RIO DE JANEIRO – Though Ibtihaj Muhammad has lost in a fiercely contested match in the round of 16, the fencer, whose name became a household in America recently, still commands the honor of being the first American Muslim athlete to compete while wearing a hijab.
“I don’t feel like any part of this journey of mine has been a burden,” Muhammad told Yahoo News on Monday, August 8.
“I feel like it’s a blessing to represent so many people who don’t have voices or don’t speak up. It’s just been a really remarkable experience for me.”
In a fiercely contested match, Muhammad lost against a French fencer, acknowledging that her dream of winning an individual Olympic medal is now over, for now.
She lay flat on her back on the strip for several seconds, wiping tears from her eyes as she hugged her red-white-and-blue-clad family in the front row of the stands.
She then dodged a cadre of reporters waiting to speak with her in order to decompress with her younger sister behind closed doors.
“In that moment, you want to break down your match, figure out what you could have done differently and let go some of the anger and frustration you feel,” Muhammad said when she finally emerged more than an hour later.
“I wish I could have performed better, but it was a blessing to have my sister here to support me.”
As the match ends, the impact she made in demolishing stereotypes and setting an example for Muslim-American girls will endure far longer.
As the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, Muhammad felt a responsibility to take advantage of the platform that being on the world’s stage provided.
She spoke earnestly, eloquently and frequently, encouraging Muslim-American girls to be more active and challenging society’s perceptions of who Muslims are.
“How can you not see that Muslims are like any other group?” Muhammad said.
“We are conservatives and we are liberals. There are women who cover and women who don’t. There are African-American Muslims, there are white Muslims, there are Arab Muslims. There are so many different kinds of Muslims.
“Those are the things I want people to be aware of.”