a documentary film and a children's multicultural book to share the amazing story of TEAM SHIRZANAN and our bicycle "Ride For Rights" - which was a global awareness campaign promoting female sports participation as a fundamental right.



..,AND ON THE ROAD (also at left): Muslim 'female heroes' bicycle across Iowa to inspire women around the world


In some parts of the world, females are denied access to sports - as both participants and spectators. Imagine yourself or the girls and women in your life not being allowed to play, exercise, compete or earn sports scholarships leading to higher education, gender equality and greater independence. Then imagine not even being allowed to watch and cheer for your team. These restrictions exist!

For example:

In Saudi Arabia, it was illegal for females to ride bicycles until 2013. Now they can pedal around parks and other "recreational areas" if dressed in full Islamic body coverings, and if accompanied by a male relative. So cycling alone, and indeed towards possible gainful employment, will remain illegal, along with many sports, and a host of other basic activities many would consider a human right. (Per The Guardian, 4/3/13).


Despite cultural and religious barriers, our superstar Muslim team members reached the highest levels of sport and deserve the honorific  SHIRZANAN - the Persian word for "female heroes."

They traveled to America from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in July 2015 to join 20,000 other riders on the iconic RAGBRAI 7-day, 462-mile bicycle ride across the home state of their teammates - childhood friends from Iowa who sought to mark their milestone 50th birthdays with a physically challenging and socially meaningful endeavor.


The SHIRZANAN nonprofit initiative endeavors to secure non-discriminatory access to all sports, not only cycling, for Muslim females.  Because the bicycle is a symbol of freedom providing mobility and independence, the RAGBRAI ride proved an ideal platform for our awareness campaign.


Only 2 out of the 6 Muslim athletes were experienced cyclists, and they all put their health, egos and reputations on the line for our cross-cultural exchange.

In their own words - from a panel discussion held at Drake University and  from interviews in Iowa and their home countries - we'll amplify awareness for the barriers to sports that exist around the world and that obstruct girls and women from realizing their full potential.

Meet Our Awesome Athletes:

  • Raha Moharrak made history as the first Saudi woman and youngest Arab to summit Mount Everest. Riding a bicycle was illegal for Saudi females until 2013, so Raha learned in order to join our Team Shirzanan;
  • Kiran Khan is a Pakistani Olympic swimmer who competed in Beijing 2008. For six years of her childhood, she cut her hair very short and pretended to be a boy in order to train in the public pools of Lahore; and
  • Mona Seraji is known as a snowboarding and surfing pioneer in Iran. Police tried to arrest her for cycling in Tehran, but she insisted upon her right to ride. Determined to interrupt her RAGBRAI training session, police detained her for violating Islamic dress code by revealing a sliver of skin near her ankle.

    TEAM SHIRZANAN athletes have also overcome physical challenges, verbal intimidation, violent acts and even death threats to become champions and role models - not only for their communities - but for the world.

    Additional examples of discriminatory laws and practices:
  • Since 1979, Iran has banned women’s access to stadiums to protect them from obscene behaviour among male fans at soccer and volleyball matches. Last summer, a British-Iranian law graduate, Ghoncheh Ghavami, took part in a protest outside a stadium and  was jailed for five months before being released on bail. SHIRZANAN is partnering with Human Rights Watch to end this ban. 

    Watch Shirzanan co-founder Solmaz Sharif and board advisor Minky Worden:
  • Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on sports in private girls’ schools in 2013, but it still applies to girls in public schools. This is the only country in the world that does not offer physical education classes in government-run schools. It is also the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive cars.
  • Muslim females who wear a cloth covering (hijab) are denied international basketball play. Per FIBA's Article 4.4.2: “Players shall not wear equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players. Headgear, hair accessories and jewelry are not permitted.” SHIRZANAN is working with the expert who led Prince Ali of Jordan's team in securing FIFA's 2012 decision to allow the hijab in football.
  • Niloufar Ardalan, one of Iran's best female soccer players and known as Lady Goal for her on-field exploits in international women's Islamic tournaments was not able to compete in a tournament in Malaysia because her husband refused to grant her permission to travel abroad as required by Islamic laws enforced in Iran. A married women needs the consent of her husband to leave the country. (Per RFERL, 9/14/15)
  • In North Korea, since 1995, women were banned from riding bicycles. The ban was reportedly revoked in 2012 but reinstated in early 2013. was said that women were genetically incapable of handling traffic (women are normally not issued driving licenses in North Korea) and were therefore too dangerous to be let loose on the streets as cyclists. (Per NK, 03/11/14)


More about the Muslim Athletes of Team Shirzanan:

Hajar Abulfazil is an Afghani soccer player and coach whose team plays in the same Kabul Stadium where the Taliban held mass executions. She recently delivered an address to Afghan President Ghani on the value and importance of sport for Afghan girls.  In Afghanistan, bicycling by females is considered taboo - one step below a morality crime.

