By Rumina Hashmani
Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman. Ibtihaj Muhammad. Nadiya Hussain. Malala Yousafzai. And many more…
Have you heard these names floating around? What do all these individuals have in common? Whilst each of them has their own story to tell, what unifies them in a broader sense, is that all are successful Muslim women of the 21st century.
Let us go back in time to better understand why their success as Muslim women is glorified by our communities today.
In a pre-Islamic era in old Arabia, pagan Arabs would consider their daughters as shameful and a burden upon them. It was this very thought that led to infanticide, killing the innocent little girls, by way of burying them alive. The Holy Qur’an condemned this practice – “Shall he keep it with disgrace or bury it (alive) in the dust? Now surely evil is what they judge.’” (16:59)
When the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) proclaimed that he came as a Messenger from God, one of his first messages that he shared with those who were eager to learn more was that those who were blessed with daughters would be granted a great reward, if they were to bring them up with kindness.
“He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire” (Bukhari and Muslim).
This message attracted more people in Makkah to listen to his teachings and accept the faith of Islam. Many were those who had the painful experience of losing their daughters due to ignorant customs.
Fast-forward a few years……
Khadija (a) was the first wife of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and the first female to accept the faith of Islam. Prior to her marriage with the Holy Prophet (pbuh), she oversaw her father’s family business and with the profits she made, she would help the widows, the poor, the orphans and the sick. Today, she is a role model and a perfect example of a successful Muslim woman. Her status is empowered by her contribution; emotionally, spiritually and financially, to the widespread message of One God and Muhammad (pbuh) as the Messenger of God. She stood firm by the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
After Khadija (a) there have been several inspirational women in the faith of Islam. Her own granddaughter, Zaynab (a), stood by her brother during the Tragedy of Karbala and after the battle on the 10th of Muharram 61AH, she took it upon herself to narrate the tragedy in gatherings where they were presented as prisoners. How is that considered inspirational in any such way? Well, could you or I speak so eloquently without faltering whilst in a state of fatigue and after being captivated as a prisoner? Her sermons were not pre-planned. Historians write that Zaynab (a) made history!
And from such inspirational women in history, our own generation of Muslim women have been inspired and empowered to pursue their dreams, step outside of their comfort, and leap for success.
In the mid 1900’s, Bint al-Huda al-Sadr was another empowered woman that came to light. She established several religious schools for girls and played a crucial role in creating awareness amongst Muslim women. She worked hard to understand the sufferings of Muslim women and to help them.
And then the 21st century; Muslim women continue striving to reach new heights.
Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman is a journalist, a politician, and a human rights activist. She’s also the first Arab woman to have received a Nobel Peace Prize.
Ibtihaj Muhammad gained popularity quite recently in 2015 around the time of the Olympics. Pursuing her dream, she is known to be one of the best female fencers in the world and she’s the first female Muslim American fencer.
Nadiya Hussain – Her name buzzed throughout the world where ‘The Great British Bake Off’ was watched by over 15 million viewers in 2015 where she confidently won the sixth series of the show. This was not ‘the end’ for her, but rather the beginning of many more achievements.
Malala Yousafzai is a young woman who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17. Confidently, Malala stood up for the rights of education and freedom for children in Pakistan. achievement of your mother, sister, or daughter, or any other female you know.
Noor Tagouri has emerged as a prominent Muslim-American woman, blazing a trail across mainstream media. She is a force, like no other. Since launching her viral #LetNoorShine campaign in 2012, Tagouri has built a socially-aware and engaged community of nearly one million social media followers.
Dalia Mogahed is the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, where she leads the organization’s pioneering research and thought leadership programs on American Muslims. Mogahed is former Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, where she led the analysis of surveys of Muslim communities worldwide.
As time progresses, many more Muslim women are being recognized for their achievements. Many will say they are empowered by individuals in the past and are striving to represent their identity not only as women, but as Muslim women.
You might be wondering what your achievements are in society, or that of your mother, sister, or daughter, or any other female you know.
As each individual sets forth their goal and foresees their future, encourage them to represent the faith they so proudly follow and to keep at it. There are many more Muslim women who have served and will serve our society; and whilst maybe all cannot be captured in name, they are an inspiration and an empowerment for generations to come.
And to think that it all began in a pre-Islamic era, in old Arabia…