The hijab-wearing female kickboxer teaching Muslim women self-defence

Meet the hijab-wearing mother-of-five, 36, with a black belt in kickboxing teaching Muslim women self-defence

  • EXCLUSIVE: Khadijah Safari had ‘negative stereotypical view of Islam’  
  • She converted to Islam at 27 and quit her job to get a black belt in Muay Thai 
  • Mother-of-five, of Milton Keynes, and her husband teach segregated classes 

This hijab-wearing mother-of-five is teaching women how to defend themselves amid rising hate crime and Islamophobia. 

Khadijah Safari, 36, was not brought up as a Muslim and says she had a ‘stereo-typically negative view’ of religion growing up.  

As a student in London she found herself more drawn by health, fitness and martial arts than alcohol and partying. 

Years later a friend gave her a copy of the Koran to read and the now mother-of-five says ‘that was when everything started to piece together perfectly’.

She gave up her job as a graphic designer and trained as a kickboxer for three hours a day for more than a year until she got her black belt. 

Mrs Safari, of Milton Keynes, ended up marrying her instructor, a former world champion cage fighter, and the couple decided to teach separate classes for men and women.

Now she trains other Muslim women to defend themselves in a society increasingly concerned by hate crime, terrorism and Islamophobia.    

Khadijah Safari, 36, of Milton Keynes (pictured) has been teaching martial arts for nearly a decade and trains other Muslim and non-Muslim in Muay Thai kickboxing and self defence 

Speaking to MailOnline, she said: ‘When I tell people what I do they are very shocked – it blows their minds.

‘Everybody finds it fascinating, even Muslims find it fascinating.

‘There is a lot of negative stuff in the media about Islam and women – there is this idea that Muslim women are oppressed.

‘But a lot of that comes from the culture of countries where the majority of people are Muslim – not Islam itself.

‘I’ve always thought it was important that I knew how to defend myself.

‘What I do is about control, it’s about discipline, self respect and looking after your body.’  

She added that people often don’t believe she is a Muay Thai kickboxing champion.

The mother-of-five said: ‘When people ask what I do, I say that I teach and they always think I teach primary school children.

‘They don’t necessarily know that I’ve got boxing gloves in my bag, they just see the hijab and think I must be a school teacher.’ 

The mother-of-five (pictured) ended up marrying her instructor, a former world champion cage fighter, and the couple decided to teach separate classes for men and women

Mrs Safari teaches both Muslim and non-Muslim women, whose classes are segregated from her husband Master Karim’s all-male classes. 

When she first started training people in her graduate days she taught men and women.  

But after converting to Islam in 2009 at the age of 27 and marrying the man she was designing a martial arts website for the following year, the pair decided to set up a business together – and soon took the decision to split their classes.

She said: ‘After quitting my job and setting up my own graphic design business I started teaching classes for men and women, because I wasn’t Muslim at that time.

‘I was designing a website for this man and we got along and he had always been respectful of me.


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‘I didn’t even know he was a Muslim then – he didn’t wear a long white coat or have a beard, but then I found out and eventually we got together.

‘We set up classes together at a space in London and we decided to make the gym men only and women only – me teaching women and him men.

‘It was a huge risk, because he already had a huge client base and a lot of them were women. 

‘But it made sense for our religion. In Islam we try to avoid too much mixing.

‘Kickboxing is a contact sport, where you’re literally hugging each other. So it was important for us to make it segregated. We did it and it really took off.’  

Mrs Safari (pictured left) teaches both Muslim and non-Muslim women, whose classes are segregated from her husband Master Karim’s all-male classes (he is pictured right) 

The mother-of-five says she gets a mixed reaction from parents of youngsters who want to train and others outside her community.

She said: ‘Lots of people who view it negatively ask me ‘how can you encourage this? ‘Encourage Muslims segregating themselves from society?’

‘But I’m actually doing the opposite. I’m encouraging Muslim women to mix with non-Muslim women. 

Mrs Safari (pictured) says she gets a mixed reaction from parents of youngsters who want to train and others outside her community 

‘We’re helping Muslims integrate more into the rest of society and I think that’s really beautiful.

‘I’ve found non-Muslim women are just as keen to train with other women only. 

‘In our classes were all equal, our hijabs are off so there’s no Muslim or non-Muslim.  

‘I hold all female competitions where everyone from the judges to the security staff are women. The only different thing about what we do is the location, men can’t see in.’

Although the pictures on her website show her kitted out in her sportswear and a matching hijab, in reality she says wearing a headscarf while training is ‘too hot’.

But the headscarf itself has a greater significance in what Safari Kickboxing does.

She explains: ‘When I started teaching other Muslim women they said they were worried about being attacked for wearing the headscarf. 

‘So they wanted to learn how to defend themselves.

‘I’ve taught women who have had their hijabs pulled off them. They are very worried about these kind of attacks, it’s very sad.

‘When there’s a terror attack linked to Islam some women are afraid to go out. 

‘I have a big following on Facebook and when something like that happens I see women warning each other: ‘Don’t go out on your own tonight there’s been an attack.’

‘Even my husband is conscious of it, he’s very aware of it when he’s out with the children.’

Mrs Safari has never been attacked herself, but does recall being told to ‘go back to her own country’ by someone in a passing car.

‘I can use every part of my body as a weapon’: How London kickboxing instructor is teaching other Muslim women to defend themselves 

Christia Kyprianou, 33, was trained by Khadijah Safari to teach Muay Thai and kickboxing. She now has her own women-only sessions in south London 

Khadijah Safari has been training people in Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) for nearly a decade.

