Update 8/8/16: Ibtihaj Muhammad made it to the Round of 16, but then fell to a French fencer, Cecilia Berder. She has one more chance to get up on that podium in Saturday’s team event at 8 a.m. We’re still big fans and you can read the original story below to find out why.
The Summer Olympic Games have been held since 1896, but there are still a lot of barriers that need to be broken down. For the U.S. Olympic team—they never had an athlete compete in a hijab. Until now.
Thirty-year-old Ibtihaj Muhammad will compete this weekend in fencing. She started in high school and continued with the sport through college. Now, she’s taking on the biggest stage in the world.
Ibtihaj, who’s African-American, finds it freeing to be in a uniform that complete covers her body and face.
“Once I had my uniform on and my mask went on, you know, people didn’t see me for my race, they didn’t see me for my religion, they didn’t see me for my gender,” she said in a TODAY Show interview.
A hijab is a headscarf worn by Muslim women (not all of them choose to wear one, of course) that covers the hair and neck, leaving the face exposed. According to Arabs in America, some women wear it to show their devotion to the religion, others in solidarity with their individual cultures.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are ignorant about Islam. That’s something Ibtihaj has definitely experienced, as a part of society and as a member of the sport.
“It was tough to hear people say that I don’t belong in fencing because I’m Black or I don’t belong in fencing because I’m Muslim,” she says. “Just last week, I was walking with my teammate, a man told me that I looked suspicious and he started asking me if I was going to blow something up.”
Through it all, Ibitihaj has kept her head up, practiced her craft and she could be standing on the podium in just a few days if she does well in Rio. She’s also told reporters that she hopes getting this far will be an inspiration to other women of color.
Good luck, Ibtihaj!