By: NATALIA PATTERSON
Has anyone ever doubted that you could do something? Maybe you wanted to try something new, but your parents or friends didn’t think you would be good at it. Maybe you had a goal for yourself that other people didn’t think you could achieve. The novel, “Proud,” by Ibtihaj Muhammad, explores this idea of being doubted and teaches us to never stop working towards what we want, despite the expectations of others.
Ibtihaj Muhammad broke barriers when she became the first Olympic athlete to compete for America wearing a hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women for religious reasons. Competing in fencing in the 2016 Olympics, she helped lead the United States fencing team to a bronze medal win. In addition, she became a symbol of America’s diversity and equality, and challenged cultural misconceptions on what Muslim women could do. In 2018, she wrote the novel “Proud,” describing the challenges she faced in pursuing her dream of becoming a high-level athlete.
As fencing is a primarily white sport, Muhammad always had to deal with being part of a minority. When she started fencing at age 13, she found she didn’t have many role models in the sport that looked like she did. Later, when she was on the fencing team at Duke University, her coaches and fellow fencers were unaccepting of her and would underestimate her abilities because of her appearance and religion. She even faced these problems with the American fencing team at international competitions, as her teammates would often exclude her from team practices and ignore her at competitions, as if she wasn’t part of their team. In her novel, she explains how she persevered through this, teaching readers that nobody can prevent you from achieving success if you work hard enough.
Competing in the Olympics was not Muhammad’s only important accomplishment. In 2014, she founded a clothes line called “Louella.” This line features clothing for women that adheres to Muslim ideas of modesty while still being fashionable and aesthetically pleasing. In addition, she is part of the council for the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative, and gives speeches across the world to inspire girls and women to work towards their dreams.
“Proud” is a novel that everyone can learn from. Muhammad’s story will inspire you to never give up, despite any challenges you may be facing. Since February is Black History Month, and everyone is spending a lot of time at home due to COVID, it is just the right time to read this book.