Sample donated: Maureen Briggs
Last updated: September 20, 2019
Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first femaleMuslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics.
She was born in Maplewood, NewJersey, where she was raised by her African American Muslim parents, alongside foursiblings. Her dad, was a retired Newark, New Jersey police officer, and her muman elementary school special education teacher, Ibtihaj parents already blessedwith four children before she was born.Growing up, she had a specialattraction for sports, but one thing stood as a limitation between her and herlove for sports, which was her religious obligations that demands her modestappearance. Her religion allows for a woman to dress in a manner whereby mostparts of the body are covered leaving out some functional areas for externalengagements.In accordance with her beliefs,she couldn’t participate in a number of sports that conflicted with herreligious observance to dressing modestly.
Although she grew up in anathletic family she always felt out of place in some sports because she choseto dress more modestly than other girls.Ibtihaj wanted to do more thanshe was already engaged in, but she was restricted to a large extent until a perfectsolution was discovered; Fencing (a sport in which two competitors fight using’rapier-style’ swords, called the foil, winning points are made through thecontact with an opponent)Ibtihaj’s mother wasinstrumental in the search for the perfect sport, observant a team of fencers intheir long pants and hats, as they practiced. Fencing gave her the opportunityto fully engage in a sport without having to compromise her faith.
She was 13when they discovered fencing, and unlike other sports, fencing was an idealopportunity to participate in sports because practicing fencing allowed the useof hijab and with this she never felt displaced amongst her teammates.Ibtihaj joined the fencingteam and began to learn and practice the game at her Alma Mater, Columbia HighSchool, where she graduated in 2003. She became the captain of the fencing teamin her school for two years and led the team’s victory during the statechampionships twice.She later joined the PeterWestbrook Foundation, a non-profit organization that introduces and teaches thesport of fencing (and life skills) to underprivileged inner-city youth in NewYork City. There, she met other kids from similar backgrounds and she becamemore zealous to pursue her decision.In 2007 Ibtihaj graduated fromthe Duke University as a scholarship holder with a double major ininternational relations and African-American studies and a minor in Arabic.While at Duke University, sheplayed fencing with the school’s club and cleared All-America honors with arecord of 49-8, just in her first year at the college. At the mid-Atlantic/SouthRegional and 21st at the Junior Olympics she moved to place second.
Thefollowing year, she finished 11th for saber at the NCAA Championships, andearned her second consecutive All-America honors.This was just the beginning toher success record. Throughout her career, she earned numerous medals for bothher team and for herself during all the events on the World Cup circuit.
In 2009, she won a nationaltitle after her new coach Akhi Spencer-El (2000U.S. Olympian) came on board.
In 2012, she was named MuslimSportswoman of the year being the first woman to wear a hijab while competingfor the United States in the Olympics. In 2014, she won the gold for her teamrepresenting the United States in Kazan, Russia.During the Women’s IndividualSabre in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics, Ibithaj won her firstqualifying round but was defeated by French fencer Cécilia Berder in the secondround.Despite the loss, shecontinued to gain media attention as the first female Muslim-American athleteto win an Olympic medal when she took home the bronze in the team sabre event.
Ibithaj serves on the councilfor the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through SportInitiative, a platform that encourages girls across the globe to reach theirfull potential.Her story is an inspiration tomany women and young girls both in the Muslim society and the sporting sector.She will always be an example and a hope to other Muslim children who areinterested in sporting.