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.