A Muslim-American woman competing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Ibtihaj Muhammad, made history as the first American Olympic participant to wear a hijab while competing. The fencer won her first round, then lost in a second round. She is due to take part in a team competition later on during the Olympics. However, with all the media attention she has received to date for wearing the hijab and speaking out as a Muslim advocate against her country’s treatment of Muslims as well as against Donald Trump, you would think she had already won the gold.
Rather than focus on the fact that she was representing America as part of Team USA, Ms. Muhammad chose to distance herself from her fellow Americans. Before the competition even began, she complained about not feeling safe in America because she was a Muslim. She has been whining about how she feels threatened because of her faith, and has politicized the Olympic Games with derogatory comments regarding Donald Trump’s candidacy for president.
Considering that “anti-Semitic crimes accounted for roughly 60 percent of religious hate crimes last year,” according to a 2015 Washington Post report, and “anti-Muslim crimes now make up about 13 percent of religiously-motivated hate crimes,” the Jewish-American Olympic competitors would have had more reason to speak out about not feeling safe in America. However, they are in Rio to compete for the gold on behalf of their country, not to trash it.
"I wish that, not just my life, but the lives of Muslims all over the world were a little bit easier, particularly in the United States,” Ms. Muhammad was quoted by the Associated Press as saying after arriving in Rio for the competition. (Emphasis added.) “I'm hoping that with my first-time appearance as a member of Team USA here at the Olympics, I'm hoping that the rhetoric around the Muslim community will change."
This is a woman who had the opportunity to meet with President Obama and even offer the First Lady a fencing lesson. Indeed, Ibtihaj Muhammad has lived the American dream. She graduated from a top school, Duke University, where she attended on a scholarship. To fund her ambitions to become a world class fencer, she worked as a substitute teacher and fencing coach. She also founded her own clothing line Louella. And she has gotten some big name corporate endorsements. She missed qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, but continued working hard to make the 2016 team, which, to her credit, she succeeded in doing.
Explaining her primary motivation for going after a spot on the 2016 team, Ibtihaj Muhammad focused on her attachment to the Muslim community, not simply on the honor to represent America. She said, "When I heard that there had never been a Muslim woman on the U.S. team to wear the hijab, that is when I made this conscious decision to go for 2016.” She added: “I am excited to represent not just myself, my family and my country - but also the greater Muslim community."
If Ms. Muhammad were truly interested in representing “the greater Muslim community,” she should use her celebrity status to speak out against the atrocious living conditions of women in Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Muslim majority countries.
Did Ms. Muhammad by chance have the opportunity to speak with any of the very few female competitors from Saudi Arabia, for example? That devout Muslim country discriminates against its own female population, all under the banner of Islam’s sharia law. It is allowing just four women athletes to compete in the Olympics this year, after having received an ultimatum from Olympic authorities in 2012. At home in Saudi Arabia, women are not even allowed to attend national team competitions as spectators, let alone participate in any tournaments or state organized sports leagues of their own. "Our society can be very conservative," said Prince Fahad bin Jalawi al-Saud, a consultant to the Saudi Olympic Committee. "It has a hard time accepting that women can compete in sports."
More generally, there is strict gender segregation in Saudi Arabia. And merely wearing a hijab head cover would not be enough to keep a woman out of trouble for dressing too immodestly.
In commenting on the recent spate of Islamic terrorism, Ms. Muhammad blamed it on an “unhealthy situation” caused by “(M)isunderstanding of religion, of what different societies need in order to thrive.” It would appear that Ms. Muhammad has a basic misunderstanding of the doctrines in her own religion that have fueled violent jihad around the world.
As an example of political correctness run amok, there was mounting pressure on Michael Phelps, who was elected by his teammates to serve as flag bearer in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, to decline the honor in favor of Ibtihaj Muhammad, who came in second in the voting. Various media outlets called for Phelps to yield. Perhaps the most ridiculous article was a CNN op-ed piece addressed to Phelps by W. Kamau Bell, in which the author says that “America has enough tall, successful, rich white guys hogging the spotlight” and that “Muhammad carrying the flag would be nearly a one-stop inclusion shop.”
The Olympics should be all about sports competition for the top prize based on merit. It should not be about religious faiths or domestic politics. Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, earned the honor to carry the flag on behalf of the United States. Muhammad has not earned that honor, unless being Muslim, wearing a hijab while competing and trashing her country constitute the new standard of “excellence.”