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Fazeela Siddiqui: 10 Muslim Women Every Person Should Know

27 March 2012 Huffington Post 27 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

10 Muslim Women Every Person Should Know

Contrary to popular belief, Muslim women have served as revolutionary and heroic leaders. However, in recent years, due to the global socio-political climate, the phrase “Muslim woman” might conjure an image of a demure un-empowered woman sheltered by her burqa. Yet this image is not what our history records or what our present reflects. For example, the current Prime Ministers of Bangladesh (Sheikh Hasina Wazed) and Mali (Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé) are Muslim women. Similarly, the current President of Kosovo, Atife Jahjaga, is the world’s youngest female president, as well as her country’s first female Muslim president.

Since 1988, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mali, Pakistan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Senegal and Turkey have been led, at some point, by a Muslim woman president or prime minister. Juxtapose this to Hillary Clinton, who ran for President of the U.S. in 2008 and noted in her concession speech, “I am a woman and, like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.”

In honor of Women’s History Month, I present 10 Muslim women, from the seventh century until today, that every Muslim (and everyone else) should know about. Some of these women have been jailed, ridiculed and harangued for their activism; yet, their strength and faith always persevered. The following 10 extraordinary Muslim women have been shattering cement, glass and orbital ceilings with panache.

Nusayba was of one of the first advocates for the rights of Muslim women. Notably, she asked the Prophet Muhammad, "Why does God only address men (in the Quran)?" Soon after this exchange, the Prophet received a revelation in Chapter 33, Verse 35 that mentions women can attain every quality to which men have access. The verse also conclusively settled that women stand on the same spiritual level as men. She was viewed as a visionary who transcended her own generation.

Nusayba was of one of the first advocates for the rights of Muslim women. Notably, she asked the Prophet Muhammad, "Why does God only address men (in the Quran)?" Soon after this exchange, the Prophet received a revelation in Chapter 33, Verse 35 that mentions women can attain every quality to which men have access. The verse also conclusively settled that women stand on the same spiritual level as men. She was viewed as a visionary who transcended her own generation.

Rab'ia was an eighth century Sufi saint who set forth the doctrine of "Divine Love." Rab'ia was born into a poor family, orphaned at a young age and was eventually sold into slavery. One night, while her owner witnessed her bowing in prayer, a lamp hung above her head without support, so he freed her. When asked why she walked down the street with a bucket of water in one hand and a lit candle in the other, she replied, "I want to set fire to heaven with this flame and put out the fire of hell with this water so that people will cease to worship GOD for fear of hell or for temptation of heaven. One must love GOD as GOD is Love." She is widely considered to be the most important of the early Sufi poets.

Rab'ia was an eighth century Sufi saint who set forth the doctrine of "Divine Love." Rab'ia was born into a poor family, orphaned at a young age and was eventually sold into slavery. One night, while her owner witnessed her bowing in prayer, a lamp hung above her head without support, so he freed her. When asked why she walked down the street with a bucket of water in one hand and a lit candle in the other, she replied, "I want to set fire to heaven with this flame and put out the fire of hell with this water so that people will cease to worship GOD for fear of hell or for temptation of heaven. One must love GOD as GOD is Love." She is widely considered to be the most important of the early Sufi poets.

Fatima was the founder of the oldest degree-granting university in the world (pictured). After inheriting a large fortune, she wanted to devote her money to pious work that would benefit the community. Thus, with her wealth she built the Al Qarawiyyin mosque. From the 10th to 12th century, the mosque developed into a university -- Al Qarawiyyin University. Today, the Guinness Book of World Records and UNESCO recognize this university to be the oldest continuously operating institution of higher education in the world.

Fatima was the founder of the oldest degree-granting university in the world (pictured). After inheriting a large fortune, she wanted to devote her money to pious work that would benefit the community. Thus, with her wealth she built the Al Qarawiyyin mosque. From the 10th to 12th century, the mosque developed into a university -- Al Qarawiyyin University. Today, the Guinness Book of World Records and UNESCO recognize this university to be the oldest continuously operating institution of higher education in the world.

