McSA presents Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad
Photos by Claire Bugos / North by Northwestern

“I really feel like a professor standing up here,” the first female Muslim Olympian to medal for the U.S., Ibtihaj Muhammad, joked, as she started her speech for the second day of Muslim Cultural Students Association's Discover Islam Week. Over 100 people attended the event held in the Technological Institute LR2.

Muhammad’s speech started with the story of how she first became involved in fencing. Growing up, she had always been required to play a sport, but with one restriction – she had to be completely covered, except her hands and face. She “stumbled upon fencing by chance”, when she and her mom “saw athletes who had on long white jackets and long white pants.”

Muhammad had initially never thought much about becoming an official Olympian, as she had always been jokingly called one in the past. But when a fan came up to her, calling her an Olympian, Muhammad’s friend “told the girl, no she is not an Olympian.” “Don’t worry, we’re not friends anymore,” she added, but that was the moment she decided she would “fight for the next four years to be qualified for the Olympic team.”

“I came to this event because it was a unique opportunity to meet a U.S. Olympian and I thought she would provide important dialogue especially considering the current political atmosphere,” said Weinberg sophomore Christie Sohn. “I really liked how personal the conversation was, and she was a really good speaker who portrayed her ideas clearly. I was very engrossed by her words.”

Muhammad’s speech ended with a resonating message that “God has given us all a gift, but we owe it to ourselves to figure out what that gift is. If we use that gift to be a proponent of change and to be a source of good, that is when we become shining individuals.”

Once she opened up to questions, Muhammad talked about what makes her motivated, her “top secret” daily workout regimen, and whether she fasts while fencing during Ramadan. She went deeper in her history with the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a non-profit youth fencing club in New York City, and how without it, she would not be where she is today. She also mentioned that she had signed a book deal last week, and would be writing an adult memoir.

When asked whether she plans on competing at the next Olympics, she joked, “I’m still tired from the last Olympics, believe it or not,” and added, “I highly doubt you will see me at the next Olympics,” much to the disappointment of audience members.

Rimsha Ganatra, co-president of the association that is hosting Discover Islam Week, the Muslim Cultural Students Association, said she loved the event.

“(Muhammad is) such an amazing person and has such an amazing persona," said Ganatra, a fan of Muhammad since she was qualified for the Olympics. "She’s also super funny and relatable, and really smart because she went to Duke University,” “Having her speak so eloquently and being so relatable was such an amazing experience.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story identified Ibtihaj Muhammad as the first female Muslim Olympian. This was not entirely correct, as Muhammad was actually the first female Muslim Olympian to medal for the U.S. The story was updated Thursday at 9:45 am.


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