Qatar Foundation (QF) today hosted a talk by pioneering US Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad as part of its Education City Speaker Series, where she spoke about her journey as an athlete, the challenges and successes she has experienced as a woman in sport, and wearing a hijab in competition.
The lecture, held in collaboration with Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO), took place at Qatar National Library and was moderated by Amina Ahmadi, co-founder of the sportswear and sports apparel brand Oola. It was followed by an in-depth question-and-answer session.
Ibtihaj said: “I feel very strongly about using my platform in meaningful ways, and I am very conscious that I always want to be an agent of change.”
At the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Ibtihaj became the first US athlete to wear a hijab during competition, and the first Muslim-American athlete to become an Olympic medalist, when she competed as a member of the bronze medal-winning US saber fencing team.
Talking about her journey as an athlete, she said: “I faced a lot of backlash. Not just within the fencing community, but even in my own household.
“Before I qualified for my first national team, everyone thought that I was crazy. People aren’t on board all the time with your dreams and goals in the way that you see them. But what I think is really interesting about your journey is that it’s your own, and it’s not meant for other people to understand. Had I acceded to the idea of society’s expectations about where I should be and what I should be doing, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.
Offering a final piece of advice to her audience, Ibtihaj said: “I hope that your dreams are far greater than mine. I think it’s really important – not just for children, but for each of us, no matter what age – that we always lead our lives with faith. And to always put faith ahead of fear, because fear can paralyze you. I know that I allowed fear to do that to me at different points in my life. I have learned to always be faithful and to believe.”
Wrapping up the event, members of the Qatar Fencing Federation presented Ibtihaj with a fencing mask.
The Education City Speaker Series is a platform for Qatar’s youth and wider community to learn from, and engage with, experts and thought-leaders from a range of fields. Previous speakers include United Nations Secretary-General H.E. Mr. António Guterres.