Ibtihaj Muhammad (pronounced: Ib-tee-haj) will compete in fencing at the Rio Olympics on Monday and in doing so, she will become the first American to ever compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab, the head covering worn by Muslim women.
While many athletes dream only of winning gold at the Olympics, Muhammad is 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 the first Muslim-American to qualify for the Olympics as someone who wears a 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.”
She added 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 that 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 every day 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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