Ibtihaj Muhammad is an American fencer. She is also the first American to wear a hijab during the Olympics. And although Rio De Janeiro is perhaps the most dangerous site for the Olympics ever, Muhammad says she has more fear in the United States due to anti-Islamic sentiment.
“[I feel unsafe] all the time. I had someone follow me home from practice and try to report me to police,” she said. “And this is right on 28th and 7th in New York City.”
“I’m very vocal about these things because I want people to know I’m not a novelty, I’m not special in any way, I’m a woman who wears hijab and these are my experiences,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad, who came second to Michael Phelps in the vote for who should carry the U.S. flag at the Opening Ceremony on Friday, said the country is at crossroads.
“I want people to know that as hard as [these racist incidents] are on me, they don’t come even close to things we’ve seen like the shooting in North Carolina or the rhetoric around the Khan family at the DNC. It’s ridiculous and we as a country have to change and I feel like this is our moment.”
Muhammad was born in Maplewood, NJ. She was asked about Donald Trump and coyly claimed she didn’t know who he was. But she did comment on his proposed ban on travel from Muslim countries:
“That was always one of my concerns,” Muhammad says. “Am I going to be allowed to board my flight to make it to my Olympic qualifier?”
She also commented on the lack of quality clothing for the Muslim community:
“There was a void in the Muslim community for modest clothing—we’re always buying things from overseas—and to have it made available and not just have modest clothing but have it be affordable and fashionable. You can find modest clothes in the States but they’re not always cute,” she said.
She is friendly with the Obama’s though, having given Michelle Obama a lesson in fencing. Barack Obama spoke with her and told her to bring home the gold.
She competed in the Women’s Individual Sabre today, losing in the 2nd round. She recently told the LA Times that wearing a hijab put her in an awkward place growing up:
“I would get stares,” Muhammad told the Los Angeles Times. “My skin color, my religion, made other people uncomfortable.”
“Fencing found me,” said the 30-year-old Olympian, who took up the sport when she was 13.
“I wanted a sport where I could be fully covered and I didn’t have to look different.”