Ibtihaj Muhammad was a teenager growing up in New Jersey her parents required that she and her siblings participate in sports every season as a way to stay fit, keep busy, and to stay out of trouble. For Ibtihaj Muhammad this always presented her with a challenge since she was a Muslim who wore a hijab and modest clothing. Summer sports like Track and Field were especially brutal is one was to remain modest and cover the head with a hijab. Then one day during 8th grade Ibthihaj and her mother stopped by the local high school to pick up her brother and they noticed a sports team practicing in the cafeteria. It was unlike any other team they'd seen because of the uniforms. It was the fencing team. Both Ibtihaj and her mother recognized that the uniforms would allow a girl to practice and compete without drawing attention to the hijab. They set up an appointment with the coach to explore more about the sport. When Ibtihaj was in high school herself, she joined the team moving from the epee team to the saber team during her junior year and becoming a top state athlete. During this time she got additional coaching with the Peter Westbrook Foundation in New York. Ibthihaj found a home at the foundation since she and Peter had a lot in common, both being black athletes competing in a an almost exclusively white sport. Through college (Duke) and after onto the 2016 Olympics, Ibtihaj Muhammad always returned to the foundation for coaching and support.
And it was support that she needed because the world wasn't always kind or accepting of an athlete who didn't fit the "profile." The attack on the twin towers, 9-11, happened when Ibtihaj was a junior in high school. We know what kind of anti-Muslim racism that occurred in America after that event and Ibtihaj felt it at every turn, experiencing loneliness and isolation on most teams she joined including her college team and the National team she earned a spot on. Even her coach on the National team would ignore her, often not even informing her of mandatory meetings and then deriding her for not being there. It is a wonder she continued in the sport with so much opposition coming her way.
But Ibtihaj Muhammad had an incredible work ethic and the support and love of her family, and the strength one gains from a life of faith and she prevailed against the odds, making it onto the 2016 Olympic team and placing, with her team members, third place. A bronze medal! Along the way she and her family started a clothing line for women who want to dress in a modest way without looking like they are wearing a robe. She served on a National committee to promote international understanding and goodwill. She was named one of Time's top 100 most influential people. And maybe most importantly to Ibtihaj, a role model to other Muslim women and girls, who also find it difficult to keep their religion and participate in sports. At the time of publication, Ibtihaj Muhammad was still fencing so we may see her in the 2020 Olympics again!
I found the book to be very inspiring and I hope it is widely available at middle and high schools to find its way into the hands of readers who will also be inspired by the message that with faith, family, and hard work even hijab-wearing girls can burst past all their barriers and make it to the top!
I checked the print edition of Proud out of my local public library.