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Muslim-American Olympian 'held at US Customs'

Muhammad was the first American to compete in an Olympics wearing a hijab [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 February, 2017

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Muslim-American Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad said she was recently held at US Customs for two hours without any explanation.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first female Muslim American to win an Olympic medal for the United States, said she was recently detained by US Customs officials for two hours with no explanation.

The Muslim-American fencer, who medaled in team sabre at the Rio Olympics last summer, said she did not know if the holdup was a result of President Donald Trump's executive order that bans nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

However, she said she was sure the move was based on her ethnicity.

"I can't tell you why it happened to me, but I know that I'm Muslim," she said in an interview with Popsugar website on Wednesday.

"I have an Arabic name. And even though I represent Team USA and I have that Olympic hardware, it doesn't change how you look and how people perceive you."

Muhammad, who graduated from Duke, was the first American to compete in an Olympics wearing a hijab.

"My human response is to cry because I was so sad and upset and disheartened - and just disappointed," she said.

"It was a really hard two hours, but at the same time, I made it home."

She added that the experience at the airport made her more determined than ever to stay positive.

"I think that we will come out on top as women, as people of colour, as Muslims, as transgender people, as people who are part of the disabled community - I think that we'll come out on top."

In an interview with The Washington Post last year, Muhammad's coach Akhi Spencer-El described the challenges she normally faces.

"Going through airports, oh man, she's always the only one in the group that has to go through a 'random' check," he said.

"Then we get to these tournaments, and you never know when you’re dealing with a person who might have bad feelings toward Muslims."

Muhammad has been critical of Trump. Shortly after the travel ban imposed, she tweeted "#NoBanNoWall," adding that "our diversity makes our country strong".

Speaking on the red carpet at Friday night's ESPN Super Bowl party in Houston last week, Muhammad said she was hopeful that the country will become more inclusive, but right now, she thinks more work is needed.

"I think to remember what makes our country great, and it's diversity. That's what our nation was built upon, and I think that we have to remember our strong suit as a nation and to want for one another what we want for ourselves, and that's safety," she told The Associated Press.

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