Team U.S.A. fencer and New Jersey native Ibtihaj Muhammad made Olympic history on Monday, becoming the first Olympian to compete while wearing hijab. Number eight in the world fencing rankings—and number two in the US—Muhammad beat Olena Kravatska of Ukraine 15-3 in the opening round. She then lost to Cecilia Berder of France in the individual quarterfinals, 15-12.
She'll participate in the team fencing quarterfinals on Saturday, against Poland.
"I am excited to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions people have about Muslim women," Muhammad told BBC Sports over the weekend. "I want to show people that we can not only be on any Olympic team, but on the US Olympic team which is the strongest of the world's teams."
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) August 7, 2016
Muhammad, 30, lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, where she grew up with her parents and four siblings. She started fencing at age 13, in part because the uniform allowed her to compete while still adhering to her Muslim faith. She was recruited to Duke in 2003, and went on to win the Junior Olympics in 2005, as well as three All-American competitions. She has degrees in International Relations and African-American Studies.
Muhammad has received national media attention since qualifying for the Olympics last year—Time magazine included her on its annual 100 Most Influential People list in April—but she still faces harassment regarding her religion. A volunteer at South by Southwest reportedly told Muhammad that she had to remove her hijab in order to complete here registration in March. The next month, Muhammad told BBC, a man on the street asked her if she was going to blow something up. A few weeks later, she gave Michelle Obama a fencing lesson in Times Square.
I was just asked to remove my hijab at SXSW Registration for my ID badge.. I can't make this stuff up #SXSW2016
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) March 12, 2016
As an African-American Muslim, Muhammad has said that she's interested in bringing attention to her background. "I never felt connected to Arab culture but people always think I am," she told Rolling Stone this week. "There is not much knowledge of African American Muslims. They always want to ask where I'm from, where my parents are from, where their parents are from. They never think we're from here."
Muhammad recently talked to the magazine about not qualifying for the Olympics in 2012, and how determined she became, after that loss, to qualify for Rio. "I didn't make it to the 2012 Olympics and people kept calling me an Olympian," she told the magazine. "I was with a friend once and this little girl came up and said 'Oh it's the Muslim Olympian' and my friend said 'you know, she wasn't in the Olympics' and from that point on I made it my goal. I would never have someone deny me that."
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) August 4, 2016
When she's not training and competing with the US National Fencing Team, Muhammad also, somehow, makes time for her modest fashion line, Louella. According to the website, her goal is to "bring modest, fashion forward clothing to the world."
She's also been vocal in her opposition to Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump.
“We have people in the presidential race who are providing a platform for hate speech and fearmongering,” Muhammad said in a recent interview with the Telegraph. “When I hear people here say they want to throw all Muslims back to their country, I think: well, where am I going to go? This is my home. I feel American to my bones.”