We’ve covered fencing—or more precisely, women fencers—a fair amount here at Ummahsonic.
A couple of years back, we profiled Halet Çambel, who at the 1936 games became the first Muslim woman to ever take part in an Olympics.
More recently, we looked at Muslim Girls Fence, an organisation that works to empower young Muslim women through fencing while challenging the misconceptions they face.
Naturally, we’ve also highlighted the career of Ibtihaj Muhammad on a fairly regular basis, seeing as she’s the first U.S. hijabi to qualify for the Olympics and the first Muslim American woman to medal at the games.
Since her success at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Muhammad has served as an inspiration for Muslim women and a symbol of tolerance in what many perceive to be intolerant times. The toy company Mattel also based the first ever hijabi Barbie on her appearance, which is an achievement few would imagine Muhammad envisioned when she first picked up a foil.
When the doll was released in 2017, the fencer wrote on her Twitter: “I’m proud to know that little girls everywhere can now play with a Barbie who chooses to wear hijab!”
Alongside the Barbie and her general sporting excellence, we recently learned that Muhammad has been working on another project aimed at young girls who choose to wear the hijab.
Earlier this month, she released The Proudest Blue, a children’s book about two sisters and their relationship with their faith.
The story, which was co-written by S.K. Ali and illustrated by Hatem Aly, follows sisters Asiya and Faizah on their first day of school. Asiya wears a hijab which is “the brightest blue” and “like the sky on a sunny day”, yet when she arrives at school she is met with hurtful and ignorant comments.
As the tale unfolds, the sisters counter these views thanks to their close bond and strong faith.
Muhammad decided to write the book as a way to empower young women through representation.
“I wanted to tell this story so that young children that look like me could see themselves in a picture book,” she recently told Bustle. “So that children of colour, Muslims, and both (like me) know they aren’t alone and that there are many out there with a shared experience.”
As a young girl herself, Muhammad often faced discrimination because of her hijab. She hopes The Proudest Blue will give girls the courage to hold their own in situations where they may feel alone:
“It can be difficult to navigate spaces when you’re made to feel different, but one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to love yourself as you are and push past society’s limited expectations of who you are.”
We’re sure there are women reading this who wish they were represented in the books they read as a youngster (whether voluntarily or due to demands of school!). It might not seem like the most pressing issue, but reading, watching or listening to characters who reflect your own experience can have a profound effect on identity, confidence and aspiration.
In short, when you see someone who looks like you doing something great, you believe you can do it too. Which is why we’re probably going to be writing a lot more about Muslim female fencers in the years to come.
And it’s why you should buy the little sister/daughter/niece in your life a copy of The Proudest Blue.
Head to the Hachette Book Group website for more information on purchasing the book.