The now 36-year-old decided to join forces with her husband Karim, setting up their own martial arts school.

But soon after starting classes in Fulham, south west London, they decided to segregate them.

Mrs Safari, who now lives in Milton Keynes, has trained nine other female instructors to follow in her footsteps, including Christia Kyprianou.

Ms Kyprianou, 33, of east London, teaches her own women-only sessions across the capital.

She says: ‘People are really shocked when you’re a female instructor who teaches Muay Thai, let alone a Muslim female instructor.

‘What made me stick at the training was the intensity of the training.

‘The effect it had on my health and my cardio. The fact that it was lethal, that I could use my elbows, I could use my knees, I could use every part of my body as a weapon.

‘I got pretty good at it and I get to train, teach and empower women and help people, it’s literally my dream job.’ 

Ms Kyprianou took to Muay Thai after trying out several other martial arts.

Ms Kyprianou is pictured training at a gym in Fulham, south west London 

She saw the Safaris teaching a class in London before they stopped being mixed and decided to join in.

After an intense training programme, she is now qualified to teach full-time.

She told MailOnline: ‘I train women only from all backgrounds and faiths, however we tend to bring in a lot of Muslim women.  

‘I think that it’s imperative that all women, regardless of faith, are able to defend themselves.’

Ms Kyprianou was brought up in a Christian family but later converted to Islam and has worn the hijab ever since.

Now she dreams of opening up her own organisation that helps empower women through sport and self defence.   

Empowering women: Khadijah Safari (right) and Christia Kyprianou (right) both want to help women feel more confident by equipping them with self defence skills 

She explains: ‘I’ve never been physically attacked but once I was in Chelsea once and a man wound down his window and threw a sandwich at me. 

‘It missed but he said: ‘Go back to your f***ing country.’

But she says she was confused about which ‘country’ he meant, having been born into a white British family in Buckinghamshire.

She added: ‘I thought, what country? I’m British, I was born here, my mother’s last name is Smith.     

‘People ask me where I’m from and I say I’m British and they ask, ‘But where are you really from?’ – expecting to hear that I’m from Pakistan or an Arab country.

‘When I say England they look at me baffled. 

‘I had someone in a shop come over to me in a shop once and speak to me really slowly like I didn’t understand English and I was like, ‘I’m fine thanks.’

The kickboxing instructor (pictured) says people often assume she teaches primary school children – not martial arts 

As a student in London meeting people from different backgrounds, Mrs Safari researched several world religions, before focusing solely on Islam.

She decided to read up on the aspects of the religion that received the most negative attention in the media.

She said: ‘My idea of religion was that it controlled people and it caused wars.

‘I had the stereotypical view of Islam. 9/11 has not long happened when I moved to London and I was very aware of the image Islam had.

‘But at uni most of my friends were Muslim. I didn’t know they were at first because they didn’t wear the hijab, but I found myself drawn to them.

‘I didn’t like drinking and didn’t want to spend all of my Saturdays hungover – I liked being out training and using my time wisely.

‘When one of my friends gave me a copy of the Koran I read that God isn’t a he or a she, we only say he because it would be disrespectful to call God ‘it’.

‘So I started to think of God as a force rather than a person – a force that had always been inside of me anyway.

‘Then it all started to piece together perfectly. 

‘I read up on the negative things people said about Islam. I had heard about suicide bombers and read in the Koran that Islam forbids people to do that.

She says she chose Islam because the teachings of the Koran fitted perfectly with her dedication to fitness 

‘I also read that Jihad meant internal struggle – and I interpreted that to be something like resisting going with a man if you weren’t married to him.

‘But then I read about another definition of Jihad, which is to attack back when you are being attacked to defend yourself. 

‘For example if someone breaks into your home and starts attacking you, you can defend yourself. But if that person stops you have to stop too. 

‘I had always thought it was important I knew how to defend myself – living in London and working late nights.   

‘So that idea fitted in perfectly with my love of fitness and training.’

She added: ‘Self defence is actually endorsed in the Koran too. 

‘There are four sports mentioned in the Hadith [the way Prophet Muhammad lived his life]: swimming, horse riding, archery and self defence.

‘These were important in times of war and also when Islam was being formulated as a religion.

‘So I fell in love with what the religion was saying and I chose Islam.’

Khadijah Safari (pictured right) has trained Christia Kyprianou (left) so she can share her passion for self defence with other women too 

With Safari Kickboxing well established in her home town, as well as travelling up and down the country to give workshops and seminars, Mrs Safari is training other women to do what she does.

She has already successfully mentored nine other instructors, including Christia Kyprianou, who teaches her own women-only classes in south London.

Ms Kyprianou, 33, says: ‘People are really shocked when you’re a female instructor who teaches Muay Thai, let alone a Muslim female instructor.

‘What made me stick at the training was the intensity of the training.

‘The effect it had on my health and my cardio. The fact that it was lethal, that I could use my elbows, I could use my knees, I could use every part of my body as a weapon.

‘I got pretty good at it and I get to train, teach and empower women and help people, it’s literally my dream job.’

Her mentor added: ‘I want to encourage other women to teach martial arts and do what I’ve been able to do.

‘It’s really good for people who follow my religion because there aren’t too many sectors that are women only.

‘I teach all over the country and do seminars and workshops everywhere but I can’t be everywhere at once.

‘I’ve already trained nine instructors but I want to give more women that opportunity.’      

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