American fencer is using the Olympics to help change the perception of Muslim women

Ibtihaj Muhammad (pronounced: Ib-tee-haj) isn’t going to the Olympics worried about all the bad news that’s coming out of Rio. She’s going with a different goal in mind — to change the perception of Muslim women.

While winning medals is a goal, her primary focus might be more about changing people’s perceptions.

“I want people to see that there are Muslim women who challenge the stereotypes and conceptions of what Muslim women are,” Muhammad told Business Insider.

And that’s what she’s all about.

Muhammad is believed to be the first Muslim-American to qualify for the Olympics as someone who wears hijab, a traditional Muslim headscarf. To some, this could simply be glossed over, but the significance of this should not and cannot be lost, especially given the current state of the world.

“I feel that Muslims aren’t always painted in the most positive light,” Muhammad said. “I want to hopefully show Muslims a different narrative than what we’re used to hearing,” adding that she’s seeking to overturn the notion that all Muslim women are “docile, oppressed, that we’re all Arab,” instead wanting to showcase the potential a Muslim woman has on as grand a stage as the Olympics.

As a member of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, it’s undeniable that Muhammad’s already done a fair bit of work when it comes to advocating for Muslim women. After all, it’s not everyday that a fencer is named as a Pioneer on that list with people like Aziz Ansari and Alan Stern.

But her story as an observant Muslim woman from New Jersey is, as Time Magazine says, “That’s not just the story of Ibtihaj Muhammad. That’s the story of America.”

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