Women who paved the way: Ibtihaj Muhammad


Courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen on Creative Commons

Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first Muslim-American to win a medal at the Olympics as well as the first woman to wear a hijab for Team U.S.A.

Emily Dvareckas, Photo Editor

In light of Women’s History Month, The Hawks’ Herald is featuring important women from throughout history. The third week of March highlights women who have paved the way in sports.

Ibtihaj Muhammad was born on Dec. 4, 1985. Growing up, she loved to play sports but would often run into problems with team uniforms as they conflicted with her religious beliefs. Her mother would often have to alter the uniforms to cover her arms and legs. When she was 13, Muhammad discovered the sport of fencing after viewing a high school fencing team.

Their uniforms covered their arms and legs and they also consisted of a hat which was a big deciding factor when she thought about joining. Fencing was the one sport that did not make Muhammad feel like an outsider due to the uniform. She wasn’t a big fan of fencing when she first started but soon changed her mind when she realized that fencing would offer her the opportunity to attend a prestigious college with a scholarship.

She started participating in the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a non-profit organization that teaches underprivileged youth in New York City the skills of fencing as well as life skills. This organization helped her get more involved in the sport and she went on to be the captain of her high school team for two years, helping the team win two state championships.

Muhammad attended Duke University after earning a scholarship and graduated in 2007 with degrees in International Relations and African-American Studies with a minor in Arabic.

While at the university, she earned All-American honors in 2004, 2005 and 2006. She placed second at the mid-Atlantic/South Regional and placed 21st at the Junior Olympics. In 2005, Muhammad placed 11th at the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) championships.

In 2009, she began being coached by an Olympian from the 2000 games and won a national title. Since winning her first national title, Muhammad has won five Senior World Team medals. In 2012, Ibtihaj Muhammad was named the Muslim Sportswoman of the Year. In 2014, she helped bring home a gold medal for the United States in Kazan, Russia.

In 2016, Muhammad earned a spot on the Team U.S.A. fencing team and went to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She was the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab at the Olympics for the United States.

She took home the bronze medal and became the first Muslim-American athlete to win a medal at the Olympics. In 2014, Muhammad opened Louella, an online store specializing in affordable fashionable alternatives for the Muslim community. She now runs the business alongside her brother.

Mattel unveiled a new doll in 2017 which honored Ibtihaj Muhammad as a way to empower young girls.