This Olympic fencer is skewering stereotypes as the first American athlete to compete in a hijab
In a world that can often be violent and discordant, the Olympics have always been the place where countries with different backgrounds, political interests and traditions come together and celebrate their heritage and their athletes as we watch the best in the world compete for Gold. This year, in the wake of much anti-Muslim fervor in the United States, Ibtihaj Muhammad is literally skewering all the stereotypes by being the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, the traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women.
Ibtihaj is an American Muslim, who grew up in Jersey. Her father was a narcotics detective, and her mother was a special ed teacher. Ibtihaj got a scholarship to Duke, and crushed it. She graduated with a double major in international studies and African-American studies, with a minor in Arabic. Yeah, most of us are just glad we got out of college with ONE major. She now runs her own clothing line, called Louella. Oh, and also she’s a world-class fencer, who, when she’s not training for the Olympics, mentors a group of about 200 kids in New York City who want to learn fencing. Basically, she’s a superhero, and in her classic tongue-in-cheek manner, Ibtihaj agrees.
“I’m just your basic Hijabi Zorro,” she told ESPN.
Luckily, Ibtihaj has a sense of humor about the fact that she stands out. Ibtihaj struggled as a kid, because she was different, but she says that she always felt like herself with her teammates. She has also had to deal with strangers, who judge her because of her hijab.
But she always stands up for herself, cuz that’s what superheroes do.
Ibtihaj also made headlines in March, when she was asked by a South by Southwest employee to remove her hijab before he would take her photo. And Ibtihaj won’t take it lying down. She tells ESPN, “I feel like I owe it to my community, I owe it to people who look like me and fight struggles every day, to hear something different. It’s up to all of us to combat these things. I have to speak up because I know there were people before me that did it.”