An American fencer in Hijab

Famous Nilanjan Hajra
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American fencer
Ibtihaj Muhammad of the United States celebrates victory in the Women`s individual sabre of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photo : Dreamstime

Ibtihaj Muhammad is not only an ace American fencer, but she is also a devout Muslim. Indeed, she is the only woman sportsperson who competed in the Olympics for the US wearing a hijab. And she won a bronze. Ibtihaj has often been cited as one of the finest symbols of American diversity. Commenting on her the Guardian newspaper said that she was “one of the best symbols against intolerance America can ever have”.

Growing up

The American fencer was born in Maplewood, New Jersey, on December 4 1985. She is an African American and a second-generation American Muslim. Her father, Eugene Mohammad, and mother Denise converted to Islam. While the former is a retired police officer, Denise was a school teacher. The couple has five children, Ibtihaj being the third.

Ibtihaj was a good student. She attended the Columbia High School, and then obtained dual bachelor’s degrees in international relations and African and African-American studies.

Wearing a hijab has been a conscious decision for the American fencer. According to a report in the Telegraph, Ibtihaj insisted on wearing a hijab even while fencing, with a hope that this gesture would encourage other Muslim young girls to realize that wearing a hijab was not an hurdle on the way of pursuing their desires.

Ibtihaj joined her school fencing team at the age of 13, and soon chose the sabre category. Incidentally, modern fencing has three disciplines: sabre, epee and foil. In the sabre category the weapon used for thrusting and cutting with both the cutting-edge and the back of the blade. A female sabre fencer, such as Ibtihaj, is formally called sabreuse.

In 2002 the American fencer joined the Peter Westbrook Foundation. The organization is famous for using the sport of fencing to improve living-skills of youths from backward communities. She received her training under the Foundations Elite Athlete Program in New York City.

In 2010 Ibtihaj joined the US National Fencing Team.

Achievements of this American fencer

Soon after being picked in the national team, the ace American fencer won a team-gold, and an individual in the Pan American Championship. She won the team-gold consecutively in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Her career truly picked in 2016. And she won gold, both individual and team, that year. But her moment of glory truly came in 2016 when she took the bronze in the Rio Olympics and drew huge media attention as the only American Olympian in a hijab. In the same year Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In 2017, the renowned American toy manufacturer Mattel Inc. launched the first Barbie doll fencer, and designed it after Ibtihaj by dressing the doll in a hijab.

Moreover, in 2018 Ibtihaj penned two books. The first one is titled: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream, and the second, The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family. The famous American fencer is also a sports ambassador, and is in the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative.

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