You may have heard of Halet Cambel, who was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics, an archeologist by day and fencer by night from, hailing from Turkey. Cambel’s bravery and strength led the way for athletes such as Sarah Attar and Wojdan Seraj Abdulrahim, who made history in 2012 on behalf of the notoriously misogynistic Saudi Arabia, by being their first female representatives at the Olympics. But somewhere between Cambel and the two lady Olympians representing Saudi Arabia today we look to a Muslim woman by the name of Nawal El Moutawakel. El Moutawakel was the first Muslim woman to be an Olympic gold medalist.
Unlike many women from Muslim-majority countries such as Morocco, where she grew up, El Moutawakel began honing her skills at a very young age. Her parents believed in treating their sons and daughters equally, and all their children participated in track and field. It became clear that El Moutawakel was a natural at hurdles, and her talent caught the attention of Iowa State University couches who offered her a scholarship to travel to the United States and study at ISU while hurdling. Just like sports, education was very important for her parents, especially her father who ultimately made the begrudging and rightfully nervous decision to let his daughter to travel to the US for this opportunity. Not a week later, El Moutawakel’s father died in a fatal car crash.
Even while dealing with the grief of losing her father, whose outlooks were a true rarity in Morocco, eight months later El Moutawakel went on to win First Place in the 400 meter hurdles and become the first Muslim woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal. El Moutawakel beat her personal best by .76 seconds and made history in the 1984 Los Angeles Games when she won the 400m hurdles race. With that Olympic win she earned the title of not only first Muslim woman to become an Olympic gold medalist, but also the first African woman to win a gold medal. Her win prompted the careers...
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