Sultan Raziyya was the Sultan of Delhi from 1236 to 1240. She refused to be addressed as Sultana because it meant "wife or mistress of a sultan" and only answered to the title "Sultan." As she solidified her power, she believed that appropriating a masculine image would help her maintain control. So she dressed like a man and wore a turban, trousers, coat and sword. Contrary to custom, she appeared unveiled in public. Sultan Raziyya was known for her belief that the spirit of religion is more important than its parts. She established schools, academies, centers for research and public libraries.   (Photo: Grave of Razia Sultan in Bulbul-i-Khan near Turkoman Gate, Delhi)

Sultan Raziyya was the Sultan of Delhi from 1236 to 1240. She refused to be addressed as Sultana because it meant "wife or mistress of a sultan" and only answered to the title "Sultan." As she solidified her power, she believed that appropriating a masculine image would help her maintain control. So she dressed like a man and wore a turban, trousers, coat and sword. Contrary to custom, she appeared unveiled in public. Sultan Raziyya was known for her belief that the spirit of religion is more important than its parts. She established schools, academies, centers for research and public libraries. (Photo: Grave of Razia Sultan in Bulbul-i-Khan near Turkoman Gate, Delhi)

Nana was a princess, poet and teacher. She was fluent in Arabic, Fulfulde, Hausa and Tamacheq and well versed in Arabic, Greek and Latin classics. In 1830, she formed a group of female teachers who journeyed throughout the region to educate women in poor and rural regions. With the republication of her works, that underscore women's education, she has become a rallying point for African women. Today, in northern Nigeria, Islamic women's organizations, schools and meeting halls are frequently named in her honor.   (Photo: Fula women.)

Nana was a princess, poet and teacher. She was fluent in Arabic, Fulfulde, Hausa and Tamacheq and well versed in Arabic, Greek and Latin classics. In 1830, she formed a group of female teachers who journeyed throughout the region to educate women in poor and rural regions. With the republication of her works, that underscore women's education, she has become a rallying point for African women. Today, in northern Nigeria, Islamic women's organizations, schools and meeting halls are frequently named in her honor. (Photo: Fula women.)

Laleh's Quran translation, "The Sublime Quran" (2007), is the first translation of the Quran into English by an American woman. Her translation incorporates alternative meanings to Arabic terms that are ambiguous or whose meaning scholars have had to guess due to the antiquity of the language. Notably, her translation of Chapter 4, Verse 34 has gained a lot of attention. She translates the Arabic word daraba as "go away" instead of the common "beat" or "hit." Her Quran translation is used in many mosques and universities and has been adopted by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan.

Laleh's Quran translation, "The Sublime Quran" (2007), is the first translation of the Quran into English by an American woman. Her translation incorporates alternative meanings to Arabic terms that are ambiguous or whose meaning scholars have had to guess due to the antiquity of the language. Notably, her translation of Chapter 4, Verse 34 has gained a lot of attention. She translates the Arabic word daraba as "go away" instead of the common "beat" or "hit." Her Quran translation is used in many mosques and universities and has been adopted by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan.

In 2003, Shirin became the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. As a judge in Iran, she was the first woman to achieve Chief Justice status. However, she was dismissed from this position after the 1979 Revolution. As a lawyer, Shirin has taken on many controversial cases and in result, has been arrested numerous times. Her activism has been predicated on her view that, "An interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered."

In 2003, Shirin became the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. As a judge in Iran, she was the first woman to achieve Chief Justice status. However, she was dismissed from this position after the 1979 Revolution. As a lawyer, Shirin has taken on many controversial cases and in result, has been arrested numerous times. Her activism has been predicated on her view that, "An interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered."

In 2005, Amina was the first female imam to lead a mixed-congregation prayer. This act caused a shock wave to run throughout the Islamic world. Some viewed it as an awakening and a return to the equalitarian way of Islam. Others viewed it as an offensive innovation. According to Amina, "The radical notion that women are full human beings is already inscribed in Islam by our notion of tawhid. So the binary that tries to give women less than full human dignity is transformed into a relationship of equality and reciprocity." Despite individuals' views on the subject, she has created a platform where diverse Muslim views can be voiced.

In 2005, Amina was the first female imam to lead a mixed-congregation prayer. This act caused a shock wave to run throughout the Islamic world. Some viewed it as an awakening and a return to the equalitarian way of Islam. Others viewed it as an offensive innovation. According to Amina, "The radical notion that women are full human beings is already inscribed in Islam by our notion of tawhid. So the binary that tries to give women less than full human dignity is transformed into a relationship of equality and reciprocity." Despite individuals' views on the subject, she has created a platform where diverse Muslim views can be voiced.

In 2005, Daisy founded the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), the only cohesive, global movement of Muslim women around the world that works to reclaim women's rights in Islam using a human rights and social-justice based framework. Further, in 2008, Daisy spearheaded the creation of the Global Muslim Women's Shura Council, which is comprised of eminent Muslim women scholars, activists and lawyers from 26 countries. The Council's statements have informed numerous university curriculums and legal opinions. Daisy is viewed as a credible, humane and equitable voice within the global Muslim community.

In 2005, Daisy founded the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), the only cohesive, global movement of Muslim women around the world that works to reclaim women's rights in Islam using a human rights and social-justice based framework. Further, in 2008, Daisy spearheaded the creation of the Global Muslim Women's Shura Council, which is comprised of eminent Muslim women scholars, activists and lawyers from 26 countries. The Council's statements have informed numerous university curriculums and legal opinions. Daisy is viewed as a credible, humane and equitable voice within the global Muslim community.

In 2006, Anousheh became the first Muslim woman in space. When asked about what she hoped to achieve on her spaceflight, she said, "I hope to inspire everyone -- especially young people, women and young girls all over the world and in Middle Eastern countries that do not provide women with the same opportunities as men -- to not give up their dreams and to pursue them. ... It may seem impossible to them at times. But I believe they can realize their dreams if they keep it in their hearts, nurture it, and look for opportunities and make those opportunities happen."

In 2006, Anousheh became the first Muslim woman in space. When asked about what she hoped to achieve on her spaceflight, she said, "I hope to inspire everyone -- especially young people, women and young girls all over the world and in Middle Eastern countries that do not provide women with the same opportunities as men -- to not give up their dreams and to pursue them. ... It may seem impossible to them at times. But I believe they can realize their dreams if they keep it in their hearts, nurture it, and look for opportunities and make those opportunities happen."

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27 Comments »

  1. This is a great article to share, thank you!

  2. Splendid!!!!!

  3. interesting read. i hope the chic who wanted to put out hell’s fire was successful. doubt it though especially considering all the times the koran says to fear allah. i’ve been told that the root word used in 4:34 has 7 different meanings in arabic. strange that god would choose a language like that for his “final divine revelation”. so is all the fiqh that says it’s supposed to be a symbolic tap on the wrist wrong? i wonder how she translated 4:11?

    33:35

    إن المسلمين والمسلمات والمؤمنين والمؤمنات والقانتين والقانتات والصادقين والصادقات والصابرين والصابرات والخاشعين والخاشعات والمتصدقين والمتصدقات والصائمين والصائمات والحافظين فروجهم والحافظات والذاكرين الله كثيرا والذاكرات أعد الله لهم مغفرة وأجرا عظيما

    Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.

    that doesn’t say anything about men and women being equal in society. just in the afterlife, if you believe in such a thing. isn’t there a hadith where muhammad says a people lead by a woman will not prosper?

    http://www.irfi.org/articles/articles_251_300/an_islamic_perspective_on_women.htm

  4. mashallah, all praise is to allah .

  5. holy shit 25 meanings

    http://www.sublimequran.org/

  6. A good article, just about 99% new information to me.

  7. http://www.wisemuslimwomen.org/muslimwomen/bio/daisy_khan

    shouldn’t there be 2 i(s) in the WISE? if i was a pessimist i would say she chose that name as an homage to sami-al-arian’s old think tank at usf. World Islamic Studies Enterprise. it only produced a couple of terrorist.

    Al Najjer was also a director of WISE . The PIJ terrorist network which was set up by Al Arian, his wife Nahla, her brother Mazen Al Najjar, and ex USF professor turned Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, continues to fundraise and orchestrate terrorist attacks both in the US and worldwide . At the start of the Iraq war Ramadan Shallah was quoted in the New York Post calling for his followers to carry out suicide attacks on US and coalition soldiers.

  8. “”I want to set fire to heaven with this flame and put out the fire of hell with this water so that people will cease to worship GOD for fear of hell or for temptation of heaven. One must love GOD as GOD is Love.” BEST QUOTE!!

