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2016 Olympics: First Hijab-Wearing Athlete in Team USA

Tune in to watch the ceremony of 2016 summer Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro on August the 5th. This year the Olympics will definitely be a place where history is made. For the very first time, you will see an athlete wearing a hijab marching among the world’s greatest athletes. Ibtihaj Muhammad, a 30-year old fencer, will be representing Team USA wearing her hijab and challenging all norms of what current America looks like.

Encouraged by her parents, Ibtihaj Muhammad has always been an athlete. Growing up Muhammad played softball and volleyball and ran track, but she always had to go through the hustle of altering the uniforms to a more modest version fit for the hijab. Those altered uniforms always made her feel like she doesn’t belong. Fortunately, this changed when her mother spotted some high school fencer’s wearing their fencing uniforms. Muhammad’s mother rushed to tell her daughter about this sport where she doesn’t have to worry about altering her uniform.

Ibtihaj Muhammad began training at the age of 13 to become a saber fencer, that is, a fencer who can score by hitting his/her opponent above the waist (except for the hands) with any part of the sword. Eager to gain recognition in fencing, Muhammad continued to train hard to qualify for the Olympics, yet she failed to qualify in 2012. However, in February 2016, Muhammad was able to earn the distinction when she won the bronze medal in the tournament in Athens. Since Muhammad first started participating in international competitions, she has won several gold, silver and bronze medals; you can check out Ibtihaj Muhammad’s competition history and medal record here.

Muhammad’s persistence came as a result of her desire to represent people like her; she tells Reuters’ reporters:

“I feel like I owe it to people who look like me to speak out… when I hear someone say something like ‘we’re going to send Muslims back to their countries,’ I say, ‘well, I’m American where am I going to go?”

In 2014, Muhammad has also founded Louella, a modest clothing line that aims at modernizing modest fashion. But her business never took her mind off fencing. Though she was worried about getting sponsored as an African American Muslim Hijabi woman, she now enjoys the sponsorship of huge corporations including Visa and United Airlines.

Muhammad is currently training for the Olympics, and between her trainings, she teaches young children how to fence. In the eyes of her supporters, Ibtihaj Muhammad’s insistence on wearing the hijab is more than a personal choice.  Many people around the world cheer for Muhammad in support of her combat against the stereotypes faced by Muslim women.  

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