March 15, 2016–Ibtihaj Muhammad, Olympic Fencer
If you’re worrying about a scarf, that means you’ve missed the saber and Ibtihaj Muhammad has already made mincemeat of you. But odds are, you won’t notice the hijab when she’s competing. That’s the whole point.
Born on Dec. 4, 1985 in New Jersey, Muhammad is best known for being the first woman wearing a hijab to represent the US Olympic Fencing Team. But make no mistake, it was her skill and not her hijab that got her on the team.
Muhammad was a member of the United States’ 2014 world champion fencing team and is ranked seventh in the world in her discipline, saber.
“There were no role models,” she told the New Yorker magazine. “When I competed in local tournaments, there were often comments about me — being black, or being Muslim. It hurt.” Despite the taunts, Muhammad kept her head down, kept fencing and slowly and steadily rose through the fencing ranks.
Last month, she attended President Obama’s speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore — his first ever visit to an American mosque as president — and found herself singled out from the audience of hundreds.
“When Team USA marches into the next Olympics, one of the Americans waving the red, white and blue will be a fencing champion, wearing her hijab, Ibtihaj Muhammad,” he said. “Stand up.”
As Muhammad stood, and the audience applauded, he said, “I told her to bring home the gold.” Then the president focused his gaze on the fencer, “Not to put any pressure on you,” he added.
With her siblings, she also runs a women’s clothing line called Louella, which specializes in clothing that fits the strictures of both Islam and contemporary fashion.
In February, Muhammad secured her spot on the Olympic team this past February when she won bronze at the Athens World Cup. At first, the accomplishment didn’t sink in, and life went on as usual, with all of it’s appointments and tasks.
But Muhammad’s victory was very real to another Muslim-American woman–Edina Lekovic, a director at the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
“I was jumping up and down, and immediately starting texting friends and calling family members,” Lekovic told Time. “This is such a moment of pride and progress, and there’s no going back.”