  9. Shirin was dismissed as Chief Justice because when the Iran Islamic State came into being, women were not allowed to be judges under the sharia.

    She was rapturous at the idea of the Islamic State, and guess what lost her enthusiasm for it once it was implemented.

  10. she’s from iranian american! I think she is don’t be muslim.

  11. Thanks. Cool article!

  12. Grace Viscuso Fadarishan Enlighten yourself with ‘facts’ and come out of your republican crazy mania.

  13. Only liked 7 out of the 10 women. Okay article

  14. wonderful article. The problem with the implementation of Islam and with Islamophobes is that everything is about the men. Islamophobes ignore 50% of the Muslim world when they only ever talk about the evil Muslim men. the women are Muslim too. now that society is giving more access to women and the common person to the Koran and its interpretation, I hope we can see the intended spirit of Islam manifest itself with women the same as men, peace instead of violence, and finally all the hatred surrounding Islam from both sides can finally subside.

  15. and to anon. The Islamic Republic was instituted by men. It’s a problem of masculinity, not religion. Christians regularly used the bible to justify why women couldn’t work or vote, let alone hold office.

    and the Mike: The Haditha were not divinely inspired, and were written by medieval men with medieval masculine views. The Haditha should be taken with a grain of salt.

  16. Not only historical, logical but a working lesson for both genders. The author needs a lot of praise.

  17. siyajkak,

    “The Haditha were not divinely inspired” i agree, but i’m not a muslim. so the actions of the prophet weren’t divinely inspired. you sure that’s what muslim believe? so why are 90% of muslims sunni? as in they follow the sunnah, the actions of muhammad. there are some koran only muslims but it’s a tiny minority. ok, so now for arguements sake i’ll limit myself to the koran. what do you think of the divine revelation of the 24th surah?

    “The primary hadith collections, in conjunction with the Quran, form the basis of all jurisprudence methodologies within Sunni Islam.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunni_Islam

  18. “Most Sunni Muslims accept the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim’
    those are the two books i copy and paste from. go to faithinallah dot org. this site blocks that one for some reason? dueling muslims i guess?

  19. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17533816

    “Earlier this month the president endorsed a “code of conduct” issued by an influential council of clerics which allows husbands to beat wives under certain circumstances.”

    wonder where they get that from? speaking of the koran. i think the author means zina. another word who’s translation is argued over. does it simply mean fornication, sex outside of marraige or does it include adultry. muhammad asad claims it is both and that is why stoning is not the punishment for adulrty but 100 instead. but he translated 4:34 as “to beat”. so who’s right? this is one more reason not to allow sharia in american courts. no one can even agree on what it is or how to translate the koran.

  20. Jazak’Allah Khair.

    This is a wonderfully informative article. Very inspirational and a must share!

    -Kaleena

  21. Did you know that some of the religious teachers of Imam Malik and Al-Hasan Al-Basri were women? Just because something is not well known does not mean it didn’t happen.

  22. can you make it twelve ?

    why
    because it seems you forgot to put Keumalahayati, a faithful Muslimah who fought Western colonization of South east Asia in 16th centuries and the first women in the history of mankind as a Navy Admiral.

    and for modern day

    there is Sri Mulyani Indrawati, a Managing Director of the World Bank Group, she is a muslim as well

  23. who is the you in you?

    “Did you know that some of the religious teachers of Imam Malik and Al-Hasan Al-Basri were women? Just because something is not well known does not mean it didn’t happen.”

    what is the “something”????? can ya’ll work on your pronouns to antecedent?

    so the female teachers of malik taught him that women should inherit half as much as men?

  24. It’s written in ahadith concerning the ayat stating beat them lightly by The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) where he states they are to be beaten with nothing greater then a twig. HUMDU ALLAH! WHO IS THE BEST DISPOSER OF AFFAIRS… You must remember that the HOLY QU’RAN does not state to what extent the supposed beating should be taken to but that a punishment or a discipline of some sort be taken. Not only are Muslims suppose to use the best of speeches best also the best of actions. Stop questioning the HOLY QU’RAN & start questioning yourselves!!!

  25. And Aisha (R), she worked as an advisor, military general, and scholar. The woman was a visionary.

  26. […] Original Source Share:PrintEmailFacebookRedditDigg […]

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