Part I, Written by Saadia Haq of The Human Lens
A topic close to our hearts, the existing cultural baggage in Islamic communities make it difficult for many within and outside the realm of faith to hear about the richness of Islam through Muslim women. The leadership by men and women in Islam has always existed despite the stereotypical narratives prevalent within the Muslim communities and the obvious disdain of the west.
However, attention towards Muslim women leaders has been deliberately ignored and many a times contested across the world. Being born and brought up in South Asia, from early ages girls are given messages and I quote; ‘woman leadership brings upheavals like drought and famine to the country’ or ‘Gods wrath come in form of women leaders’ – both absurd notions having little to do with real life mechanics and more to do with our dear friend patriarchy.
Recently I discovered a publication; ‘The Women Scholars in Islam’ which is the fascinating work of an Islamic scholar and Dean of Cambridge Islamic School, Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi that highlights the illustrious work of Muslim women leaders and scholars since time of the Prophet (PBUH). In his own words, Sheikh Nadwi states, “I know of no other religion in which women were so central in its formative history.” Today’s feature pays awe-struck tribute to the women leaders of the different Islamic nations and communities.
From South Asia itself, who can forget the short but ground breaking reign of ‘Razia Sultan’; the female ruler of United India from 1236 to 1240; the first Muslim women to accomplish such a feat. Her ascent to the throne is of much historical significance not only because she was a woman, but also because her ancestors were originally slaves, not nobility. The daughter of Iltutmush who came to Dehli as a slave serving under Qutb-ud-din and had risen to the post of a provincial governor. And later with support from Turkish nobility a sultan who much to their frustration created history by naming his daughter Razia as the crown heir. As a sultan he had prepared Razia for this role by encouraging her boldness, trained in military warfare and administration. Her ascent However, her ascent to the throne wasn’t easy and Turkish nobles disapproved of her reign simply because she was a woman. Present day Erdogan is inflicted with this sickness too.
During her short time, this Muslim woman ruler devoted herself to the betterment of her empire and proved to be an efficient, just, and noble ruler. Among the many crucial accomplishments of this brave Queen, her interfaith tolerance and secular ideals ensured into getting her policy on religious tolerance towards the Hindus, made crime punishable through evidence alone instead of having a trial, set up schools, and made educational libraries available to the public for promoting education across the Kingdom. Along with the learning of Qur’an she laid emphasis for all kinds of new learning and made sure sciences and literature from all cultures were also studied in the institutions. However this brave Sultan met a tragic end thanks to the conspiracy hatched by collusion of Turkish nobles collectively, led by Malik Ikhtiar-ud-din Aitigin but not before leaving a rich legacy that carried out for times to follow.
Another path breaking woman of Islam is Lubna of Cordoba who was one of the first female solo travelers that lived in the 10th century and was the personal palace secretary for Sultan Abd al-Rahman. She was the daughter of a Spanish slave girl who rose to prestigious heights in the Andalusian royal court. Despite not having royal blood nor noble background, her capacities and resourcefulness were testament to being awarded such a role in the Royal Court itself. It is said that she was an acquisitions expert having more than 500, 000 international books. In her quest, she traveled from across Middle East, records of her voyages in Cairo, Damansus, Banghdad and other areas gave a popularity to the Andalusian Royal Library. Those debating Muslim women have no brains need no other reminder than Lubna of Cordoba to set the record that Muslim women are not allowed prominence and disrespected on a larger scale. Moreover, she was a poet, library master, mathematician and palace secretary during the Ummayad dynasty which boasted of not many but several noteworthy prominent women known for their services.
From Europe we move to East Asia which records the mid – 13th century Islamic kingdom of Patani a vast empire whose ‘Golden Age’ was during the reign of its four successive queens from 1584, known as Ratu Hijau (The Green Queen), Rau Biru (The Blue Queen), Ratu Ungu (The Purple Queen) and Ratu Kuning (The Yellow Queen)during which the Pattani kingdom’s economic and military strength was greatly increased to the point that it was able to fight off four major Siamese invasions and helped keep property within the Kingdom from invasions and tackled economic decline.
