Ibtihaj Muhammad’s Struggle with Religion in Sport

I recently came across a very interesting article that interviewed Ibtihaj Muhammad, the very first American Olympic Athlete to compete and win a metal while wearing a hijab. Her victory was in 2016 at the Rio Olympics when she won a bronze medal in saber fencing. In the interview, she speaks about how she struggled to fit in while growing up because she wore a hijab, and how this struggle continued when she began to play sports. In fact, she specifically chose to pursue fencing because it was one of the only sports she could find that accommodated the dress requirements in her religion. She goes on to speak about how she felt like she was “challenging the norm” when she entered a sport that was dominated by white athletes, and how she often felt that the white players on the team had advantages that she did not get. Since her debut, Muhammad has collaborated with Nike, The company has released its first lightweight and breathable hijab for athletes to purchase. There even is a Barbie that was made after her that wears a hijab and is dressed as a fencer. In the interview, she speaks about how this Barbie is significant and important to her because as a child, she struggled to find a doll of color.

Muhammad with her Barbie doll (Courtesy Mattel)

I found an interesting scholarly article that speaks about this very topic. In the article, it speaks about how some women of various cultures and religions, specifically Muslim women, find it very difficult to participate in sports because of the dress requirements. Because of this, their participation in many sports is restricted. We see this very phenomenon above in Ibtihaj Muhammad’s story when she speaks about how she had to choose the sports she wanted to participate in solely based on whether or not they would accept her wearing a hijab. In the scholarly article, the athlete being mentioned states a very similar notion by saying that “Like it’s actually sports themselves sometimes, like that limits your choice to do the sport.”

Featured image: source

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