First American Hijab Olympian, Ibtihaj Muhammad is inspiring young coloured girls with a children’s book that addresses the many unwholesome remarks about the hijab.
The book, ‘The Proudest Blue’, which is set to go on sale on October 22, 2019, discusses the experience of two sisters Faizah and Asiya who are wearing hijab for the first time on their first day of school.
Her hijab, a beautiful blue fabric, is described by her little sister Faizah as the sky on a sunny day. Albeit described as beautiful by Faizah, the hijab is welcomed by the students with hurtful comments but the sisters will stay strong in the face of these challenges and remain proud of who they are.
Ibtihaj says her desire to see children of colour represented in literature inspired her to write the book. When she was asked in an interview with Bustle about what inspired her to write the book, she said “One of the earliest and most powerful forms of representation for children comes through reading. I wanted to tell this story so that young children that look like me could see themselves in a picture book. So that children of colour, Muslims, and both (like me) know they aren’t alone and that there are many out there with a shared experience. It’s important that children of colour see themselves represented in literature. Representation matters.”
Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first Muslim American to compete and win a medal at the Olympics. She recounts in her memoir “Proud” how she was faced with racism and xenophobia among those with whom she competed. She also added that she was bullied when she was young because she wore hijab. However, she pushed past these setbacks by embracing and loving who she is.
Speaking in an interview with The Guardian in 2018, she alleged that while a member of the US Fencing Team, her teammate and staff treated her unpleasantly. She was left out of team emails, ignored by her teammates, left off official team sheets and not invited to team dinners.
She added that the team coach Ed Korfanty called her ‘lazy’ and accused her of ‘slacking off’ during the Ramadan, a period of fasting for all Muslims. She also claimed that Korfanty accused her of skipping training after she was diagnosed with a sprained ankle by the team’s doctor.
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One wouldn’t expect that Ibtihaj would face such treatment in her field but that is the contrary. She said “My thing is that I shouldn’t have to deal with that treatment [I received], especially at the highest level of the sport.” “It is hard enough to climb your way to the top. Being made to feel different is what makes it all the more difficult,” she added.
In the face of these harsh realities, she still stands by her identity and says “My hijab brings me closer to God and reminds me to lead every step with faith,” she told Bustle.
It is not uncommon to find Muslim African-Americans sharing such stories since the surge in Islamophobia after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Muslims in America have been met with such remarks.
Being the first Muslim-American to have achieved such feats in her sport, she has motivated other girls to engage in sports. “Since my time at the Olympic Games, I have seen a lot of young Muslim girls inspired by my story and motivated to be more involved in sports. It is often difficult to see yourself in spaces where there is little to no representation. I hope that seeing me become the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal for our country inspires more of us to embrace the power of difference and to be the first at something as well,” she told Bustle.
The Olympic medallist also mentioned in her interview with The Guardian that Fencing is an expensive sport that is not open to children in public schools and inner cities that had a minority population. It was mostly white children from rich families who engaged in the sport.
Her book, “The Proudest Blue”, co-authored by S.K. Ali relates a story that is meant to uplift hijab wearing children to remain strong despite the challenges they would encounter from wearing the hijab. That notwithstanding, they should embrace who they are.