The 2016 Olympics are set to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from August 5th to the 21st, and the anticipated two-week sporting event is already shaping up to be a record-breaking one. For the first time, the upcoming Olympics will be hosted in South America; these are the first Olympics in which millennials (those born in the year 2000) will compete; and, there’s even a hijabi Olympian participating in the games. Meet Ibtihaj Muhammad, who, after stepping onto the fencing piste at the upcoming games, will make history as the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab.
The New Jersey native was initially drawn to the sport when she was 13-years-old and saw completely covered athletes at a local high school. “Growing up, I played a bunch of different sports but as a Muslim my parents always had to alter the uniforms for me,” Muhammad told Style.com/Arabia. She added, “Fencing was just so uniquely accommodating to my religious beliefs from the very beginning and that’s how I got into it, and how I stayed on.”
The 30-year-old, who graduated from Duke University in North Carolina with a double major in African Studies and International Relations, has a certain knack for adhering to her religious beliefs. When she isn’t appearing on the Ellen show, offering fencing lessons to Michelle Obama, or being honored in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, the athlete can be found managing her own modest clothing brand, Louella, which she founded in 2014 after struggling to find nice, modest clothing.
“Here, in the United States, we’re not as fortunate as you guys [in the Middle East] where designers cater to us Muslims. My brother suggested that I start making my own dresses, so we found a manufacturer in L.A., and went from there.” The brand, which originally spawned from necessity, has since expanded to include a wide range of clothes that includes dresses, pants, tunics, and even a ballgown.
Although on the piste, Muhammad dresses in Nike (the star athlete announced that she joined the Nike family via Instagram), outside the ring, Muhammad can be seen in one of her designs—which she almost always pairs with an artfully applied face of makeup. In fact, Muhammad’s second weapon of choice (after a saber) is a stick of eyeliner. “I’m an eyeliner girl,” she mused. “I don’t do anything without it. I even compete with it on,” and listed kohl as her Rio essential along with a potent dose of confidence.
But with her extreme agility, GPS-enabled accuracy, and enviable strength, we’re certain confidence won’t be an issue. The 2005 Junior Olympic champion has been physically and mentally preparing for the event for years, and credits her athletic prowess to strength training paired with lots of rest and clean eating.
When asked if she faced any obstacles on the road to reaching the Olympics, Muhammad admitted to experiencing a lot of adversity throughout her journey. “People told me that my goals weren’t attainable for whatever reason—especially when I was trying to achieve a feat that has never been done before—and that was discouraging.” However, she didn’t let the negativity get to her, and sought outside inspiration from her community and minority children. “I just kept my head down and stayed hyper-focused—not just for myself, but for the youth out there who want to pursue a life of sport where they’re under-represented.” The message she wants to share with young Muslims who wish to excel in sports: “Never allow anyone to dictate your journey.” Indeed, when it comes to Muslim female representation on a global platform, we’re certainly hoping that history repeats itself.
Homepage image: ibtihajmuhammad / Instagram