As thousands of people descended upon the SXSW music and film festival in Austin, Texas, including President Barack Obama, a Muslim woman was also among the masses. At registration to get into the event, the sword-wielding champion was told to remove her veil, and it didn’t end so well for the staffer who suggested it.
Ibtihaj Muhammad said that she was just trying to get her badge to get into the venue, specifically to participate in the very liberal-sounding event called “The New Church: Sport as Currency of American Life.” That’s when she was met at the entrance with an “ignorant” volunteer who paid the price when they simply asked her to remove her hijab for identification.
Participants attending the festival are required to wear an SXSW-issued photo ID badge, which was where the problems began for this American-Muslim fencing champion. Ibtihaj ranted on Twitter about the allegedly insulting gesture from the volunteer, complaining about how she was wrongly treated and essentially stating that people should give in to her religious right.
The worker wasn’t instructed to tell people their head coverings had to be removed, but they had a hard time identifying her from the other Muslims. His job was to register each person with a photo ID, and the hijab makes it hard to know who is who, since all women wearing a black head covering basically look the same. That sensible purpose soon proved necessary seconds later.
The Muslim woman wasn’t backing down, believing it her right to wear a hijab and not to have to remove it for anyone for any reason, even though it could immediately be put back on. She told the Chicago Tribune that she explained to the volunteer that she would not take the hijab off since it was against her religion, but he still maintained his security stance on the matter.
She was ultimately given an ID badge anyway, but it was for the wrong person, since the woman on the card also had a hijab on and looked just like her. She went into the festival under the incorrect ID because nobody was wiling to force her to take the headscarf off, since that would be a politically incorrect thing to ask. With her sword in one hand and the wrong ID in the other, she participated in the sporting event. However, the volunteer wasn’t so fortunate.
This could have been a safety issue if she had bad intentions and took advantage of people’s inability to positively identify her. In the end, she got what she wanted, along with some extra vindication, when she complained about it online and SXSW organizers got wind of her allegedly harrowing ordeal.
“I had a crappy experience checking in,” Ibtihaj said to all of her sympathizers who follow her online. “Someone asking me to remove my hijab isn’t out of the norm for me…Do I hope it changes soon? Yes, every day.”
The volunteer, who was excited for the opportunity to be a part of this large annual festival, was let go and reprimanded for simply taking security seriously. SXSW organizers came out with an announcement, after terminating their arrangement with the worker, in full support of Muslims and their right to wear a hijab, despite any need for extra security at an event that hosts tens of thousands.