Ibtihaj Muhammad, world champion fencer, and set to be the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics in a hijab, was asked to remove her hijab at SXSW to receive her badge. The incident occurred at the festival in Austin, Texas and involved a volunteer who asked Ibtihaj to take her headscarf off in order to take her photo and receive her badge. After Ibtihaj stood her ground and was photographed with her headscarf, the volunteer then gave Ibtihaj a badge which belonged to a Tamir Muhammad, from Time Warner. Because you know, all Muslim names sound alike?
Muhammad expressed her shock at the incident on Twitter:
The organizers of South by Southwest have responded to the incident, stating that the request was ‘insensitive’ and stressed that it was not part of SXSW policy to request that religious head coverings including the hijab be removed to collect badges:
‘…we are embarrassed by this and have apologized to Ibtihaj in person and sincerely regret this incident’.
Ibtihaj has been an outspoken activist for Muslim rights and issues facing Muslims in the United States. In particular her recent comments against Donald Trump in which she describing the presidential candidate as:
‘providing a platform for hate speech and fear mongering and…creating a space where it’s acceptable to speak out against immigrants, to speak out against Muslims and to really publicize this inherent racism that I feel a lot of people have’.
This incident is unfortunately not isolated and by no means limited to major events such as the SXSW. The issue of Muslim women being allowed to take ID photos while wearing their headscarves remains topical with women being asked to remove their hijabs in court, at police stations, banks and other public places. This is a form of discrimination that many Muslim women are fighting against and Ibtihaj’s proactive response to this incident will no doubt highlight that discriminatory practices that target Muslim women and many other groups who wear religious head coverings.
Ibtihaj will compete in the upcoming Rio Olympics as the first US athlete to compete in a hijab, where she hopes to get the Gold medal in fencing.