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March 12, 2016

SXSW apologizes after N.J. Olympian told to remove Muslim hijab

Festival volunteer demanded that world champion fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad take off her veil

Discrimination SXSW
031216_ibtihajmuhammad Antonio Calanni/AP

Ibtihaj Muhammad, of the United States, celebrates on the podium after winning a bronze medal in a women's team sabre match at the World Fencing Championship in Catania, Italy, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011.

American fencer and New Jersey native Ibtihaj Muhammad, an observant Muslim who will compete in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics, was told Saturday that she had to remove her hijab while attending the annual South by Southwest technology festival in Austin.

Muhammad, 30, of Maple Shade, tweeted Saturday that a SXSW festival volunteer required her to remove the veil despite her insistence that she has a religious obligation to wear it, according to

The world champion fencer, a graduate of Duke University who sharply criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposal to ban Muslim immigrants, was registering with the festival as a speaker for the SXSports program when the incident occurred. She said festival organizers also gave her the wrong photo ID.

After learning of the complaint, SXSW organizers released a statement to the Chicago Tribune apologizing for the "insensitive request" and confirming that the volunteer had been removed.

"It is not our policy that a hijab or any religious head covering be removed in order to pick up a SXSW badge," festival organizers said. "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."

Muhammad has been increasingly outspoken about her status as a Muslim role model and recently launched a fashion line, Louella, to support young Muslim women. In Brazil, she will become the first Muslim U.S. Olympian to represent her country while wearing a hijab.