A female Muslim fencer competed for the U.S. in the Rio Olympics.
Many Americans have a negative reaction when they see women in hijabs, and consider the garb to be deeply misogynistic.

Athletes from around the world gathered in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Most had trained for years, overcoming obstacles in their struggles to finally set foot in Maracanã, the primary stadium and home of the opening ceremonies. Among them was a black Muslim competitor, Ibtihaj Muhammad. The female American fencer's unique path led her to make history for team USA.

Muhammad adheres to the Islamic faith's teachings on modesty. She always covers her whole body while in public, including wearing a head scarf called a hijab. No previous American athlete has competed while wearing this traditional garb.

The 30 year old New Jersey native was excited to be making history. She said of the occasion, "I feel like this is a great moment for Team USA to be even more diverse than we have in the past and I'm just looking forward to representing myself, my community, and my country."

Finding Her Sport

Muhammad had been interested in sports from a very early age. Growing up, she ran track for a while, played volleyball, and participated in several other sports. The experiences were awkward for her; she was the only girl with her arms, legs, and head covered during competition. She wasn't uncomfortable with the clothing itself, she was used to that, but the way her peers would look at her caused her to abandon these early hobbies.

"I would get stares. My skin color, my religion, made other people uncomfortable" Even today, it is not a common sight to see a woman on the playing field with only her hands and face visible. In her youth, the looks she received were more from a lack of exposure to Muslim customs, or the religion of Islam in general. After September 11, 2001, the looks became more about fear and anger.

"It's a tough political environment we're in right now. Muslims are under the microscope," said Muhammad. She expressed concern as to whether or not she would even be allowed to board her flight to go compete, or at least without being hassled.

Double Standard

Many Americans see women in hijabs and have an immediate negative reaction. Many consider it misogynistic to require women to be covered from head to toe in the name of their faith. Others view the hijab as a bulls-eye at which to aim their hatred. A young girl posted on social media that her mother was egged while walking home because some young boys apparently saw the woman's coverings as an invitation to humiliate her.

Some Muslim women tell stories of strangers yelling at them that "this is America! Don't dress like that!" or that sometimes non-Muslim women will approach them and talk to them about how the hijab is an offense to feminism.

eggs, Catholic,, Muslim, nun, hijab Meanwhile, Catholic nuns have walked American streets for decades without people batting an eyelash. Many even give them a respected place in the community. It's odd that the reactions from the general public are so different considering the situations are actually quite similar.

Both Catholicism and Islam have inflicted "righteous" violence on other groups, even recently. Both a nun and a traditional Muslim woman conceal almost their entire bodies, yet only one woman pictured has eggs smashed and dripping down her head just for practicing her religion.

This sort of discrimination is what compelled Ibtihaj Muhammad to find a sport where people couldn't give her those confused or dirty looks. She picked fencing because all participants wear full body suits and protective masks. Becoming a fencer made it possible for people to see her skill as a sportsman and not view her as just a Muslim.

She really made the best of a bad situation. She should never have had to give up so many hobbies just to avoid feeling ostracized, but in the end she found a sport she felt comfortable competing in, and became one of the best in the world at it.

Muslim Representing the USA

As you might expect, Muhammad has received mixed reactions. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted a congratulatory message to her. The Gateway Pundit, however, put out an article titled "Anti-American US Muslim Fencer Eliminated in Olympic Fencing Competition". It highlighted her second-round loss and took great liberties (i.e., lied) by saying she hates America because of comments she made regarding Donald Trump's stoking of Islamophobia.

It's interesting that you never see this kind of controversy when an American athlete wears a crucifix or prays before competing. Some people reacted to Muhammad with cries of "she doesn't represent me or this country!" There are roughly 3.3 million Muslims living in America, so surely they do represent this country, if a smaller part of it than other religions. The fact that nobody seems to care when a Christian or Atheist expresses his faith on the world stage strikes some as a prejudiced double standard.

Muhammad is experiencing again what she hoped to avoid by joining fencing in the first place: people seeing only her faith. But this time, she has the bravery, experience, and something nobody can take away: a place she earned among the world's best athletes.


  1. tomarseneault's Avatar tomarseneault

    This olympics even the Egyptian womens beach volley ball team wore Hajibs. One cmedian quipted "it looks like strip vollye ball, and the Americans are lsing badly". My feeling is as long as you choose to wear it then its nobodies business but your own, unless it becoms a safty hazard, but walking down the streen, other than possibly heat stroke, why should any one care? There is something to be said about conforming to cultural norms in the place you live, but America is such a melting pot who's norm to choose?

