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Ibtihaj Muhammad 'disheartened' after hold by U.S. customs

Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad expressed being "upset and disheartened" after she said she was stopped for two hours by U.S. customs last month.

"I personally was held at customs for two hours just a few weeks ago. I don't know why," Muhammad told Popsugar on Tuesday. "I can't tell you why it happened to me, but I know that I'm Muslim. 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."

At the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Muhammad became the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics with a hijab, which she wears to adhere to the tenets of her Muslim faith. Muhammad was part of the United States' bronze-winning entry in the women's team sabre event.

Muhammad did not say where she was traveling to or from when she was stopped. She also did not say whether the incident occurred before or after an executive order by President Donald Trump that restricted travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"It's really hard," Muhammad said of being stopped. "My human response is to cry because I was so sad and upset and disheartened -- and just disappointed. At the same time, I'm one of those people who feels like I have to be strong for those people who may not be able to find that strength. I feel like I have to speak up for those people whose voices go unheard. It was a really hard two hours, but at the same time, I made it home."

Muhammad said at the ESPN Super Bowl party Friday that she was hopeful the country would become more inclusive.

"I think to remember what makes our country great, and it's diversity," she said. "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 added: "I think that we are moving in the wrong direction as a nation, and I hope that we work toward a more inclusive space very soon."

The travel ban was put on hold by a federal judge in Seattle, and the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide as soon as Thursday whether to immediately reinstate the terms of the executive order.

Muhammad's comments Tuesday came after she spoke at the MAKERS Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, where she and U.S. gold-medal gymnast Gabby Douglas discussed empowerment, representation and athleticism.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.