YW Virtue Lessons

There have been several posts recently about the new Young Women’s value of virtue, with people wondering what exactly it is supposed to mean and what to do with it. So I’ve kind of had that question in my head, and as a result I’ve been noticing a few possibilities for lessons I would teach if I were a YW leader (which of course is never going to actually happen IRL!) Part of the point of this post is for you to add your own suggestions for lesson ideas.

We all know by now that English virtue derives from Latin virtus, which of course derives from vir (“man”) and literally means manhood, manliness, virility. But once we get past that little joke of making manliness a young women’s value, what are some of the other ways the word was used historically? How about firmness, strength, courage, bravery, valor, constancy, resolution, gallant deeds, excellence, worth, goodness.

My first idea for a lesson, which I shared on the bcc back elist, would be to show the girls that 21-minute viral video of Rachel Esplin talking about her faith at Harvard. I just saw it for the first time the other day, and I was blown away by her poise and effectiveness. And I immediately thought, “Wow, what an incredible role model for our young women. They need to see this.” And if an adult doesn’t show it to them, the odds that they’ll see it are pretty slim.

So, having these kinds of thoughts kicking around in my head, I just today read about another impressive-as-hell young woman who would make a terrific outside-the-box role model to hold up. Selena Roberts, “Enlightening the Clothes-Minded,” Sports Illustrated (March 9, 2009): 68, which you may read here, tells the story of Bilqis (pronounced Bill-KEACE) Abdul-Qaadir. (You can see a picture of her at that link as well.) Bilqis is an absolutely sensational basketball player who is just graduating from high school. She is the first player in Massachusetts history–boy or girl–to score 3,000 points in her career. She’s a 5’3″ point guard who in her varsity debut–when she was still in 8th freakin’ grade–scored 43 points. In her last high school game, she scored 51 of her team’s 57 points.

But that’s only half the story. She has done it all in full Muslim dress. She completely covers her arms and legs and wears a black head scarf or hijab, even while on the court playing basketball.

In 8th grade she went uncovered, but upon hitting puberty she was required by her religion to cover herself in public. And she has done so, even while playing basketball at a remarkably high level. (She no longer wears cotton, but Under Armour, which she says “saved her life.”)

She doesn’t have much patience with the questions borne of ignorance, like a recent “Is that a tablecloth on your head?” But most questions are sincerely curious, and for those she is happy to take the time to explain the requirements of her religion and why she covers herself. (She acknowledges that the first few weeks in school when she did this it tested her.) She used to hear hateful screams of “Terrorist!” from the crowd, but over time as she has stuck to her principles the ignorance and hatred and anger have largely blossomed into acceptance and even admiration.

Bilqis will be the first female Islamic player in Division I history this Fall when she takes a scholarship at Memphis, and she will continue to play covered and wearing the hijab. She has already located a mosque just five minutes from campus.

We have a tradition of modesty in dress, but certainly not to that extent, and I’m not suggesting that we ask our young women to mirror that specific practice. Rather, I was impressed to the point of being moved by this young woman’s courage and determination in the face of very public and sometimes hostile scrutiny.

That’s my idea of virtue in a young woman. And if I were a YW leader, that’s the kind of lesson I would teach to instill in my girls the value of virtue in their lives.

Bookmark YW Virtue Lessons


  1. No one can ever beat your suggestion in the first comment on the fMh thread.

  2. And this is a lovely post. I have a new hero in Bilqis.

  3. As a complete sidenote, I knew Rachel Esplin in High School. Although it’s incredibly strange to run into random references to her all over the blogosphere, she’s a great girl.

  4. My Sunday school teacher told me that “virtue” doesn’t really mean sexual purity. And I said, “yessssssssssss!”

    Deep Thoughts by Jack

  5. I won’t bother doing the research for this and am certain the NCAA doesn’t maintain official statistics, but there’s virtually no way there has never been a Division I “female Islamic player.” Perhaps she will be the first to play completely covered, but I’m sure that there has been a female Muslim Division I athlete before.

  6. This is a great story, Kevin. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. She is a wonderful role model.

  7. Cynthia L. says:

    Awesome, Kevin.

  8. There’s a quote from G.K. Chesterton from his essay A Piece of Chalk that captures pretty well what I think the intention of the new value is.

    “Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.”

    Doing what we’re told isn’t going to be enough anymore. Young Women need to be willing to make stronger stands about morality. As long as they’re unwilling, or ignorant about the nature of what’s at stake, they’re in a compromising position.

    I’ve not been long out of the YW program, and I honestly wish that someone would have–JUST ONCE–sat us all down and told us how stupid it would be to hand over our bodies to young men who don’t know any better; or even worse, to those young men who did. I wish the lessons wouldn’t have spared our feelings or our comfort at all. With all do respect to personal agency and the efforts of the leaders I had, it simply wasn’t enough to coddle us through. While sexual purity isn’t what Virtue is entirely about, it’s definitely a large part of it–and based on my experience in YW, that’s extremely appropriate.

    I’m proud to see Virtue in the program, and I hope the YW get more out of Personal Progress now than ever before.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Zack, you may well be right. The article just said “first Muslim player,” and I figured there was no way that could be right, so I edited it down to what I presumed she meant and added “female” myself. But I have no idea whether even that is accurate. So I agree with you that that specific claim by the author of the article needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

  10. Love this post, Kevin, and I applaud both the use of a current example, and one from outside Mormonism. Yahoo!

    BN’s previous discussions about the value (among YW leaders, a group to which we would be proud to include you) are here, here, and here. The initial buzz about the value is here, and here.

  11. Natalie B. says:

    Wonderful post!

  12. That’s a great story. Even though we might not agree with her specific implementation of “modesty” (although we may have 70 years ago), we can all understand the difficulty sometimes in publicly living our religion.

  13. At our New Beginnings a few weeks ago I used the article by Pres. Faust—The Virtues of Righteous Daughters of God which lists Faith, Honesty, Chastity, Humility, Self-Discipline, Fairness, Moderation, Cleanliness, Courage, and Grace as elements of Virtue. The girls were amazed because most of them thought virtue was just chastity. I have encouraged the advisors to include these elements in the supplemental material to their lessons.

    This post is a great story about a young girl who shows courage and grace. Thanks for sharing.

    I missed the post about Rachel Esplin. I’d like to show it to my YW if you could provide a link, please.

  14. Kevin Barney says:
  15. Thanks, Kevin.

  16. Thank you for this post and all of Rebecca’s BCC posts on the subject, and those at Beginnings New and FMH. In thinking about other role models, I would like to check out the new book referenced on the sideblog, Mormon Women: Portraits and Conversations (or something like that).

  17. I really appreciated your article and think it would be a great idea to pass on to the yw. I currently work with the yw in our area and I know they would love learning about these role models. There are great opportunities to share these examples with the youth at weekly yw/wm acitvities and or the youth firesides. We’ll have to plan something.

%d bloggers like this: