Ibtihaj Muhammad Talks to beIN SPORTS on Her Journey to Become First Hijab-Wearing American Olympian

Published December 28th, 2021 - 09:59 GMT
Ibtihaj Muhammad (Photo: beIN Sports)
Ibtihaj Muhammad (Photo: beIN Sports)

In an exclusive with beIN SPORTS, Ibtihaj Muhammad discussed the important role sports is playing in Qatar and beyond.

She is the first Muslim American woman in hijab to represent and win the bronze medal for the United States fencing team in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

Muhammad is an activist, entrepreneur, and author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Proudest Blue.

She continues to be a prominent figure in global discussions on social issues, such as equality and the role of sports in bringing positive change.

Ibtihaj Muhammad shared her views on Qatar hosting the highly-anticipated FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, and stated: “Qatar being host for the World Cup is a great moment for the region. I love the new stadiums that have been built. I love that a lot of thought has gone into just the process, and even donating one of the stadiums to a less fortunate country is really remarkable. I look forward to the World Cup in a few months’ time”.

Muhammad remarked on the importance of young women to attend sports and be inspired by sports and noted the inclusivity of the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021™: “One of the important things about sports for me is that it is a meeting point for everyone, and it should feel like a safe space, no matter your gender, ethnicity, or religious identity. It should be a place where we all feel welcome. Knowing that so many women, attended the Arab Cup is a sign of where we are going in the future and hopefully have more of our youth participate in sports, and having health, fitness, and sports be a part of their everyday”.

Sharing her own unique struggles of growing up and entering sports as one of the few hijabi Muslims her area, Muhammad said: “It was not always easy being one of one in the spaces I grew up in, whether it was being one of the few families of colour, or being one of the few Muslim countries in my hometown, or even being the only hijabi growing up. I think sports was a really unique opportunity for me to find myself. Sports taught me how to find my voice, how to stand up for myself, and also really understand the power that I have. There is so much to be said for putting in hard work, and in sports you are able to see the fruits of your labour relatively quickly. So I have learnt a lot about myself through sports and this is why I am such an advocate for putting young girls in sports because it really teaches us a lot about ourselves and the limitless power that we all have”.

On discovering her love for fencing, Muhammad stated: “I have not always felt accepted in the sports of fencing, but that is the cool thing about sports – sports knows no gender, no race, no ethnicity, no religious identity. It is really about winning. What you put into sports is what you get out of it. As a fencer, as someone who wears a shield when I am competing, I am in a mask. I have on long jacket, and long pants, and the only thing people may know about me as an athlete is that they can see my name, they see Muhammad, they see USA on the back. What I am doing in that moment is really trying to live up to my name and show people how strong and how powerful a Muslim woman in a hijab can be in fencing”.

On feeling a level of responsibility to represent young and Muslim women during the Olympics: “My faith is very much a part of who I am. I know that even my ethnicity and religious beliefs play a part in the way people treat me. Even though they are not always positive experiences, I feel that because I am met with such adversity, it is important being present and showing up in spaces where I may not always be welcome. It is important to continue to tell my story. It is important to continue to show up in these spaces because I know I am creating space for other people. I have always felt that my journey is bigger than me – that I have always been meant to be a fencer, to compete at this level of sports. I am effectively encouraging and empowering the next young Black woman to come in this space and feel like this is something she can do and there is no one who can tell her that she can’t”.

On winning the bronze medal for fencing at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics: “I think the medal is a culmination of all the hard work, tears, and work you put in. I feel like the medal is for all those moments where you feel defeated but you keep going anyway. I know the medal is not just for me but all of us. It is for anyone who has ever been told no and forges forward anyway. I am so proud of the work I have put in and the resiliency that went into my journey”.

Her advice on how to use sports to drive positive change around the world: “I think that a really easy way to use sports as vehicle for change is to continue to practice your craft and be comfortable being uncomfortable, being activists in our arenas, using our social channels for good, and constantly speaking up for social issues for those who may not have the opportunity to speak for themselves; advocating and spreading awareness for the different injustices that exist around our globe”.

On young Arab women aspiring to become professional athletes: “For anyone out there who wants to pursue professional sports, just go out there and have fun. I was not thinking in my career that I wanted to go and win an Olympic medal. I was just trying to just get better and have fun while doing it. I believe that what is meant to be will happen, so you might as well have fun while doing it and just enjoy the ride”.  

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