March 13, 2016

Texas festival apologizes after Muslim Olympian told to remove hijab

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U.S. Olympic team fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Beverly Hills,  Calif., March 9, 2016. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

U.S. Olympic team fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad poses for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Beverly Hills, Calif., March 9, 2016. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) Organizers of the South by Southwest (SXSW) arts festival have apologized to U.S. Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad after a volunteer said she must remove her Muslim headcovering to receive credentials to the event in Austin, Texas.

The Olympic fencer was picking up an identification badge at the interactive, film and music event on Saturday when a volunteer told her she must take off her hijab before her photograph could be taken.

“Even after I explained it was for religious reasons, he insisted I had to remove my hijab,” she said on Twitter.

In an email to Reuters on Sunday (March 13), SXSW organizers said that they have since removed the volunteer for the duration of the event.

“We are embarrassed by this and have apologized to Ibtihaj in person, and sincerely regret this incident,” SXSW said in the statement.

Muhammad, 30, will make history in Rio de Janeiro as the first Olympian to represent the United States wearing a hijab. Muhammad has become an outspoken critic of presidential candidate Donald Trump, who called for a ban on Muslims from entering the United States.


RELATED STORY: Trump is getting out the Muslim vote


“I feel like I owe it to people who look like me to speak out,” Muhammad told reporters on Wednesday. “When I hear someone say something like, ‘We’re going to send Muslims back to their countries,’ I say, ‘Well, I’m American. Where am I going to go?”

After the incident was resolved at the event, Muhammad said on Twitter that she was issued the wrong identification.

Muhammad is ranked No. 7 in the world and second in the U.S. in saber, according to the USA Fencing website.

USA Today noted that after the check-in incident, she was on a panel called “The New Church: Sport as Currency of American Life.”

“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,” ahe told the audience, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune also reported that she said of sponsors who might object to her speaking out: “If a sponsor wants to walk away … they weren’t meant for me anyway.”

(Reuters)

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  • Tom

    Removing it just for the picture sounds fair enough to me. Facial features such as the ears, hair, shape of the head, jawline,play in important part in properly identifying an individual. Ask any sketch artist about the importance of this in facial composites. This is religious PC gone way too far.

  • Would you ask a Catholic nun to remove her veil? Or a Jewish man to remove his yarmulke? Or a Sikh man to remove his turban? Or what about asking me, a monastic Christian spiritual director, to remove the cross from around my neck? This incident at SXSW is racial and religious profiling at its worst. The volunteer was wrong and the festival organizers are right to remove him/her and apologize to this U.S. Olympian, who happens to be Muslim.

  • Eureka

    I agree with you Tom that her identification needs to be established, however, this could have been handled differently as they do in Airports to Muslim female travelers, where this process is performed by a female security officer.
    We agree on respecting the beliefs of people, however, security processes need to conducted accordingly.

  • Eureka

    Excellent points Cynthia! well said

  • Tom

    Yes, any head covering regardless of religious affiliation should be removed in a photo ID. Your cross is completely different, unless you are in a “habit” of wearing it across your face! Nice try though!

  • At Heathrow airport, there is a queue leading to a secure female-only area, where Muslim women are asked to remove burkas/niqabs in order to establish their identity. If at this point women are asked to remove the hijab as well, it is only requested when ID is unclear following the face/photo comparison.

    As someone said above, no one would contemplate asking a Catholic nun to remove her gear or a Jewish woman to remove her wig/headscarf for an ID photo. Be it wimples, veils, other people’s hair or simply a scarf, that is part of her unique identification.

    As to security – if something happens and she has to prove her ID, she likely has a passport and/or driver’s licence to back her up.

  • jeff friesen

    Nope. Photo ID are 2 dimensional, and as you can clearly see from the example in the article, contain none of the side details anyway. These are not official IDs. Now perhaps one could argue for the the removal of the religious gear in ID, but in order to be legal that requirement would have to apply equally to all religions and non religious as well.

    The festival screwed up big time. They owned that. Perhaps you should consider doing the same.

  • Tom

    This is all a bunch of hooey and probably is magnified because it happened in Texas. For starters, contrary to popular misconception. Austin is a very “liberal place”. It ain’t the Texas y’all fixate upon in your hate filled rants. Ever hear the phrase “Keep Austin Weird”? You can buy a tee shirt that says that all over Austin. Secondly, although this is not a drivers license, Texas as well as other states MN, NJ,NY, TX, UT,VA and WA do not view religious headgear as an exemption, but as a normal variation that is recognized and respected. Something tells me that Miss Mohammad just made a big stink of this because it happened in Texas. This woman is from my hometown of Maplewood, NJ and she has been playing up her headgear for years.

  • Donna

    Do you realize that the hijab does not cover anything other than hair and sometimes ears? The picture here shows her wearing her hijab.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    I’m a native Texan and I sincerely doubt Muhammed made the events public “just because it happened in Texas.” Wherever it happened it is as stupid as Trump’s rhetoric. The fact is we have a lot of nuts in TX who are skeered of Muslims.

    Want to hear something similar, from 15 years ago, from Louisiana? A Lebanese Muslim family owned a gas station in one small town there. After the 9-11 attacks a rumor swept through the town that the Dad was saying “Good!” after the attacks. Somewhat later, the source of the rumor was found and it was started by….drumroll…the redneck owner of a rival convenience store.

  • Marc Hammond

    If she removes it only for the picture and keeps using it throughout the event, her picture will not match her face, making it an even bigger problem.