Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad Asked To Remove Hijab At SXSW -- 'I Can't Make This Stuff Up'

Muslims are allowed to wear a hijab in a passport photo and while competing in the Olympics. But if you want an ID card to get into South by Southwest, you'll need to take it off.

That's what Ibtihaj Muhammad, an Olympic fencer, was asked to do Saturday afternoon by a SXSW volunteer, who has since been let go.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, 30, was at the SXSW festival, a collection of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences held in Austin, Texas, to give a speech, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The incident happened when Ibtihaj was checking into the event and attempting to obtain a required security badge. Muhammed said that registration personnel told her to remove her hijab to have her picture taken.

"Even after I explained it was for religious reasons, he insisted I had to remove my hijab for the photo to receive my badge," Muhammad later tweeted, the New York Daily News reported. "I can't make this stuff up."

To make matters worse, after the process was finished, Muhammed was given the wrong ID. Ibtihaj was handed a badge intended for someone who worked for Time Warner and who also had a "Muslim-sounding name," Tamir Muhammed.

Ibtihaj Muhammad was at SXSW to speak on a panel called "The New Church: Sport as Currency of American Life," and she spoke about the unpleasant experience to the audience.
"I had a crappy experience checking in. Someone asking me to remove my hijab isn't out of the norm for me... Do I hope it changes soon? Yes, every day."
USA Today noted that the incident "does not look good for SXSW, which prides itself on being an annual cultural showpiece in Austin, Texas." Organizers swiftly apologized and removed the volunteer who offended Muhammed from the event.
"It is not our policy that a hijab or any religious head covering be removed in order to pick up a SXSW badge. This was one volunteer who made an insensitive request and that person has been removed for the duration of the event. We are embarrassed by this and have apologized to Ibtihaj in person, and sincerely regret this incident."
Ibtihaj Muhammad is an accomplished athlete. In fencing, she's ranked No. 7 in the world and second in the U.S. She's also a member of the U.S. women's Olympic fencing team and will compete in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
In that role, Muhammed will be the first Muslim to compete for the U.S. in international competition while wearing the hijab. Ibtihaj garnered sponsorships from Visa and American Airlines, and said that if any of her sponsors want to "walk away" because she spoke out about the incident at SXSW, "they weren't meant for me anyway."

This isn't the first time Ibtihaj has spoken out about her religion. She has her own fashion line, Louella, which is specifically geared toward Muslim women, and has been a vocal critic of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigration.

"I feel like I owe it to people who look like me to speak out," Muhammad said Wednesday. " 'We're going to send Muslims back to their countries,' I say 'Well, I'm American. Where am I going to go?' "

Muslims can wear a hijab in a U.S. passport photo, if they provide a statement that confirms they wear it for religious purposes. The hijab is worn by some Muslim women for many reasons. It's meant to protect them from men who cannot control their sexual impulses, symbolizes that she is in a relationship and is intended to discourage affairs, and it is supposed to de-emphasize a woman's physical beauty and force men to focus on her personality instead.

[Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images]