Olympic Fencer, a Muslim, Can Fight Fully Covered

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Ibtihaj Muhammad of Maplewood, N.J. is expected to be the first American Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times
 

The fencing team events rotate in and out of the Olympics; there was no team event for women’s saber in 2012, a disappointment to the Americans, who had won the bronze medal in the event at the world championships in 2011 with Muhammad on the team. Olympic rules permitted a maximum of two Americans in the individual event, leaving Muhammad out.

The Americans have continued to shine in women’s saber in the years since and have now won five consecutive team medals at the world championships, including a gold in 2014. Muhammad was a part of all five teams, giving her a great chance at an Olympic medal in Rio.

The team is led by Mariel Zagunis, the most accomplished fencer in American history, winner of individual Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008 and still one of the best in the world. Russia and Ukraine are the main opposition.

Muhammad’s accomplishments led her to be invited when Mr. Obama made his first visit as president to an American mosque last week in Baltimore. Muhammad was among the prominent American Muslims invited to a round-table discussion with the president before his speech.

The subject was “the varying concerns that people have within the Muslim community, like Islamophobia, mass incarceration, anti-Muslim rhetoric,” Muhammad said. “I talked about my experiences as a minority member of Team U.S.A.”

Muhammad is glad her mother noticed the fencers in the cafeteria that day.

“On a Saturday, you’ll see 200 kids here learning to fence” under the auspices of the Peter Westbrook Foundation, she said at the Fencers Club in Midtown Manhattan. “Sports gives girls a sense of confidence that’s very hard to find in this society.”

 

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