Ibtihaj Muhammad: Olympian is sued for defamation by infamous hijab-pulling school teacher

Ibtihaj Muhammad: Olympian is sued for defamation by infamous hijab-pulling school teacher
Ibtihaj Muhammad was sued by a teacher for defamation after a social media post she made about the latter went viral (Jerritt Clark/Getty Images)

MAPLEWOOD, NEW JERSEY: Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American athlete who won an Olympic medal for fencing in 2016, has been sued by a school teacher named Tamar Herman for allegedly defaming her with an Instagram post, according to a report by NPR. The fencer had made a post about Herman allegedly pulling a seven-year-old girl’s hijab in the classroom that went viral and sparked outrage.

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Muhammad, who became the first American Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal and the first woman to represent the US at the Olympic Games while wearing a hijab, shared the post in October 2021. According to the post, the girl told her mother that her second-grade teacher Herman, “approached her, grabbed her hijab, pulling it back, touching her face and hair” and pulled her hijab. This led to the mother writing about her daughter's accusations on Facebook. Muhammad shared the incident on social media and captioned her post, “Imagine being a child and stripped of your clothing in front of your classmates? Imagine the humiliation and trauma this experience has caused her. This is abuse. Schools should be a haven for all of our kids to feel safe, welcome and protected — no matter their faith. We cannot move toward a post-racial America until we weed out the racism and bigotry that still exist in all layers of our society. By protecting Muslim girls who wear hijab, we are protecting the rights of all of us to have a choice in the way we dress," the Inquirer reported.

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In the lawsuit, which was filed in Union County Superior Court on October 5, 2022, Herman, a veteran teacher with the South Orange-Maplewood School District, said Muhammad’s post was defamatory. The teacher also sued the New Jersey chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, claiming executive director Selaedin Maksut gave a defamatory interview on 'Good Morning America' which called for her to be fired over the incident. Herman claimed in the court papers that she was placed on administrative leave, had to move out of her home, and required police protection after Muhammad wrote about the accusation online, NJ reported.

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The suit alleges that Muhammad used pictures of the teacher from her private Facebook page. The lawsuit read, "As a result of the defendants’ fabricated claims, Herman had her reputation impugned, she was targeted with threats to her physical safety, was mercilessly bullied and ridiculed, was shamed in local and national news articles, and humiliated in front of her community."

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Justifying her action in the suit, Herman said that she noticed the student wearing a hood that was blocking her eyes. “Intending to encourage the student to engage in her schoolwork as her eyes were partially blocked by the hood, Herman (asked) the student to brush back her hood,” the suit states.

It further mentioned that the negative publicity made it impossible for Herman to find another job. Therefore, Herman is asking for monetary judgments against Muhammad and CAIR in an amount to be determined in court, along with punitive damages and attorney fees, according to the report. 

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