Careful who you mess with: Olympic fencer outraged when asked to remove her hijab at SXSW

Published March 14th, 2016 - 05:00 GMT
Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the 2016 team photo. (AFP/File)
Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the 2016 team photo. (AFP/File)

The Muslim-American woman who is set to become the first U.S. Olympian to wear a hijab while competing this summer was asked to take it off while posing for an identification photo at SXSW.

World champion fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad tweeted Saturday in Austin, Texas that she was asked to take off the religious head covering as she registered for the popular tech festival.

'I was just asked to remove my hijab at SXSW Registration for my ID badge.. I can't make this stuff up #SXSW2016', the 30-year-old fencing powerhouse wrote on Twitter.

'Even after I explained it was for religious reasons, he insisted I had to remove my hijab for the photo to receive my badge #SXSW2016', Muhammad tweeted moments later.

She added that the person then proceeded to give her the wrong I.D. that belonged to a Time Warner employee named Tamir Muhammad.

'Thennnnn (sic) I was given the wrong ID! From now on my name is Tamir & I work for Time Warner Inc #SXSW2016', she tweeted alongside a photo of the I.D. badge.

She was at the festival as a speaker for SXSports programming during 'The New Church: Sport as Currency of American Life' panel discussion.

The person who asked the Duke University graduate to remove her hijab was a volunteer and has been removed from SXSW, a spokesman for the festival said.

'It is not our policy that a hijab or any religious head covering be removed in order to pick up a SXSW badge,' festival organizers said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune.

'This was one volunteer who made an insensitive request and that person has been removed for the duration of the event.

'We are embarrassed by this and have apologized to Ibtihaj in person, and sincerely regret this incident.'

This summer she will be competing with the U.S. women's Olympic fencing team in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics and is expected to become the first Muslim to represent America in international competition while wearing the religious head covering.

Muhammad, who has become a Muslim-American icon, has launched her own fashion line, Louella, for Muslim women.

She has also been very vocal against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigration.

'I feel like I owe it to people who look like me to speak out,' Muhammad said Wednesday. ''We're going to send Muslims back to their countries,' I say 'Well, I'm American. Where am I going to go?''

A champion sabre fencer, Muhammad's trajectory in her sport since age 13 was shaped in part by her religion, and partly by a fierce sense of competitiveness.

One of five siblings, she remembers growing up in an athletic family but feeling out of place in some sports because she chose to dress more modestly than other girls.

With fencing, where competitors don protective suits and facemasks, that wasn't an issue.

'I was self serving,' Muhammad said. 'I wanted to find a sport where I could be covered and I didn't have to look different from everyone else.'

Muhammad didn't immediately fall in love with swordplay, finding fencing tedious at first. But the New Jersey resident stuck with it for another reason: the promise of a college athletic scholarship.

She had done her research, discovering that almost all of the top U.S. universities had fencing programs. Muhammad graduated from Duke, where she was an All-American athlete.

After fencing, Muhammad says she may consider a career in U.S. diplomacy. She recently had a chance to voice her concerns to President Barack Obama during a roundtable he held at his first visit to a U.S. mosque.

Obama told her he was counting on her winning a medal in Rio.

By Regina F. Graham


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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