Mentions of Islam linked to terrorism and security have been eclipsed by the athletic exploits of Muslim athletes, and prevailing stereotypes have been outpaced by the images of Muslim excellence in the 2016 Rio Olympics held in the month of August.
Muslim athletes have flourished on the Olympics’ Stage amid suspicion, racism and Islamophobia in Rio. This includes Mohamed Farah from Great Britain winning gold both in the 5000 and 10,000 marathon race, Ahmad Abughosh from Jordan winning gold in taekwondo, Ibtihaj Muhammad from the United States winning bronze in fencing and Sara Ahmed from Egypt who won bronze in weight lifting.
Prayer is Powerful
On 13 August, Somali British long distance runner, Mohamed Farah, locked his legs with another runner in the 10,000 metre run and fell on the track. He bounced right back up and weaved his way strategically past the pack and claimed gold. After he crossed the finish line, Farah fell on the track again-this time to pray.
He bowed his head before a stadium of thousands of spectators. For Farah, and scores of Muslim athletes, faith is not incidental, but central to their excellence in sport. “I normally pray before a race,” Farah said. “I read du’aa [Islamic invocations] and think about how hard I’ve worked and just go for it.”
Taekwondo fighter Ahmad Abughosh made history by winning Jordan’s first Olympic medal. It was gold. But Abu Ghosh’s victory was celebrated beyond the borders of the Hashemite Kingdom. Abu Ghosh, his family’s hometown village just outside Jerusalem, erupted in joy at his feat.
After his win he dropped to the ground with his arms outspread and made du’aa.
The Weight of Gendered Stereotypes
A young woman in a hijab can often conjure up images of frailty and disempowerment. This is not so for two hijabi athletes Ibtihaj Muhammad and Sara Ahmed. Not only have they challenged stereotypes, they have sliced them to shreds.
Well before Ibtihaj Muhammad had won the bronze medal for the USA, she was thrust into the media limelight as the first American Olympic participant to wear Hijab while competing. She was diligent in using this opportunity to become a Muslim advocate against her country’s treatment of Muslims as well as against Donald Trump.
She told CNN “A lot of people believe that Muslim women don’t have voices or that we (don’t) participate in sport … I want to break cultural norms…I’m hopeful that, in my efforts to represent our country well as an athlete – they change the rhetoric around how people think and perceive the Muslim community,”.
Egyptian weightlifter Sara Ahmed has the kind of physical power few possess. She can out-lift most women in the world. Donned in all black with a red hijab she lifted 255kg to claim the bronze medal in the 69kg class.
This feat, given her nationality and ethnicity, was unprecedented. Sara Ahmed became an instant icon in Egypt, becoming the first female medallist in the nation’s 104 year history in Olympics’ competition and the first Arab woman to win an Olympic medal in weightlifting.
Sara Ahmed has disrupted allusions that have enabled hijab bans in France and worn-out oppression narratives worldwide. As she bowed her head to receive her medal, Ahmed represented world-class power, strength and Muslim womanhood.
Muslim Gold Medal winners at
Rio Olympics 2016:
Majlinda Kelmendi Kosovo Women’s Judo – Gold
Dilshod Nazarov Tajikistan Men’s athletics – Gold
Ahmad Abughaush Jordan Taekwondo – Gold
Fehaid Al-Deehani Kuwait Shooting – Gold
Tontowi Ahmad Indonesia Badminton – Gold
Ruslan Nurudinov Uzbekistan Weightlifting – Gold
Hasanboy Dusmatov Uzbekistan Boxing – Gold
Mo Farah England Athletics – 2 Gold
Dalilah Muhammad America Track and field – Gold
Kianoush Rostami Iran Weightlifting – Gold
Sohrab Moradi Iran Weightlifting – Gold
Hassan Yazdani Iran Wrestling – Gold
Nijat Rahimov Kazakhstan Weightlifting – Gold
Daniyar Yeleussinov Kazakhstan Boxing – Gold