Thursday 28 July 2016

U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad: 'I'm just your basic Hijabi Zorro'

So, as she's jokingly said, "I'm just your basic Hijabi Zorro."
There will be other athletes in Rio who are better known than Muhammad, though she is a legitimate medal hopeful in the team and individual sabre events. But it is hard to think of anyone whose symbolism is more important. She has taken her messages of tolerance and what life as a Muslim-American woman is like everywhere she goes, be it "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (where she did a hilarious fencing demonstration with DeGeneres' sidekick Andy Zeron), to interviews she did after she was named to Time Magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2016. In February, she was invited to a private meeting that President Barack Obama held with other prominent Muslim-Americans before he gave a speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit in office to an American mosque.
"Where's my Olympian? Stand up," Obama said before his talk, scanning the audience of hundreds that Muhammad was sitting among, wanting her to rise and hear the applause.
She constantly says, "I'm blessed to be in this position."
Muhammad prefers to emphasize positive examples like that when describing what her path to the Olympics has become. But she does not shrink from asserting Muslims and minorities should enjoy the same rights and protections in America as anyone else because, "I feel like I owe it to my community, I owe it to people who look like me and fight struggles every day, to hear something different. It's up to all us to combat these things. I have to speak up because I know there were people before me that did it."
And this: "I wasn't going to allow other people's misconceptions to change my journey."
So, when reporters inquire about what kind of online harassment she receives on her Twitter or Instagram accounts, Muhammad smiles and says, "Oh, sure, there are internet trolls everywhere. But that's what the delete button is for. And I use it." If asked for examples of prejudice she's experienced, she often diverts the discussion instead to the "hundreds of positive messages that cancel them out," or how after taking up fencing for the first time as a 13-year-old girl, she felt wearing the masked headgear and full-length uniform that covered her body had much the same effect as wearing the hijab: She feels it "liberates" her.

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