In recent years, the term “Muslim” has conjured up images of un-empowered women. However, Muslim women have served as remarkable and heroic leaders for a long time and this is not an image which our history records reflect. Since the late 1980’s, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mali, Pakistan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Senegal and Turkey have been led, at some point, by a Muslim woman president or prime minister. For this Muslim Women’s Day we look at the revolutionary Muslim women who have shaped the world thus far.
Fatima al-Fihri (Morocco, unknown-880 C.E.)
Fatima was the founder of the oldest degree-granting university in the world. She wanted to devote her inheritance to work which would benefit the community. With her fortune, she built the Al Qarawiyyin mosque which later became Al Qarawiyyin University.
Nana Asma’u (Nigeria, 1793-1864)
Nana was not only a princess, but a teacher and poet too. 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.
Shirin Ebadi (Iran, 1947-Present)
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. Despite being dismissed from the position after the 1979 Revolution, Shirin has taken on many controversial cases as a lawyer and subsequently arrested for her outlandish activism.
Anousheh Ansari (USA, 1966-Present)
Anousheh became the first Muslim woman in space in 2006. When asked about what she hoped to achieve on her spaceflight, she said: “I hope to inspire everyone, especially 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.”
Malala Yousafzai (USA, 1997-Present)
Malala is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and campaigner for girls’ education. At only 17 years old she inspired the world with her ambition and passion to assure that girls everywhere can get an education. In 2014, the White House commented. Former President Obama said: “We were awe-struck by her courage and filled with hope knowing this is only the beginning of her extraordinary efforts to make the world a better place”.
Daisy Khan (USA, 1958-Present)
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. Two years after, Daisy created the Global Muslim Women’s Shura Council, an organisation devoted to promoting women’s rights.