[Photo Source: Twitter/Ibtihaj Muhammad]
Ibtihaj Muhammad has gained international recognition as a champion fencer and 2016 Olympian. This summer, 30-year-old Muhammad is expected to become the first hijab-wearing athlete to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. She is currently ranked second in the U.S. and seventh in the world among female fencers. She was recently scheduled to speak at a panel at the annual South By Southwest Interactive festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, but Muhammad received a less than warm welcome.
Muhammad, who is a Muslim, was asked by a SXSW volunteer to remove her hijab before proceeding through registration. She took to Twitter to express her frustration with the incident, writing “I can’t make this stuff up.”
I was just asked to remove my hijab at SXSW Registration for my ID badge.. I can’t make this stuff up #SXSW2016— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) March 12, 2016
Muhammad said she explained to event staff that she wore the hijab for religious reasons and could not simply remove it for a photo. She was eventually allowed to enter the festival, but not before she was issued an ID with an incorrect name and information.
Thennnnn I was given the wrong ID! From now on my name is Tamir & I work for Time Warner Inc #SXSW2016 pic.twitter.com/TE3jJR16P6— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) March 12, 2016
SXSW organizers are coming under fire for the incident, and they have since issued an apology to Muhammad. In a statement to the Chicago Tribune, they wrote that it is not the festival’s policy to ask attendees to remove a hijab or any other religious covering in order to pick up a badge.
“This was one volunteer who made an insensitive request and that person has been removed for the duration of the event,” the statement reads. “We are embarrassed by this and have apologized to Ibtihaj in person, and sincerely regret this incident.”
The officials say the volunteer who asked Muhammad to remove her hijab has been let go. Muhammad told the panel that unfortunately, this is not the first time she has been asked to remove her hijab.
Muhammad got her start in the sport at the age of 13. She was inspired after seeing her high school’s fencing team practicing. Muhammad said it seemed like a sport that was “uniquely accommodating,” something she could take part in as a Muslim woman. Competitors were fully covered, wearing masks, jackets, and protective body gear. Muhammad realized that she could participate in the sport while still wearing her hijab. When she is competing, there is no distinguishing between her and other athletes. The gear makes it impossible to tell that Muhammad is wearing a hijab.
Now, Muhammad is set to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janiero, Brazil. Her success even earned her a nod from President Barack Obama. He recognized Muhammad in the audience during his visit to a mosque in Baltimore and encouraged her to bring home the gold.