An Muslim athlete from the United States will bring Islamic politics to the 2016 Rio Olympics by wearing an Islamic headcloth, or hijab, during fencing competition.
“I hope that [my message] reaches more kids than anything,” Ibtihaj Muhammad said. “I want them to be comfortable in their own skin and be comfortable with practicing their religion, and not only in the United States, but everywhere,” she said in an interview with NPR.
Muhammad has made the U.S. fencing team, becoming not only the first African-American Muslim to make the women’s saber fencing team, but will also become the first to mark herself as Muslim by wearing the Islamic headcloth during the competition.
“I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals–not race, religion or gender,” Muhammad says in her bio on the TeamUSA website. “I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance.”
“The 30-year-old fencer has been on fire this season,” TeamUSA continues, “earning bronze medals at two of the three world cups held so far. After earning bronze at the Athens world cup on Saturday, Muhammad mathematically secured her spot on the 2016 Olympic team.”
Muhammad is now second in point standings behind two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis. The New Jersey-born fencer also won the silver medal at a world cup stop in 2013.
In 2014, the U.S. women’s team — with Muhammad — won the saber final at the World Fencing Championship. Images from the event show that she kept her hands down while her teammates put their hands on their chests as the U.S. anthem played.
“After I graduated from college,” the Muhammad said to the TeamUSA website, “I saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport. I recognized that I had a skill set, so I started to pursue fencing full time. I felt that it was something the squad needed. There were barriers that needed to be broken in women’s saber.”
She also spearheaded the creation of Louella, an online women’s clothing company based in Los Angeles dedicated to creating “affordable, modest, fashion forward clothing.”
The company features a multitude of models wearing hijabs that compliment Muhammad’s clothing designs.
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