At age 12, Ibtihaj Muhammad chose to learn fencing because she considered it the easiest sport in which she could compete while wearing a hijab. Eighteen years later, she's made history as Team USA's first hijab-wearing Olympian, reports the BBC. The 30-year-old former world champion, ranked eighth in the world at her sport, says it's "groundbreaking to have a Muslim woman on the US team," and hopes to inspire others "who have been told they don't belong." Born and raised in New Jersey, Muhammad was recently confronted on the street by a man who asked if she was going to blow something up. And despite security concerns in Rio, she fears more for her safety at home. "[I feel unsafe] all the time," Muhammad tells the Daily Beast.
The first comment under her bio on the Team USA website, for example, reads, "What a disgrace, this is disgusting," per the Telegraph. "When I hear people here say they want to throw all Muslims back to their country, I think: well, where am I going to go? This is my home," says Muhammad, also a "modest" fashion designer and one of Time's 100 most influential people. Muhammad—who came in second in a vote to choose the American flag bearer—advanced to the round of 16 in the individual sabre event Monday, per the Los Angeles Times, and has been instructed by President Obama to "bring home the gold." But "I am excited to represent not just myself, my family, and my country—but also the greater Muslim community," she says. "We as a country have to change and I feel like this is our moment." (Muhammad was asked to remove the hijab at South By Southwest in March.)