by Humera Dasu
Islam, saber fencing, and Louella, all have a common denominator- and that is Ibtihaj Muhammad. Otherwise known as the first hijabi on the American Olympic team, Muhammad is breaking barriers through her passion in fencing. Amidst her athletic drive and unapologetic representation of her religion, is a love for fashion. Muhammad is also an entrepreneur, running a fashion line of modest wear for women. She has used her versatile talents and interests on her way to success.
Muhammad began fencing at the age of 13, at the request of her mother who liked that Muhammad could be in a uniform that covered her, without making her stick out from the rest of her team mates. Muhammad fell in love with the sport instantly and carried this hobby through her youth and adulthood. In 2002, Muhammad began training in New York with the Westbrook Foundation’s Elite Athlete Program, under former olympian, Akhi Spencer-El. Muhammad is a 5-time Senior World medalist, currently ranking No.2 in the United States and No.8 in the world.
Muhammad has been a member of the United States National Fencing Team since 2010. In 2016, Muhammad qualified for the summer Olympics after winning bronze at the Fencing World Cup held in Athens, Greece. She gained worldwide recognition as she became the first Muslim American woman to compete in the Olympics with a hijab. Social media sites stormed with stories, tweets, posts and pictures about the Olympian. Muhammad was successful in her first
Olympics games, coming home with a bronze medal in saber fencing for Team America.
Muhammad has been victorious in her athletic career, without having to shun the love for her faith, Islam. Her hijab never came in the way of her sport, nor did she have to sacrifice any aspect of her religion to play.
Muhammad takes pride in her hijab, “Wearing the hijab is a reminder to myself, in a society that is not predominantly Muslim, of being aware of your own religion. Being in sport, it is part of my journey and as an individual, the hijab has always felt right for me.”
Concurrent with her busy life as an athlete is also Muhammad’s creative personality as a fashionista and entrepreneur. In 2014, Muhammad founded her clothing brand, Louella, based in Los Angeles, California. Muhammad aims to bring modest, fashion-forward clothing to women around the world through her online store. Growing up, Muhammad struggled to find both athletic attire and clothing that she felt comfortable in. Thus, her brand provides women and girls with a flexible shopping experience, including a magnitude of choices for their wardrobes.
Muhammad emphasizes the importance of hard work and determination to fulfill dreams and conquer all obstacles. Having faced racism, sexism, and religious bigotry while growing up, Muhammad is a prime example of perseverance.
“I just remember being ostracized and being told that there were things that I couldn’t do because I was black, or there were things I couldn’t do because I was Muslim, or there were limitations because I was a girl,” she said. “Throughout my entire life, I feel like I’ve tried to combat these stereotypes.” Muhammad represents many minorities and wishes to inspire those that share her attributes. As a black, Muslim, hijab-wearing woman, she is striving in the athletic and business world.
In a world where hatred and fear are becoming normalized, many feel too hopeless to chase their dreams. It is people like Muhammad that serve as role-models, for standing up to prejudice to follow each and every one of their dreams.