By Ameenah K.
Muslim women and specifically Muslim American women have been making strides in many aspects of life. But one Muslim American woman has broken through barriers and has paved the way for many other Muslim women through sports.
Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics. A hijab is a scarf/veil that covers the head and chest and is worn by some Muslim women in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family. Ibtihaj is an African American saber fencer and a member of the United States fencing team. She competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and earned the bronze medal as a part of Team USA in the saber competition thus becoming the first female Muslim athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics.
Muhammad was born and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey. Both of her parents are African American and converted to Islam. She has five siblings, one of whom (Faizah) also fences. When Muhammad was 13 years old, her parents were looking for a sport that she could participate in and still wear her hijab. She joined the Columbia High School fencing team at the age of 13 and that began her fencing career. Her fencing career continued when she attended Duke University and received an athletic scholarship for fencing. During her college years, she was a 3-time All American and in 2005 was the Junior Olympic Champion. She graduated from Duke University in 2007 with an International Relations and African American Studies degree. In 2012, she narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympics team that competed in London, England by one spot. Since missing out on being on the U.S. Olympics team in 2012, she trained even harder to make the 2016 Olympics team. Her praying and training paid off when she won a spot in the 2016 U.S. Olympics Fencing team.
In 2014, Muhammad and her siblings launched, Louella, which is an on-line clothing line that aims to bring modest fashionable clothing to the United States clothing market. Muhammad started Louella after she struggled to find modest clothing at reasonable prices. She believes that wearing a hijab does not mean that she cannot embrace her own beauty.
Muhammad is a three-time NCAA All American and was named Muslim Sportswoman of the Year in 2012. She serves on the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sport Initiative. She also works with the Peter Westbrook Foundation which is an organization founded by Olympian Peter Westbrook to mentor inner-city youth through fencing.
During the 2016 Summer Olympics, Muhammad participated in the Women’s Individual Sabre competition. She won the first round but was defeated in the second round. Muhammad and Team USA won the bronze medal for the Team fencing and Muhammad came in 12th in the individual competition.
Muhammad has been a member of the United States National Fencing Team since 2010. As of 2016, she ranks No. 2 in the United States and No. 8 in the world. She is a 5 time Senior World medalist including 2014 World Champion in the team event.