From Asia we move across the Middle east and enter the horn of Africa, Yemen to the land of the female sovereign monarch Arwa Bint Asma, otherwise known as ‘The Noble Queen’ and in popular terms Sayyidah al-Ḥurrah. She has a unique position in Islamic history because she and another Yemeni female monarch;Asma Bint Shihab are the only female monarchs in the Muslim Arab world to have had the Islamic Khutba proclaimed in their names in the mosques. Her descent to throne unlike her mother in law Queen Asma took place when she was very young but that did not deter her from attending to the matters of state. She would observe the veil and mixed with both men and women, participating in state councils and refused to conduct meetings where she would be hidden by a screen.
This Nobel Queen was well versed in religious sciences, Quran, hadith, poetry and history and hailed a follower of the Islamic sect Ismaili Shia. She holds the honour of being bestowed the highest rank in Yemen dawah, that of hujjat by Imam Al Mustansir Billah in 1084. This was the first time that a woman had ever been given such a status in the whole history of Islam. During her reign and patronage many missions went as far as western India where they established an Ismaili community in Gujarat in later 11t century that survived till date. Queen Arwa Bint Asma took upon to improve the Yemeni economy and supported agricultural progress on her nation and built many educational institutions across the country.
We move towards Nigeria, that boasts of a feminist monarch Princess Nana Asma’u that raised the scales of glory for her nation during 1793-1863. She is not your average princess with a tiara, Nana Asma’u was a scholar, poet, teacher and perhaps the precursor to modern feminism in Africa. A member of Fodio clan who ruled the Sokoto Caliphate in modern-day Nigeria her family was part of a fundamental Islamic sect, known as the Qadiriyya, who focused on the pursuit of knowledge as a spiritual path. She was given an excellent education from early age, fluent in four languages and memorised the Quran and studied Islamic principles in great depth. An accomplished author and respected scholar who stayed in communication with many male scholars throughout the sub-Saharan African Muslim world, she was bold and courageous in her thought and works. Her work addressed topics like divine truth, Sufi women saints and the Islamic ideals for Muslim leadership and rights of women.
She would teach both boys and girls together and in addition created a nationwide network where large number of women were trained as educators. These women memorized Nana’s poetry as teaching devices to use in instructing Islamic women and were called “yan-taru” or “those who congregate together, the sisterhood”, traveled throughout the Caliphate educating women, who passed on their education to others.
I hope you have enjoyed this feature bringing you unique and extremely resourceful Muslim women leaders responsible for the betterment of Islamic communities widespread across the globe. Stay tuned for part two by the very gifted co-author Papatia Feauxzar and do share your thoughts on this one!
Taking this opportunity to wish you all a very happy 2018!
“Blindly following ancient customs and traditions doesn’t mean that the dead are alive, but that the living are dead.” – Ibn Khaldun
In part I, my co-author Saadia Haq highlighted amazing women trailblazers in human history. In this sequel, I will showcase the brave and inspiring women of this age who are anchoring the Muslim woman scholarship and leadership forward. Why? Because we can’t know where we are heading as a ummah if we don’t know our history. It’s about striking balance between the two; past and future since we are in the middle also known as the present. Saadia and I, as curators of our time, we take it upon ourselves to debunk important issues and fight this type of oppression on women where we spot it! Best believe it.
So don’t you love the opening quote? It’s a game changer because there is truly no basis of true substance in gate-keeping and denying women leadership and scholarship. Telling women that if they become leaders they will cause chaos is a misinterpretation of facts and religious quotes. Men who want to control women make their mission to stop women to achieve their full potential and shine brighter than them. Why? Because we all know it, we’re brighter! *Laughs* But all pleasantries aside, without women there can’t be a world as Allah gave us the gift of birth alhamdullilah. Now, don’t go telling me that a woman needs your seed to procreate. Maryam (aleihi salam) wasn’t touched by a man and still she gave birth. So, ponder on that…
This is also to say a woman doesn’t need a man and many men know that. Example: Hagar in the desert with her son Ismael after Abraham (aleihi salam) was ordained by Allah (subhanahu wa ta ala) to leave them there. I don’t want to use the word deadbeat for the father of the Believers but it was somewhat broke. But did Hagar despair about the mercy of her Creator? No. She firmly believed that Allah would come through for her since he wanted her to be at that specific time for a specific reason. She strongly believed it was all part of a big plan and she was RIGHT! Today, no man’s Hajj is accepted if they don’t walk into her steps at Safa and Marwa! Subhanallah.
So, it makes some men bitter that we don’t need them. But we welcome your companionship to navigate life as being a lone wolf is not always fun. My brother always says with a hearty laugh, “In school especially in the STEM fields, you will meet women smarter than men and it doesn’t bother me because it’s not the end of the world. I’m cool with that because I have nothing to prove to anyone.” That’s deep. I wished many men thought like that. I have touched on this issue of women leaders here too.
So about some of the trailblazers of this age, let’s introduce them.
SCHOLAR ANSE TAMARA GRAY
This is a woman who also recognizes the gap in present day American and worldwide women scholarship and leadership. Her organization Rabata and its subsidiaries are a place any woman of any background can find a place in. Truly, it’s a diverse environment for and by women. Masha’Allah.
SISTERS COMMITTEE OF ISGH
This is another organization that seeks to improve the spiritual fellowship of women along with the acceptance of women in mosques.
What I don’t understand is this: during the time of the Prophet (Sallallahu aleihi wassalam) people were tempted and that’s many of the verses of the Quran came to down to shed some light and help make decisions. In all that, there was no partition in mosques. But people will argue that the people who lived in that blessed era where somewhat devoid of nafs? This is where I should insert ‘a get out here’ meme but you already got the idea.
Perhaps one of the things that keeps me from attending the mosques regularly is the fact that mosques are watched by you know who, and I believe that my prayers have more weight when I perform them at home. If I’m outside running errands and that a mosque is close by, I will of course go in and perform my salatindividually and leave. If I can’t do that, the earth is a masjid. I find a quiet and safe spot to pray alhamdullilah somewhere in a parking lot without attracting too much attention on myself.
She is a Feminist for sure despite her husband authoritarian tendencies. I always wonder about the dynamic in their household being married to a Turkish man myself. Clashes of opinions are bound to occur when people with strong minds and principles marry.
To continue, former founder of the “Idealist Women’s Association” and many others, Emine has played a huge role in opening the doors of politics to many Turkish women. Education of Turkish girls is also another area that she focused on. During the Ottoman Empire, women scholarship was at its peak, today things have changed. There is still a lot to do but Turkey is the leading Muslim Country with no debt these days and her husband is by no means the person who the credit should go to. Derrière chaque grand homme, se cache une femme.
Aside Education and Politics, Ms. Erdogan focuses on humanitarian efforts and ways for women to be more involved in business. Trying to embody qualities of Coreishy women are also metaphors. That horse can also denotes women’s finances. Think of Khadidjah (aleihi salam) Al-Kubra riding her horse (the car of the time). Knowing how to ride that horse to financial freedom is also part of the bargain that as women we should focus on.
GWENDOLYN ZOHARAH SIMMONS
A Muslim scholar with a Ph.D. in religion who has been to Hajj, she contributed in the civil rights movement during the 60s especially in the Southern states of America. Look her up to feel a glimpse of inspiration. Her book ‘Striving for Muslim Women’s Human Rights – Before and Beyond Beijing’ got my attention.
Abdullah-Poulos is the founder of NbA Muslims (Native-born American Muslims). Her work is pivotal as it highlights the societal issues all minorities in this great country still face. She is revolutionary! Layla also points out the gatekeeping issues women of knowledge face in the ummah too.
Thank you for reading and stay safe these holidays.
Note: ‘The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff’ is a copyrighted collaborative feature series bringing forward attention towards serious issues within the global Muslim communities. It’s a joint initiative of two Muslimah writers, Papatia Feuxzar of Djarabi Kitabs Publishing and Saadia Haq of The Human Lens. As always we would love to hear your feedback, here at wordpress or through email which ever medium works for you. Copyrights @2015 – 2017