News / USA

American Female Muslim Athlete Inspires Girls in Dakar

Fencing champion Ibtihaj Muhammad tells students at the John F. Kennedy all-girls school in Dakar that they can do anything they believe in, Feb. 7, 2014. (Jennifer Lazuta/VOA)
Fencing champion Ibtihaj Muhammad tells students at the John F. Kennedy all-girls school in Dakar that they can do anything they believe in, Feb. 7, 2014. (Jennifer Lazuta/VOA)
Jennifer Lazuta
Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first-ever female Muslim athlete to compete on behalf of the United States in an international competition. Muhammad spoke to an all-girls school in Dakar Friday about her experiences as a female African-American Muslim fencer.

Growing up black and Muslim in the U.S. state of New Jersey, 28-year-old Ibtihaj Muhammad says she loved sports, but often struggled to find her place.

"Growing up, especially at this age, we all want to be liked by our friends; we all want to fit in with our friends. But as a Muslim woman, because I cover, I always had to change the uniform. So if I played tennis, if I played soccer or if I ran track, and my teammates wore shorts or short sleeves, I would always have to wear long sleeves or long pants, and it was hard for me as a kid, because I didn’t feel like I fit in," said Muhammad.

It was her mom who urged her to try fencing - a sport where competitors must wear full body, head and even hand coverings.

"I find that in sport, once I put my mask on - that’s the beauty, I feel, of my sport - it almost becomes an equal playing field. People look at me as an athlete, and solely as an athlete, as opposed to being a woman or a Muslim or being black. And I love it," she said.

In fencing, two competitors face off in a highly technical form of swordfight, scoring points each time they touch their opponent with a saber. Muhammad says the sport is a lot like chess - you have to constantly think ahead to outwit your opponent.

Muhammad began fencing in 1999 at the age of 13. She set her sights on the American national team in 2007 when she realized there were no minorities represented.

She says that even though people told her that black Muslim women do not fence, she kept at it. In 2011, Muhammad became the first female Muslim athlete to represent the United States. She is now ranked second in the United States and 10th worldwide.

Eighteen-year-old Amy Gaye Ndeye, a student at the John F. Kennedy all-girls school in Dakar, said Muhammad is an inspiration to all girls who have dreams of becoming an athlete.

"Here, in Senegal, it’s usually only men who play sports. But now, girls are seeing that women can also participate in sports. I and many of my friends look up to athletes like Muhammad because she sets an example for all girls who just want to play the sport they love." said Ndeye.

Muhammad said she hopes that young girls and women around the world will never let other people’s misconceptions about race, gender or religion define who they are or stop them from doing what they want.

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Comment Sorting
by: Tapiwa kake from: Harare
February 13, 2014 3:19 PM
I'm so glad that Muslims has place in United States of America society

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
February 08, 2014 6:45 AM
Since not all girls who find themselves in the iron-curtain religion want to play only fencing, how do those who want to play football for example dress in full covering, even covering of the fingers to participate? The 2022 world cup soccer will be hosted by Qatar for instance, and we are told that temperatures there can rise up to 40 to 50 degrees in summer, will someone dressed in full regalia survive it playing the game if Qatar or any other country that poses such high climatic condition were to host female soccer sometime soon? What this article has achieved is to teach those so drastically restricted to try cluster in only those few games - whether they like them or not. Thought somebody was going to raise issues like we have it with gay matters presently, for muslim girls and females to be freed to dress suitably for the games of their choice and not to be restricted because of their religion.

by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
February 08, 2014 5:55 AM
Christianity and Islam equally treat women as second class citizen.
But both religions insincerely claim that they support women's contemporary rights with mountainous conditions. Girls and women will be better off with their true freedom without religion on their shoulders, because both religions are evil institutions.
In Response

by: The Atheist from: London
February 08, 2014 5:57 PM
You call yourself Haji, Muslim Pilgrim, yet insult religion? Who do you want to fool? Atheists? Well, we have no enough money for folks like you who lie and insult their religion so they can win some fame and bread. We are looking for the same ourselves, the economy is down. lol.

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