Why these 2 athletes made hijabs part of their uniforms.

A hijab is a traditional head covering worn by many Muslim women all over the world.

In the Muslim faith, a hijab is worn to protect modesty, privacy, and morality. Many people think they're oppressive to women and a symbol of extremism, which is why the last time you saw one in the news was probably when France passed several laws restricting when and where women are allowed to wear them.

In reality, many Muslim women embrace the choice to wear hijabs (not to be confused with niqabs, which cover the face, or burkas, which cover the entire body) of their own free will.


A woman preparing hijabs for sale in Indonesia. Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images.

Do a little searching online, and you can find amazing tutorials showing all the different ways to style a hijab, fan-art illustrations of superheroes wearing hijabs, and other outspoken and successful Muslim women who embrace the hijab. One of them is Dalia Mogahed, who recently explained on "The Daily Show" why wearing a hijab doesn't mean she's oppressed, saying that women who wear hijabs "do it as an act of devotion, as a part of their faith. Not because anyone forces them but because it's how they believe they should be following their faith."

Two young women have been making news lately with their decisions to show the world that wearing a hijab is not only their right but an important part of their culture that they hold dear.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencing champion from New Jersey, will soon make history when she becomes the first U.S. Olympic athlete to compete in hijab.

After earning a bronze medal at the Athens Fencing World Cup, Muhammad — who was already the first Muslim woman to compete in U.S. fencing — earned enough qualifying points to compete in this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is currently second place in the U.S. national fencing team's point standings.

Muhammad (second from left) after winning the women's team sabre final in the 2014 World Fencing Championship in Kazan. Photo by Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images.

"I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals — not race, religion or gender," she says in her USA fencing team bio. "I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance."

Muhammad is well aware of the lack of diversity in U.S. fencing. In fact, that's partly why she pursued the sport. Shortly after her fencing career at Duke University, she realized she could help push the sport forward.

"After I graduated from college, I saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport," Muhammad told Team USA. “I recognized that I had a skill set, so I started to pursue fencing full time. I felt that it was something the squad needed. There were barriers that needed to be broken in women’s saber.”

And Stephanie Kurlow, a 14-year-old dancer from Sydney, Australia, is aspiring to be the worlds first hijabi ballerina.

A dancer since age 2, Kurlow stopped practicing shortly after converting to Islam with her family when she was 8, according to the NY Daily News.

She felt self-conscious about wearing her hijab in ballet class and was frustrated to find there were no ballet studios that readily accepted Muslim women. She feared this would prevent her from achieving her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

Had such a fun photo shoot the other day!💙 #wedanceasone #dailytelegraph
A photo posted by sᴛᴇᴘʜᴀɴɪᴇ ᴋᴜʀʟᴏᴡ (@stephaniekurlow) on

So her mom decided to open up a performing arts studio that teaches ballet, martial arts, and aboriginal art classes for girls like Stephanie. There, Kurlow continued dancing and went on to win first place in a Muslim talent show as well as the Most Inspirational Young Star in Sydney’s Youth Talent Smash competition last year. All while wearing her hijab.

“[The hijab] is a part of who I am, and represents the beautiful religion that I love,” she told the NY Daily News. “If people have the right to dress down, then I have the right to dress up.”

Kurlow dreams of inspiring other women the way she was inspired and has started a fundraising page so that she may one day train full-time at ballet school and eventually open up her own school.

Both of these women are promoting diversity and acceptance by being who they are.

Ibtihaj Muhammad competing in 2011. Photo by Giusseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images.

Society often moves forward at a snail's pace. You need people who are willing to jump out in front and lead the way. Ibtihaj Muhammad and Stephanie Kurlow are leaders because they believe that the world gets better when everyone is included equally.

Whether it's politics, art, music, dancing, or an Olympic sport, there are talented and incredible people everywhere.

And they can wear whatever the hell they want.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less