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Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad becomes an American hero in a hijab

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images for USOC

By Drew Farmer

Despite the rhetoric of one U.S. presidential hopeful in an election year, Ibtihaj Muhammad has reminded many that America is a melting pot of diverse people. The hijab-wearing fencer took home a bronze medal in the Team Sabre event alongside Monica Aksamit, Dagmara Wozniak and Mariel Zagunis. The quartet defeated Italy in the third-place medal match.

Muhammad is ranked eighth in the world and currently is listed as the USA’s number two. She has spent a lifetime playing the sport, yet nothing she has done in fencing to date has gained her as much attention as this, her appearance at the Rio Olympics.

Now a spokesperson for not only Muslims but black Americans, Muhammad spoke about her experience at the games and her hopes for the future.

“I’m hoping that through my experiences here at the Olympic Games – winning a medal – that I combat those stereotypes about Muslims and African Americans, and even women,” Muhammad stated after her Olympic experience had ended. “We’re like any other athletes, we have worked really hard for this, and I can’t think of a more deserving group of girls to go home with a medal.”

Muhammad may have been unsuccessful in the individual fencing event, losing to France’s Cecilia Berder in the second round, but it was her work in the team event that will leave a lasting memory in the minds of fencing aficionados.

“She is still an inspiration to us whatever the outcome and whatever her faith,” Mitchell Saron, a 15-year-old U.S. junior fencer, explained. “We don’t care about the hijab one way or another. She is a brilliant competitor. Today, she lost but we don’t think anything less of her for that.”

Muhammad’s history-making win will also be remembered for the fact that she is the first U.S. Olympic athlete to wear a hijab. It might not seem like much to younger generations, but it is something that a certain segment of Americans see as an attack on the establishment.

Muhammad’s finest moment comes with the backdrop of Donald Trump’s continued effort to ostracize those of different color or ethnic makeup than his own. In fact, members of a certain demographic believe that Muhammad’s podium moment wearing a hijab is very similar to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ 1968 black glove medal moment. That is not the case as Muhammad and others are actually trying to show the country we are all in this together, and America is already great.

“Oh, I believe so we are in a really peculiar time in our country, where people are comfortable saying things about particular groups, and they encourage fear, and they encourage violence, and I want to challenge those ideas,” Muhammad said. “I feel I have to use my platform as an athlete to speak up, and hopefully provide change in this country.”

Inspired by the late, great Muhammad Ali, Ibtihaj Muhammad wants to speak out and use her position as an Olympic athlete to change the world.

“Why not use your platform to change our condition to help make our world a better place?” Muhammad questioned.

At the top of her sport, she has a lot to say and hopefully more people will listen.

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