MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Ibithaj Muhammad, who is from Maplewood and a Columbia High school graduate, is making headlines, and not just for earning a spot to compete on the U.S. Olympic fencing team in the 2016 Olympic Games, being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Muhammad, who fenced at Columbia High School and then at Duke University, is also in the news for competing while wearing a hijab. According to CNN.com, Muhammad "will be the first U.S. athlete to compete in the Olympic Games in a hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women to show modesty."
Muhammad competes in the Women's Saber category, and is ranked 2nd in the U.S. and 7th in the world. According to her U.S.A. Fencing bio, Muhammad started fencing at age 13, after seeing a Columbia High School fencing team practice. Muhammad said, "'Because they were fully covered, my mom suggested that I should try it out when got to high school. As a Muslim female, the sport was uniquely accommodating. My religion requires that my body be fully covered and fencing did just that."
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Muhammad also states on the U.S.A. Fencing website that fencing has taught her "how to aspire higher, sacrifice, work hard and overcome defeat. I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals -- not race, religion or gender. I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance."
President Obama recently mentioned Muhammad at a speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore stating, "When Team USA marches into the next Olympics, one of the Americans waving the red, white, and blue, will be a fencing champion [Ibtithaj Muhammad] wearing her hijab."