Update: (March 14. at 12:54). A SXSW representative asked that we change the title of this piece from ‘demanded’ to ‘asked’. In response, we offered to change the title to ‘insisted’ to match Muhammad’s characterization.
At the SXSW Festival in Austin, TX on Saturday (March, 12th), Ibtihaj Muhammad — an American Muslim Olympic fencer — was casually proceeding through registration when she was abruptly stopped by an SXSW volunteer who demanded that she remove her hijab for the purpose of ID.
Muhammad explained to the volunteer that the hijab was for religious purposes, but the volunteer insisted that she remove it to receive the ID badge. Despite this prolonged battle, Muhammad managed to receive an ID badge for the festival. But what came next added fuel to the fire — the name on the badge was completely incorrect.
With outrage, the Olympian publicly announced the incident on Twitter.
It isn’t uncommon for these situations to occur in sports. Religious sport participants have been battling for religious wear for some time, in fact FIFA only officially authorized religious headwear in 2014 after a two-year battle.
The sports industry has come a long way with the acceptance of religious wear, but there will always be conflicting views regarding what is acceptable to wear on the sports ground and what isn’t. Likewise, there is always going to be an issue with what is regarded as acceptable to wear for ID.
Though, in this instance, it wasn’t in SXSW’s policy to restrict the wearing of hijabs, so the volunteer wasn’t following a conference rule. It’s not as though Muhammad was wearing a Burkha, religious wear widely worn in Islam that completely hides all facial features. The hijab simply covered Muhammad’s hair, making her easily identifiable.
The festival organizers did however remove the volunteer and publicly apologize. In a statement furnished to the Chicago Tribune SXSW organizers say, “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.”
(Image by, Marie-Lan Nguyen, Creative Commons, Attribution 3.0 Unported)