In a world where conformity may squash ambitions, an Iranian chess champion, Sara Khadem, took a courageous step that echoed a cry for independence. She accomplished something spectacular last December in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Sara, an International Master, competed without a hijab, which was a flagrant violation of her native country’s dress code. She was well aware of the implications and risks she was taking. When she returns to Iran, she could face arrest or worse.
She remained steadfast, standing in solidarity with the protest movements sparked by the tragic death of Mahsa Jina Amini, who was arrested for reportedly not properly wearing a hijab. “This wasn’t some rash decision I made,” Sara says. I considered it. I knew it was correct. As a result, I have no regrets.”
A worthwhile sacrifice
The route Sara Khadem selected was not easy, but it was important. She sought sanctuary in Spain, where she was granted citizenship this summer, fearing punishment. With the help of the Spanish Chess Federation, she was able to continue competing in worldwide chess events. While she is now secure with her husband and son, she is nonetheless estranged from her family in Iran. She didn’t get to say goodbye to her grandma, who died of cancer this summer. As she focuses on this painful separation, she finds solace in the knowing that many Iranians, regardless of the flag she officially represents, appreciate her stance and are inspired by her work.
“If I am successful in my field, I will still make the Iranian people happy,” Sara Khadem says, “Because I’m Iranian, after all.”
The tremendous power of dreams and determination
Sara’s journey began at the age of eight, when she first entered the world of chess. Her enthusiasm for the game was palpable. She persisted after early disappointments and discouragement. She recalls winning a gold medal at an under-12 world championship as a little kid and expecting acclaim when she returned to school. Instead, the teacher chastised her in front of the class, implying that she was squandering her future. Sara Khadem, on the other hand, was undeterred.
She is now the world’s 15th rated female chess player, a monument to her unwavering persistence and belief that she can transcend the odds.
Sara Khadem’s story should serve as an example to everyone. It’s a story about overcoming adversity, sticking to one’s values, and pursuing one’s aspirations.
While Sara is currently separated from her hometown, Iran, her ultimate goal is to return.