Ibtihaj Muhammad

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Ibtihaj Muhammad
Ibtihaj Muhammad DIG14364-123.jpg
Ibtihaj Muhammad in 2018
Personal information
Country represented United States
Born (1985-12-04) December 4, 1985 (age 33)
Maplewood, New Jersey, US
ResidenceNew York, New York, US
Height1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)
Weight66 kg (146 lb)
ClubPeter Westbrook Foundation
Head coach(es)Ed Korfanty
Personal coach(es)Akhi Spencer-El
FIE rankingCurrent ranking

Ibtihaj Muhammad (born December 4, 1985) is an American sabre fencer, and a member of the United States fencing team. She is best known for being the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics.[1] In individual sabre at the 2016 Summer Olympics, she won her first qualifying round bout, and was defeated in the second round by Cécilia Berder of France. She earned the bronze medal as part of Team USA in the Team Sabre, becoming the first female Muslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics.

Early life[edit]

Ibtihaj Muhammad was born and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey, a suburb 25 miles (40 km) from Manhattan, and is of African American descent.[2][3] Her parents were born in the United States, and converted to Islam.[4][5] Her father, Eugene Muhammad, is a retired Newark, New Jersey police officer, and her mother, Denise, was an elementary school special education teacher.[3][6][7][7] She is the third of five siblings.[8]

In accordance with their beliefs, Ibtihaj’s parents sought out a sport for her to participate in where she could maintain her hijab.[3]

Ibtihaj attended Columbia High School, a public high school in Maplewood, graduating in 2003.[8][9][10] She attended Duke University and graduated in 2007 with dual bachelor's degrees in international relations and African and African-American studies.[11]

Fencing career[edit]

At Columbia High School, she joined the school fencing team at age 13, fencing under coach Frank Mustilli, now the head and owner of the New Jersey Fencing Alliance.[8][12] Mustilli had her switch weapons, from épée to sabre.[12][13]

In late 2002, Ibtihaj joined the prestigious Peter Westbrook Foundation, a program which utilizes the sport of fencing as a vehicle to develop life skills in young people from underserved communities. She was invited to train under the Westbrook Foundation's Elite Athlete Program in New York City. She is coached by former PWF student and 2000 Sydney Olympian Akhi Spencer-El.[14]

Muhammad in 2014

Ibtihaj attended Duke University, where she received a scholarship.[15] She was a 3-time All-American and the 2005 Junior Olympic Champion.[16][17] Ibtihaj graduated from Duke University in 2007 with an International Relations and African American Studies double major.[5][18]

Ibtihaj has been a member of the United States National Fencing Team since 2010. She, as of 2018, ranks No. 3 in the United States and No. 23 in the world. She is a 5-time Senior World medalist, including 2014 World Champion in the team event.[19]

2016 Summer Olympics[edit]

Ibtihaj was defeated by Cécilia Berder of France in the second round in the Women’s Individual Sabre in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics but still left Rio with a bronze medal.[6][20][21] Despite the loss, she attracted significant media attention.[22]

She is best known for being the first woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics.[23] American-born and raised Sarah Attar had run in the 2012 Olympics with her hair covered, in keeping with a request that she does so to respect Islamic law by Saudi Arabia, for whom she ran on the basis of her father having been born in Saudi Arabia.[24]

Ibtihaj became the first female Muslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics.[citation needed] She earned a bronze medal in the Team Sabre, along with Monica Aksamit, Dagmara Wozniak, and Mariel Zagunis, by defeating Italy 45-30 in the medal match. This came after defeating Poland 45-43, and losing to Russia 42-45.

Muhammad at the Sarah Bonnell School in London, UK

As symbol of America's diversity and tolerance[edit]

The 2016 Summer Olympics occurred during the U.S. Presidential campaign in which questions of Muslim assimilation were being discussed, including with respect to U.S.-born Muslims.[citation needed] Ibtihaj as visibly Muslim (due to her hijab) became "one of the best symbols against intolerance America can ever have", according to The Guardian.[25] However, Ibtihaj drew some criticism during the Olympics by describing the United States as a dangerous place for Muslims, saying that she did "not feel safe" as a Muslim living in America.[26]

Other activities[edit]

