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Meet the First Muslim American Olympian to Compete in a Hijab

by Naila Kelani

February 5, 2016
Image via Instagram user ibtihajmuhammad

Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, a Muslim woman from New Jersey, secured a place on the American Olympic team during an event in Athens, Greece, earlier this week. This summer in Rio, she will participate in the Olympics as the first American to compete in the international event while wearing her religious head covering, or hijab. The official U.S. fencing team will be formally announced on April 11, but according to USA Today, Muhammad has already secured enough points to qualify for the team.

Prioritizing clothing requirements while choosing a sport led her to fencing, where Muhammad has steadily carved out a place for herself since she was just 13 years old. “Black people didn’t fence, and Muslims didn’t either,” she told CNN, but after her mother saw the local high school’s fencing team dressed from head to toe in their regular uniform, she encouraged Muhammad to pursue it.

“I’m hoping this opens the door for Muslim girls to imagine themselves in this space,” she told the Women’s Media Center four years ago.

The 30-year-old fencer and designer holds dual degrees in international relations and African-American Studies, is a three-time NCAA All-American, and runs her own fashion line of modest clothing. During his visit to a mosque this week, President Obama even gave her a shout-out.

“When most people picture an Olympic fencer, they probably do not imagine a person like me,” her bio reads. “Fortunately, I am not most people … I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance.”

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Meet the First Muslim American Olympian to Compete in a Hijab