RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Forget claims that this is the most dangerous Olympic Games in sporting history, one American star says she doesn’t feel safe back at home.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American fencer and the country’s first Olympian who wears a hijab, said there is now a climate of anti-Islamic sentiment in United States that makes her feel unsafe.
“[I feel unsafe] all the time. I had someone follow me home from practice and try to report me to police,” she said. “And this is right on 28th and 7th in New York City.”
“I’m very vocal about these things because I want people to know I'm not a novelty, I'm not special in any way, I'm a woman who wears hijab and these are my experiences,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad, who came second to Michael Phelps in the vote for who should carry the U.S. flag at the Opening Ceremony on Friday, said the country is at crossroads.
“I want people to know that as hard as [these racist incidents] are on me, they don't come even close to things we've seen like the shooting in North Carolina or the rhetoric around the Khan family at the DNC. It's ridiculous and we as a country have to change and I feel like this is our moment.”
Asked by the Daily Beast what she thought about Donald Trump’s contribution to Islamic relations in the U.S., she laughed and said: “Who? I'm sorry, what did you say? I don’t know him.”
As well as speaking out about her experiences in the U.S., and discussing the issues with President Obama (as well as giving Michelle Obama a fencing lesson), Muhammad has also tried to help other Muslim girls fit in by devising her own line of clothing.
“There was a void in the Muslim community for modest clothing—we're always buying things from overseas—and to have it made available and not just have modest clothing but have it be affordable and fashionable. You can find modest clothes in the States but they're not always cute,” she said.
Muhammad, who was born in Maplewood, New Jersey, opens her first Olympic campaign in the sabre on Monday.
She’s under direct orders to get on the medal podium. After meeting her earlier this year, Obama said: “I told her to bring home the gold.”