Amid An Atmosphere Of Islamophobia, Ibtihaj Muhammad Makes History As First Hijabi On Team USA

By MintPress, August 3, 2016.

‘I’m hoping we can change direction a little bit and
see Muslims in more of a positive light and try to combat the negative imagery
that we are shown every day,’ Ibtihaj Muhammad, Team USA’s first hijab-wearing
athlete, said at a recent press conference.

Fencer Ibtihaj
Muhammad poses for photos at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit Wednesday, March 9,
2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
RIO DE JANEIRO — The 2016 Summer Olympics
haven’t even started yet, but one American Muslim is already making history.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer, is the first hijab-wearing woman to qualify for Team
USA. She hopes her participation in the Rio Games will help improve the image
of Muslim women in the media, and create pushback against a growing wave of
Islamophobia that’s gotten a dangerous boost from the presidential bid of GOP
nominee Donald Trump.
“It’s a tough political
environment that we’re in right now. It’s not easy,” Muhammad said during a
press conference in Los Angeles, 
according to Agence France Presse on Tuesday. “Muslims are under the microscope and I’m hoping to change the
image that people may have of Muslim women.”
While Muhammad is the first
hijabi member of Team USA, she’s not the first hijabi Olympian. The 2012 London
Olympics, for example, featured 
six athletes in hijab: Wojdan Shaherkani, a judoka,
and Sarah Attar, a runner, from Saudi Arabia; Noor Hussain Al-Malki, a sprinter
from Qatar; Tahmina Kohistani, a sprinter from Afghanistan; Shinoona Salah
al-Habsi, a sprinter from Oman; and Fatima Sulaiman Dahman, a runner from
This year, though, Muhammad will
be competing in an especially politically-charged atmosphere and amid
frequent threats against Muslims in America.
AFP reported:
“Republican presidential nominee
Donald Trump has been accused of fueling anti-Islamic sentiment,
pointedly calling for Muslims to be prevented from entering the United
States in December last year.”
In some ways, Trump is the
greatest success story of the 
multi-million dollar
Islamophobia industry
. Under his candidacy, openly Islamophobic rhetoric has
reached new heights
, from talk of profiling to outrightdeportation of legal Muslim residents of the U.S.  
Despite these threats, AFP noted,
“Muhammad diplomatically declined to speculate on what life for American
Muslims might be like if Trump is elected to the White House in November.”
Instead, she remarked:
“I hate to talk about ‘what-ifs.’
I’m hoping we can change direction a little bit and see Muslims in more of a
positive light and try to combat the negative imagery that we are shown every
day. Can I influence the debate? I don’t know. I’m just trying to do well in
Muhammad is no stranger to
prejudice. In March, 
officials from the SXSW technology conference in Austin, Texas, apologized after a volunteer asked Muhammad to remove her hijab.
And as reports of hijab-wearing women facing prejudice on flights become more commonplace, Muhammad said that this became a
major concern for her not just as a hijab-wearing woman, but as an athlete
hoping to qualify for major events:
“When Muslims were being kicked
off flights in the middle of Olympic qualifiers that was a real worry – am I
going to be allowed to board my flight to make it to my Olympic qualifier?”
At the press conference, she
admitted that having so much attention focused on her faith and her expression
of it is “something I struggle with every day.” But beyond her own struggles as
a highly-visible Muslim woman, Muhammad hopes to make a difference for others:
“You have to not just think about
yourself, but everyone. And there are people in America right now who don’t
feel safe going to work every day, who don’t feel safe in their community.
That’s a problem. I remember being a kid and people telling me I didn’t belong
in my sport because of my skin colour, because I was Muslim. So if I can be a
source of change for other minorities, I feel fortunate to be able to do that.”