While many groups feel scared and nervous to be who they are, Olympian and fashion designer Ibtihaj Muhammad explains why it's important now, more than ever, to be yourself. Ibtihaj made history at the Rio Olympics by being the first Muslim-American woman to sport a hijab during the games. "I realize that the sentiments of fear are very real; it's so palpable in the Muslim community, especially the women who literally wear their religion on their sleeves every day," she said. "At the same time, it's not just the verbal threats that come; it's reaching catastrophic numbers where people are being physically harmed. That has to come to an end. I've gotten messages, so many messages from young girls who have have had their hijabs taken from their heads. We have to acknowledge this is happening and that it is not acceptable."
Ibtihaj also explained the misconceptions surrounding Muslim women who wear their hijab. "The issue with how people perceive hijab, to me, is very in line with the way we view women's bodies. How much they wear, how little shoulder they wear, the things we can say, the things we can't say. Why is it that we're always on the forefront?" she said. "I feel like being on the US team and having this position and this platform, it couldn't have come at a better time, especially in light of this presidential election, because it totally challenges that narrative. It shows people that, no, actually, everything you thought about Muslim women, it's the complete the opposite. All Muslims aren't Arab," she said. She went on to explain that she is an African-American woman, hasn't lived anywhere else, doesn't speak any other languages and was, in fact, born and raised as a "Jersey girl."
The Olympic fencer explained how special it was for her to get to represent the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics as well. "It's unique to the United States to have such a diverse team. In the past, that is something we have always celebrated as Americans, and I want us to continue to do that," she said.
To learn more about Ibtihaj; her fashion line, Louella; and how she plans on moving forward in 2017, check out this week's episode of Pretty Unfiltered.