Muslim 'Girl From Jersey' Set To Make US Olympic History

Sameera Ehteram
There is a lot of buzz about the Rio Olympics and not all is good. However, one athlete from team USA is already making history against all odds.



Yes, she made it!

Thirty-year-old fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad may have failed to make the 2012 Olympic team, but her dream came true at Rio 2016.

What’s more, she will be the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab (Muslim headscarf).

Ibtihaj Muhammad

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"Muslim Americans enrich our lives today in every way. When Team USA marches into the next Olympics, one of the Americans waving the red white and blue will be a fencing champion wearing her hijab — Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is here today," President Obama acknowledged her achievement earlier this year.

"I feel like my hijab is liberating. It is a part of who I am, and I believe that it allows people to see me for my voice and not necessarily how I look," Muhammad said. "I hope that it'll change a lot of the misconceptions that people have about Muslim women specifically."

"We're in this time where people are very comfortable, speaking out against Muslims. I had a man encounter me on the street and told me that I looked suspicious, and that I looked like I was [going to] blow something up," Muhammad recalled in a recent interview. "And he followed me to my train. I felt so unsafe and I was afraid. Here I am, a U.S. Olympian and that's my reality."

ibtihaj muhammad

Muhammad has been a member of the United States National Fencing Team since 2010. She currently ranks No. 2 in the country and No. 8 in the world. She is also a five-time Senior World Fencing Championship medalist, including 2014 World Champion in the team event.

The fencer was born in Maplewood, New Jersey, where she attended Columbia High School before joining the fencing team at age 13.

ibtihaj muhammad

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More than anything else, she wants to change the perception of Muslim women.

"I want people to see that there are Muslim women who challenge the stereotypes and conceptions of what Muslim women are," Muhammad told Business Insider.

"I feel that Muslims aren't always painted in the most positive light," she added. "I want to hopefully show Muslims a different narrative than what we're used to hearing."

Ibtihaj Muhammad is an accomplished young woman with dual bachelor's degrees in international relations and African-American studies. She is a minor in Arabic from the Duke University, where she received an academic scholarship. She is also a three-time All-American and 2005 Junior Olympic Champion and was nominated as the Muslim Sportswoman of the Year in 2012.

She also is a sports ambassador and serves on the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative.

"I knew she would be a champion," said Muhammad's high school coach, Frank Mustilli. "There's not a whole lot of children that walk in here and have that look  to be able to look at through opponent and say, 'You're not even there, because you know what? I'm focused on that gold medal and you just happen to be between me and it.'"

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