Rehab Shawky is an Egyptian global cyclist. In 2014, as a member of the Global Biking Initiative, she spent seven days cycling from Budapest, Hungary, to Berlin, Germany, raising money for charities. In Egypt, female cyclists are subjected to both verbal harrassment and stone-throwing. Directly preceding our bicycle ride, the Ramadan holiday occurred  - during which Rehab fasted from sun up to sun down. She also trained for our ride with her supportive husband and son following in their car for up to three hours each day.

Amani Ammoura is a Jordanian global cyclist. One month before RAGBRAI, as a member of the Global Biking Initiative, she spent seven days touring from Venice, Italy, to Stuttgart, Germany - crossing the Alps while raising money for charities. In Jordan, the bicycle is not used as a mode of transportation and riding among cars is a very dangerous pursuit. In Iowa, Amani enjoyed the diversity of riders - representing all ages and all levels of ability.

Kulsoom Abdullah is a Pakistani American Olympic weightlifter. In 2011, Kulsoom's efforts led the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to modify its policy on competitor apparel to allow modest Islamic attire. The IWF now allows a full-body unitard so that Muslim athletes may compete while covering hair, arms and legs.

Raha Moharrak has not only climbed Mount Everest - but also 13 other mountains. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Women's Empowerment.

Kiran Khan is also a coach who has built a swimming academy boasting an enrollment of more than 500 children.

Mona Seraji broke her back in 2011 and was told she would not walk again. Within ten months, she was on the freestyle snowboarding winner's podium. Soonafter, Mona joined Irish surfing champion Easkey Britton to introduce the sport to Iranian women.


SHIRZANAN endeavors to secure non-discriminatory access to sports for all Muslim females.


SHIRZANAN uses sport to catalyze discussion and advancements in Muslim women's rights.


Through our media component, SHIRZANAN promotes Muslim female athletes as role models, integrates them with the international sports community and develops cross-cultural understanding.

Many Iowan and RAGBRAI community members, including the Velorosa Cycling Team, warmly welcomed Team Shirzanan and acknowledged the void they would feel if denied the ability and joy that sports provide. Help us secure Iowa+Team Shirzanan's place in history as one of the most unique global human rights campaigns to take place on American soil. Let's share the story of our "female heroes" with the world.


Please support the production of the inspirational Team Shirzanan "Ride For Rights" documentary film and children's multicultural book by donating to our campaign.


To all the excellent humans who support us, we’ll give a shout-out on social media and list your name on both our website and the next issue of our magazine. SHIRZANAN is a nonprofit initiative, so your donations are tax deductible!

We invite you to JOIN our fundraising team and share this page with everyone you know.

Thank you!


Take a look or listen to our media coverage - from The Huffington Post to The Des Moines Register and Chime for Change:

Iowan Momentum by David Mable:

The Des Moines Register: Female Muslim athletes swap mountains and more for RAGBRAI by Kyle Munson -

The Des Moines Register: Muslim women find empowerment through competitive sports by Rekha Basu -

The Des Moines Register: New RAGBRAI team of Muslim "female heroes" gets rolling by Kyle Munson -

LISTEN: Raha Moharrak and Mara Gubuan describe the Team Shirzanan experience to Emily Woodbury of Iowa Public Radio. -


Chime For Change - Featuring Team Shirzanan athletes and co-founder Solmaz Sharif on their storytelling platform -

Women's eNews: Muslims Pedal for Sports Equity in Iowa Bike Ride by Hajer Naili -

Huffington Post: How An Iowa Bike Ride Is Promoting Rights for World's Muslim Women by Antonia Blumberg -

Huffington Post Live with Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani: Raha Moharrak urges young people to look past their religion and birthplace (linked to previous article)

Quad-City Times: Muslim Women Athletes Embrace Iowans by Dierdre Baker -

Cedar Rapids Gazette: Iowa women welcome female athletes to RAGBRAI by Lily Abromeit -

Mic News by Zac Cheney-Rice: Meet the Athletes Shattering Stereotypes -

Religion News Service by Sally Morrow: Muslim 'female heroes' bicycle across Iowa to inspire women around the world

Contact us:



Non-Stop Media
260 Rogers Avenue, #3
Brooklyn, NY 11225

Nanci Freed
Nancy Gordon
Sue Thomas
Barb Fortune
Jennifer McCannon
Mindy Blasberg
Cheryl Johnson
Lisa Sinclair
Sarah Gesiriech
Mara Gubuan
Susan Bunz

With special thanks to Kim Jones, Kim Hopkins, Barb Hall and Kent Newman.









The Team: $2,175 TOTAL RAISED SO FAR

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Shamila Kohestani

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43% Raised of $2,000 Goal

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Kulsoom Abdullah

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Lisa Haefner

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Hajar Abulfazil

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