This summer, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad decided to eschew tropical getaways in favor of something more spiritual. The fencing champion, who made history as the first hijab-wearing athlete to represent America at the 2016 Olympics Games, recently made the Islamic pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca to perform Hajj, describing the experience to Arab News as “something she will never forget.”
However, the entire pilgrimage was not something that Muhammad had been planning for a long time. In fact, she did not know she was going to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj until about three weeks before she stepped onto the plane. The pilgrimage was organized by Dar El Salam, a North American-based travel agency that provides Hajj and Umrah services for North American and British pilgrims. “I felt like it was something Allah called on me to perform Hajj and I was very excited. I was also very apprehensive and did not know what to expect; as you read and try to prepare for the journey it is more than anything you can anticipate,” Muhammad told the publication.
The New Jersey native took to her Instagram page to share photos and videos of the experience with her 275,000 followers. In one image, the athlete poses against the backdrop of the Kaaba—the most sacred site in Islam—wearing a black, flowing abaya and headscarf. “Words can’t express the happiness I have in my heart right now having the opportunity to spend this holiday in Mecca,” she wrote, thanking Turkish Airlines and Dar El Salam for organizing the trip and for making her first trip to Saudi Arabia for Hajj “so memorable.” She went on to add: “May the efforts of the hujjaj be accepted and I hope Allah invites you to Hajj soon!”
The 32-year-old made history in 2016 as the first American athlete to compete in the Olympic Games wearing a hijab. The fencer took home a bronze medal from Rio de Janeiro as part of Team USA’s women’s saber team and since then, the boundary-breaking Olympian has been christened one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2016, and has even had a hijab-wearing Barbie created in her likeness.
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