The Tale of the Two Muhammads at the Olympics

Here is a news flash, America is represented by TWO Muslim women. The well-known one is a legend by now, we all know her, of course. Ibtihaj Muhammad is a Muslim woman fencer who won bronze with her teammates on August 13. But Thursday, another Muslim woman at 26 named Dalilah Muhammad won gold in the 400-meter hurdles. Wow!

But other than a few tweets from a few Muslims about Dalilah, the general American Muslim community was silent. Months before Ibtihaj left for the Olympics, there was a lot of fanfare, hype and so much more about her going to the Olympics, in voting her to hold the flag, before she competed, after she was eliminated in individuals, and when she won bronze with her teammates. Ibtihaj seemed to be filling my news feeds for months.

But Dalilah I only happened to stumble upon with one or two tweets or posts at random. I only happened to watch her race because I watch the Olympics competition every night with my daughter. And for the most part, my newsfeed was silent about her before she competed and after.

To me, it seems obvious. Imagine if she wore a hijab and ran. The storyline would change, the fanfare dramatically shift. I am in no way undermining women who do wear the hijab and compete, I imagine that must be no easy feat. At the same time, we shouldn’t look the other way when women who don’t wear the hijab compete. (In some ways, isn’t it ironic that we play into hijab by actually drawing more attention to it when someone does something with it on? Shouldn’t we as Muslims be at a point now where hijab or no hijab is a nonissue?)

The truth is, Muslims are in such a bad state right now. In trying to demonstrate the positivity of Muslims being able to do anything while still proudly representing this country, it is important we embrace every element of good that comes out of our community regardless of how it is packaged. I can almost hear some Muslim men — after eating biryani and drinking chai — praising Ibtihaj and frowning upon Dalilah for her choice of clothes. Honestly, who cares?

We cannot afford to be in a position where we pick and choose who we like to represent us. The reality is, there are countless of inspiring and thoughtful accomplished women, Muslim women, who are practicing and who also “credit their faith” (as Dalilah’s parents said of her) for their success. Maybe they don’t express it in the way that has become the norm in the American Muslim circles, i.e. the hijab, but at some point, we need to stop cherry picking and filtering, and instead praise these women for what they do and how they do it. Dalilah and countless other women are single-handedly pushing back against the narrative created by Donald Trump about Muslims and are re-creating a narrative of our positive contributions to this country. Because Dalilah’s medal is going to factor into the total medal count brought home by Americans.

Given her rock star status, I highly recommend Ibtihaj encourage American Muslims to equally praise Dalilah for her accomplishments as well as to take a step back and reflect on this. Was the same type of hype, support and encouragement given equally to both Muhammads? If not, why? Was it Dalilah’s choice of dress?

Dalilah is a hero. She is also someone we need to celebrate right about now and invite her to our big Muslim conferences just like we will likely invite Ibtihaj.

No one knows what’s in the heart of an individual. But one thing is for sure, both Muhammads have medals in their hands and we should praise them for it.

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  • About the autor
    Nadya T.

    NT is a consultant and works in the field of human behavior. She is also a confidant to many people who have asked her advice and sought her counsel on some pressing matters for years. With this great insight into many issues, she writes and ponders about issues that many don't wish to discuss but should. She lives in a small town with an active Muslim population.

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    • Yasmin Khan

      I think Dalilah is amazing, but to say hijab or no hijab should be a non-issue does not make sense given the fact that hijab is very much disputed and continues to be banned by sports organizations. Hence the fanfare and support of Ibtihaj to raise awareness about the hijab not being an obstacle for female Muslim athletes.

    • Deuce Prez

      Would the Muslim community also be willing to embrace the Nation of Islam and its teachings which don’t conform to the Holy Qur’an or the Hadith?

      Based on the info available, I cannot find out if EITHER Muhammad mentioned in the article is or is not affiliated with the NOI.

      I DO know that there IS an Askia Muhammad who writes for the Final Call newspaper, a weekly NOI newspaper. That’s the name of Dalilah Muhammad’s father.

    • Mark

      Very correct. The lady fencer was all over the news, and I could only think that it was because she covered her hair. Were there no other Muslims in the US team? Surely there must be. The lady fencer was feted by the President no less. Okay she got a bronze medal.
      But from her own mouth, she said that fencing was the easiest sport to get into because she could cover up. While others were praising this, it struck me as a limitation, but then again, I’m a pessimist.

      Then I find (today) about the lady who won gold in the 400 hurdles. Who is she? Was she at the White House? Well no, and perhaps because she doesn’t cover up. She may, I really don’t know, not want to make a huge fuss over religion, but then again, down to a piece of cloth, she may just be being ignored as “an example”.

      Surely this should be annoying to all concerned. Do Muslims want the relationship with wider US society that they really should cover their hair? I’ll never tell anyone what a “normative Muslim” should be (I’m not one), but holding a lady as “an example” in such high praise because she covers her hair, sends out a message that women perhaps *should* cover their hair, and forget about “the land of the free”. That is dangerous when people are looking for integration.

      Could the lady fencer have chosen athletics and the 400 hurdles? No, because she would have to cover and the millimetres sometimes required to clear the hurdles would be a problem with her leg-wear. Swimming? Forget it. Praise should be for recognising people with limitations and make that clear. Not praise for a piece of cloth that leads to limitations.

    • JayBreeding

      Mark brings up an interesting article in response to Deuce Prez and I am hoping someone here can do some research to check the validity. It seems well documented with tweets from her but I am not familiar with the “guest post” author “Beeman.” I would appreciate someone commenting about it here. Here is the link that Mark provided: