I couldn’t let Women’s History Month go by without chiming in. In this blog, I focused on Muslim women. I have a reason for this. In 2019, we still have a pervasive narrative. We are oppressed, veiled victims who have no agency. Yes, that does exist. At the same time, that is not our entire story. I believe in what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “The Danger of a Single Story.” Taking one story of a few members of a group and using that to define all members of that group minimizes them. The veiled victim story of Muslim women robs us of our humanity and denies our contribution to history. The women I talk about today made undeniable contributions to the world. They harnessed their own power to make an impact. No single story here. Today, I offer you a few. Here are 7 badly behaved Muslim women who made history:
1. Razia Sultana
Razia Sultana was the first woman sultan in the Delhi Sultanate. She was trained in battle and administration. Her skill in these areas impressed her father so much that he wound up favoring her over her brothers when it came to succession. She refused to wear the veil but still had the support of the people. Although she was an able ruler who worked for her subjects, the nobles refused to be ruled by a woman. She was assassinated with her husband only four years into her reign.
2. Nur Jahan
In her day, she was the real power behind the throne as the emperor of India at the time, Jahangir was an opium addict and heavy drinker. She issued official royal proclamations and even had coins made with her name. As an Iranian immigrant with no regal heritage, her rise to power was near impossible. Still, this talented artist and politician became an empress. She had the strength of a warrior, leading troops to free her imprisoned husband. Both disdained and admired, she is a standout among royal women.
3. Fatema Mernissi
Although she grew up in a domestic harem where women were not expected to leave the house, she sought education, eventually earning a PhD. She became a professor at Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco. From there, she went on to become one of the founders of Islamic feminism. She argued that Islam did not favor the oppression of women and could support her assertions with scholarly research. Not only did she question the status quo when it came to gender roles and gender equality, she encouraged women in rural areas to become educated. She expanded her activism when she organized a writer’s workshop for political prisoners.
4. Aisha bint Abu Bakr
A wife of Prophet Muhammad, Aisha was not a woman relegated to the sidelines. In her time and beyond, she caught her fair share of criticism for her outspoken ways. She was a scholar and an intellectual. She assisted the early followers of Islam in interpreting the Quran. After the death of the third caliph, she even led an army in the Battle of the Camel. She lost, but she never lost the respect of the community. She still taught Islam and is known as the “Mother of the Believers.”
5. Noor Inayat Khan
This unlikely World War II hero was a secret agent for the British. After escaping Nazi occupied France, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, eventually becoming a radio operator in France. After betrayal by a Frenchwoman, she was arrested, tortured, and executed by the Nazis. Despite her confinement and torture, she never revealed any information. In 1949, the British government awarded her the George Cross for courage.
6. Tawakkol Karman
In 2011, she became the first Arab woman and second Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is known as “The Mother of the Revolution” in her home country of Yemen. As a journalist, she reported human rights abuses and mobilized the community. She founded Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization that reports on social injustice and violations of human rights. Even after being arrested on several occasions, she continues her fight for human rights.
7. Malala Yousafzai
In 2012, she was shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting to go to school. Not only did she survive the attack, she thrived. She continued to advocate for human rights and the education of girls. In 2014, she became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, she does what the extremists don’t want her to do and studies at Oxford University, all while continuing her activism.
These are just some of our stories. I honor these women, their stories, and all our stories.
Until next time, look behind and beyond the veil...
Sameena K. Mughal, Author, Freelance Writer