In 2014, Ibtihaj and her siblings launched their own clothing company, Louella, which aims to bring modest fashionable clothing to the United States market.[4] She is also a sports ambassador, serving on the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative. She has traveled to various countries to engage in dialogue on the importance of sports and education.[27][28] In 2017 Mattel introduced a Barbie in a Hijab, which is designed after Ibtihaj.[29]


She has also penned two books about her life growing up in New Jersey and her Olympic experience:[30]

  • Muhammad, Ibtihaj. (2018) Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream.[31] New York: Hachette Books. ISBN 9780316518963
  • Muhammad, Ibtihaj. (2018) (Young Readers Edition) Proud: Living My American Dream.[31] New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316477000

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Storm, Hannah (August 12, 2011). "Muslim fencer has it all covered". ESPN.com. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  2. ^ "U.S. Olympic Athletes Ibtihaj Muhammad". Archived from the original on November 26, 2011. Retrieved December 25, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c "Meet Ibtihaj Muhammad, the history-making Olympian who called out SXSW for telling her to remove her hijab". Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Adams, Jonathan (August 5, 2016). "Ibtihaj Muhammad: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Carpenter, Les (March 10, 2016). "Ibtihaj Muhammad: the US fencing star out to challenge intolerance and hate". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Hines, Nico (August 9, 2016). "U.S. Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad's Dad: Women Should Never Argue With Men". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "A New Face for Team USA | TIME For Kids". www.timeforkids.com. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Berg, Aimee (June 24, 2011). "Fencer With Headscarf Is a Cut Above the Rest". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  9. ^ Khakpour, Porochista. "Rio Olympics: Ibtihaj Muhammad Is America's Olympic Game Changer". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  10. ^ "Jocelyn Willoughby and Charlotte O'Leary are 'Essex Award' recipients". May 24, 2016. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  11. ^ "Ibtihaj Muhammad". Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  12. ^ a b "Carter: Maplewood woman could be first American Muslim to wear hijab while competing at Olympics". Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  13. ^ "Maplewood Fencing Sisters Among Nation's Elite". Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  14. ^ "Who is Ibtihaj Muhammad?". Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  15. ^ "A Muslim fencer broke stereotypes, but now she wants Olympic gold". July 29, 2016. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  16. ^ Ibtihaj Muhammad (December 4, 1985). "Ibtihaj Muhammad Bio - Duke University Blue Devils | Official Athletics Site". GoDuke.com. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  17. ^ Khakpour, Porochista. "Rio Olympics: Ibtihaj Muhammad Is America's Olympic Game Changer". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  18. ^ "U.S. Olympic Athletes sabre Ibtihaj Muhammad". Archived from the original on December 30, 2011. Retrieved December 25, 2011.
  19. ^ Hafez, Shamoon (August 8, 2016). "Rio Olympics 2016: Ibtihaj Muhammad on hijab, Donald Trump & Muhammad Ali". BBC Sport. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  20. ^ Editor, Amber Ferguson Associate Politics Video; Post, The Huffington (August 8, 2016). "Ibtihaj Muhammad Didn't Win A Medal, Still Scored An Olympic Victory". The Huffington Post. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  21. ^ "The Nike pro hijab goes global". Middle East North Africa Financial Network. December 2, 2017.
  22. ^ "Muhammad out - but media won't let hijab-wearing American go quietly". independent.co.uk. Independent. August 8, 2016. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
  23. ^ "Muslim fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad has it all covered". Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  24. ^ Barker, Sarah. "The Complicated Story Of American Olympians And The Hijab". Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  25. ^ Les Carpenter, "Ibtihaj Muhammad stoic in defeat: 'I feel proud to represent Team USA'", The Guardian, 2016-08-08
  26. ^ "Interview with Ibtihaj Muhammad", The Daily Beast, 2016-08-08
  27. ^ "E:60 Ibtihaj Muhammad - E:60: Ibtihaj Muhammad's American Olympic dream - ESPN Video". Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  28. ^ "Ibtihaj Muhammad, Olympic trailblazer - ESPN Video". Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  29. ^ "First US hijab-wearing Barbie to honour fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad". Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  30. ^ Courtney, Sara. "Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad Wrote A Powerful Memoir About Her Experiences As A Black Muslim Olympian". Bustle. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  31. ^ a b 1985-, Muhammad, Ibtihaj,. Proud : living my American dream (Young readers ed.). New York. ISBN 9780316477000. OCLC 1039423626.

External links[edit]