  1. Kathryn's Avatar Kathryn

    I have viewed Muslim women bathing in the Mediteranean and in the local Y completely covered while their male counterparts prance about in Speedos. It is,of course, their perogative to do so. It is also my perogative to find it insulting to womanhood and the hard won equality we enjoy here. While I abhor any assault against them be it physical or verbal, I do not and shall not think female-only modesty is acceptable. When visiting Muslim countries I made certain to dress respectfully of their culture so as not to give offense. Where is the quid pro quo in the US for our sensibilities?
    To clarify, I'm not thrilled with the nun habit or public acts of any religion. Some things are meant to be private. Showing off or proselytizing to influence others is annoying and punishable by death or imprisonment in some countries. Think of that next time you are asked to be tolerant or told you have a double standard.

    1. Brother John's Avatar Brother John

      Do you find any of the following offensive, Kathryn? I do. And not all of the scripture is from the Old Testament. The Bible, Torah and Quran are all patriarchal, archaic ramblings from what some (probably all men) believe to be the "good old days". The pictures of the two women side by side speaks volumes. One is pious and godly, the other the victim of misogyny. The "hard won equality" you mention means disregarding the patriarchal nonsense below.

      "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." (I Corinthians 11:3)

      "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (I Timothy 2:11-14)

      "If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silvers, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days." (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

      "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything." (Ephesians 5:22-24)

      "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

      "Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die." (Eccles. 25:22)

      “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16)

      1. Kathryn's Avatar Kathryn

        Yes, I find these and other quotes offensive in the extreme. As I have stated previously, most religions have misogyny at their base. For this reason I do not condone any book said to be 'holy' that denigrates womanhood. In the US we have become more tolerant (some would say too much so) of the female body and with that women's role in society. I find no reason to be tolerant of any religion, culture, philosophy that views the distaff side as somehow 'less than'. Immigration of those who do find that acceptable, and one day through their fecundity be able to influence our system of laws make me fear for the future of our granddaughters and our way of life and opportunity.

  1. Kirk's Avatar Kirk

    Nobody would care about her faith if she presented a positive patriotic nature, but she didn't do this, she criticized America. If her criticisms were really as bad as she made them, she never would have made it to the Olympics. I've had people attack me because of the color of my skin too, I've had people attack me for what I do. But, I would never attack America because I know America is the best despite what I've been through.

  1. hsw's Avatar hsw

    First, she did not in any way criticize America. She described a very real situation from the perspective of her experience. In addition, she utilized her First Amendment right to free speech, as did you.

    Not sure why you'd have a problem with either of those things. She's obviously a proud American, or she wouldn't have chosen to put herself out there representing her country.

  1. Don's Avatar Don

    Great article! Someone should read it to Trump.

  1. I am Rev.Dr.Yanel J. Laroche Jr..And Priscilla the Chastity the female archangel in his soul.'s Avatar I am Rev.Dr.Yanel J. Laroche Jr..And Priscilla the Chastity the female archangel in his soul.

    Rev.Dr.Yanel J. Laroche Jr.: I read in the Holy Bible that God called LORD is impartial. And I still believe all Christians should dress spiritually and modestly because that is lawful and also encouraged in the Gospel.

    Priscilla the Chastity:She is a Muslim you see.And some Muslims were harassed in the U.S.A. actually when they cover their whole body. I feel sorry for Muhammad and other Muslims really that live in the U.S.A. daily.My name is Priscilla the Chastity.

  1. eliud colbath's Avatar eliud colbath

    First of all the greater majority of us Christians dont feel this way.The first amendment.yes there will be people out there that will be discriminatory towards any thing that does not fit their fancy.A true Christian would not act in a derogatory manner.We live in a prejudicial world.We also live in the U.S.We can express our opinions which are not always right.Mohamad feels she is being discriminated.I have an advise for her.Dont feel this way. Its not your problem.Its their their problem.Please dont generalize.Moslems also discriminate.Just like in all races.Remember stick and stones can hurt my bones but words will never hurt me.Race and gender are the only thing Hilary is running on.Nothing else.We listen but dont here.Thats all she's got. SHE PRIS ON THE EMOTIONS of the American people.The TWO things we as creatures of emotion are at our most vulnerable.That why she is always pandering to the races.Thats why she panders to you Mohamad.We all have been discriminated.White Black Hispanic Asian etc.Christian Jews Mormons etc.Do not let your heart be troubled.Hilary stole Trumps words by saying "I am with you".Thats pandering.A true Christian loves you Mohamad.Please dont Generalize and think that all of us are prejudice.Dont let a few bad apples spoil your life.Christs words Love one another as I have loved you.God Bless You.

  1. eric k's Avatar eric k

    She is just another American who found her niche sport, but what may have kept her from maybe being a star in another sport was an uncomfortable surroundings because she was not dressed like everyone else, too bad we all missed out because of discrimination

    She is a super star, I may not believe like she believes but let god judge that , lets judge her for her courage and athleticism

    1. tem's Avatar tem

      What about the people who are starving that help others and keep nothing for themselves. Thats something to think about

      1. hsw's Avatar hsw

        Which has nothing to do with the topic of this thread.

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