Zahra Lari: Muslim Figure Skater, Activist

11 months ago / by Team SEEMA
Zahra Lari
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

The first thing nearly any biography of Zahra Lari will share is that she was the first pro figure skater ever to wear a headscarf in an international competition. What it may not reveal, however, is her original inspiration for entering the career in the first place, which was seeing the Disney movie “Ice Princess” at the age of twelve. Thereafter, beginning her training in figure skating Zahra Lari, as of 2007, would awaken each morning in her hometown of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at 4:30 am to practice before school at the only ice rink in the state, located in Zayed Sports City. Then, after school, she would return for more practice. It took four years from ages 12 to 16 for Zahra Lari to develop enough proficiency in figure skating for her coaches to deem her able to compete against young women who’d been figure skating since a much earlier age.

She then went on to become the first figure skater from the Persian Gulf to participate in figure skating competitions internationally. At first, she competed at the junior level, debuting in the European Cup’s 2011-12 season in Canazei, Italy. There, she had points deducted from her score for wearing a headscarf on the ice. This led to her challenging the prohibition against wearing hijabs in ISU costume regulations and winning the right to do so. She performed in three more figure skating competitions at the junior level, getting seventh place at the Dubai Golden Cup, 26th place at the Sportland and 12th place at the New Year’s Cup.

Upon beginning to compete at the senior level, she placed 11th at the International Challenge Cup in 2015, and she placed fourth at the FBMA Trophy in 2016. Thereafter, she quickly advanced in her sport to become a two-time Emirati champion in 2016 and 2018. In 2017, having established such renown and acclaim as a unique and notable figure skating professional Zahra Lari was invited by Nike to be in its online “What Will They Say About You?” campaign. In it, she joined a number of other female Arab athletes in motivating and empowering Arab women to pursue their dreams, even when it requires pushing boundaries.

Despite their initial reticence to support their daughter’s career choice, Zahri Lari’s parents are now among her biggest supporters. In fact, her father, Fadhel Lari, founded the Emirates Skating Club, the first club formerly recognized in the UAE. There are otherwise no other legally recognized and legitimate figure skating clubs in the UAE, in spite of all the unofficial figure skating clubs throughout the Emirates. Zahra Lari’s own American-born mother, Roquiya Cochran, who also happens to be her manager, is the organization’s CEO. By 2017, the club already had 75 members.

Zahra Lari was the first Emirati to compete in the Winter Universiade, performing there in 2019 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Through her accomplishments in figure skating Zahra Lari may even have prompted the UAE to become the first Arab state to join the ISU (International Skating Union.)

Throughout all this, Zahra Lari still managed to find time to study Environmental Health and Safety at Abu Dhabi University and graduate.

In all, Zahra Lari is an Emirati National Champion five times over, reaching the highest scores in triple jumps, spins and technique. Her personal best scores are 54.92 in free skating, which she achieved at the 2018 CS Aspen Trophy; 27.98 in the short program categori, which she achieved at the 2018 CD Tallinn Trophy; and an 81.58 combined total score, which she also achieved at Tallinn.

Another fact a brief biography of Zahra Lari might not reveal is that, when she’s not figure skating, she loves hanging out at the beach. As she told Vogue Magazine, she loves the water, whether it’s frozen in an air-conditioned rink or flowing freely under the hot sun.

Unsurprisingly, Zahra Lari’s Instagram feed is full of positive, supportive, grateful comments from fans, other athletes and women and girls in general from across the globe. The UAE National Records has registered and certified her for achievements serving society and the state.


Who is Zahra Lari’s spouse?

There is no public report of Zahra Lari marrying anyone, suggesting she’s still single. There are also no reports of her getting engaged nor, as of May 22, of her dating anyone either.

Is Zahra Lari an Olympian?

In September 2017, Zahra Lari competed in the qualifiers for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. She did not, however, qualify. She nevertheless has the goal to compete in the Winter Olympics someday representing the UAE. She’s also expressed the desire to compete at the World Championships and the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

What does Zahra Lari advocate for?

In figure skating Zahra Lari advocates for changes to ISU rules restricting what outfits are acceptable for figure skaters to wear. Due to the conservative Muslim environment in the UAE, women are supposed to wear wide-fitting robes, known as abayas, and head scarves, or hijabs. Trying to wear the standard tight-fitting outfit of a figure skater, particularly when performing in front of men, was next to impossible in her country, not to mention in her family. Initially, she avoided skating competitively in order to avoid violating culture and tradition and upsetting her father. When she did start competing, she would wear a modified outfit that covered her legs with leggings and replace see-through Lycra and similar fabrics with opaque cloth. But, judges would penalize her in scoring for violating regulations regarding skaters’ outfits. Now, she advocates for the ISU’s expansion of its outfit regulations to allow for Muslim women to compete without violating their culture and tradition or suffering a penalty.

How old is Zahra Lari?

Zahra Lari’s birthdate is March 3, 1995. That makes the age of Zahra Lari at the 2022 time of this writing 27 years old.

What is Zahra Lari’s net worth?

The net worth of Zahra Lari is $1.5 million.