I have read a couple articles on Muslim sites about this topic of “cherry picking” Ibtihaj Muhammad over Dalilah Muhammad because of how she dress, when they are both Muslim. If you’ve been under a rock for the last 2 weeks you should know that Ibtihaj Muhammad is a Muslim woman fencer who won bronze with her teammates on August 13. And Thursday, another Muslim woman named Dalilah Muhammad won gold in the 400-meter hurdles. Ibtihaj has gotten massive media coverage for being the first Muslim woman to represent USA in the Olympics IN HIJAB. These last six letters have dominated the news cycle leading up to the Olympics.
[Disclaimer: I am no way saying nor do I believe one’s iman (faith) is determined by how many yards of material they have on. I have known plenty hijab (Head Scarf) AND Niqab (face veil) wearing Muslim women whose clothes did not mean diddly squat. With that said here I go…..]
Why we celebrate Ibtihaj as a “HIJAB” wearing Olympian.
In the most the hypermedia Islamophobic election cycle in US history, there are two things that becomes a target on sight – A brown skinned man with a full beard and a thobe and Muslim women (any ethnicity) wearing a hijab. No matter how “Muslim” you think you are or practice, those who fall in these categories have very different experiences, on a daily basis, than every other Muslim in America. People who don’t know us, who even just see us out of their peripheral vision react on sight.
We can not walk down the street and “blend in”. We can not simply withhold our names and “blend in”. And every person that seek to oppress us wants us to “blend in”. It would be so much easier if we just was “more American”. Look more like “regular people”. But more than look American, we choose to BE American, by using our freedom to practice our religion openly.
Unapologetically Muslim American
When a woman wears a hijab she is unapologetically proclaim her right to believe as she chooses. She is unapologetically claiming her right to her own body, her own thoughts, and her own action. Wearing hijab is no longer simply done because we feel like we are “suppose to”. The resolve it takes to re-affirm your belief on daily basis and to show that belief is the most visible way possible is what Ibtihaj represents for Muslims.
I do not know more about Dalilah Muhammad than a couple interviews I watched and a few articles, so with absolutely no shade on Dalilah, I admittedly say YES, we cherry picked Ibtihaj Muhammad, not just as a Muslim Olympian but an Unapologetically Muslim Hijabi Olympian. Because when Ibtihaj stood on that podium, Muslim-Americans could not be ignored. When the American Anthem played and she stood there hand on heart, the notes of Muslim contribution to the greatness of America was audible. Being visibly Muslim eliminates the blind eye that want to demonize and box us into false narratives.
As a hijab wearing, African-American, Muslim American woman, I cheered and applauded for Dalilah Muhammad when she won gold and wondered what the Islamophobes will say when they realized she is Muslim. But when I cheered and applauded for Ibtihaj Muhammad when she won Bronze, in my mind I chided the Islamophobes “In your face! We ARE America!”.