We all remember that one person, usually a male, that tried to tell us that being a Muslim woman meant we had to stay confined in our homes, have children, and care after our husbands. While you’re cringing at the thought of this memory, I want to address that being a stay-at-home wife/mother does not in any way lower your status as a woman. Rather, I want to tackle the misinformed idea that has been passed down through generations regarding a woman’s societal role in Islam.
I want you all to grab a nice, comfortable seat and sit — just in case you faint after realizing how powerful, thriving, and important women have been in Islamic history.
With that said, let’s take a look at eight Muslim women who have succeeded in carving the path for the rest of us to thrive on.
1. Khadija bint Khuwaylid
Not only was Khadija a devoted wife of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the first convert to Islam, but she was also a wealthy businesswoman and skilled at trade. In fact, Khadija hired Muhammad to work for her. Yup, total boss-lady written all over this.
Even more, Khadija was said to have been the one to propose to Muhammad. Can you imagine that? We’ve been breaking gender roles since before you tried to create them.
2. Fatima al-Fihri
After inheriting a large fortune after the death of her husband and brothers, Fatima devoted her money to benefit the community. So, Fatima built the Al Qarawiyyin Mosque, which later was turned into a university. Today, this is still an important domain for education — as it remains open as one of the first Islamic and most prestigious universities in the world.
So to my fellow sisters reading this article. If you want to invest in an idea, by all means pleeaaaaassee do so. Fatima’s idea sparked great minds through generations of leaders. By wanting to benefit one small community, Fatima ended up impacting the world. Now you can too.
At such a young age, Aisha possessed genius qualities that made her the go-to person to gain knowledge and seek advice from after the death of Muhammad (PBUH). In her lifetime, she excelled in educating and interpreting hadiths. She was respected and looked up to for her wisdom despite her age.
So for my young sisters, please do not be discouraged from learning and educating yourself. If you love learning, continue to learn. Don’t feel like an outcast when you are the wisest person in the room. You are admired. You will change minds one day.
4. Sumayyah Bint Khabbat
Sumayyah was said to be the seventh person to embrace Islam. Being one of the very first believers created a strength within her that we admire to this day. Sumayyah was tortured for being a follower of Islam so much that it heightened her strong character. The last time she was tortured to disclaim her deen (faith), Sumayyah retorted her opinions back on her torturer. Thus, she became the first Martyr in the entire Ummah.
Even though Sumayyah’s body may have died on that day, her strength and courage remains with us today. Sumayyah’s character is in all of us. #MuslimWomenTalkBack
5. Khawla bint Hakim
Did someone say badass? Khawla defied the image of a stereotypical “woman.” She was a warrior respected by many men fighting alongside her. She’s led knights into many battles. Khawla has organized and directed a group of women warriors.
While she set an example for us to always fight for what believe in and never accepting defeat, Khawla also emphasized the space women have in battles. Her position in the Battle of Ajnadayn illuminated the courage and strength us woman have today. To all my warriors out there, stay #MuslimGirlFierce.
6. Rufaidah bint Sa’ad
This one is for all the males that claim women should not even study science, let alone have careers in the health profession. Do you remember when Sa’d Ibn Mu’aath got injured in the battle of Al-Khandaq? Muhammad (PBUH) commanded that Sa’d be placed and treated in Rufaidah’s tent. Why? She was recognized as the first Muslim nurse and female surgeon in Islam.
Rufaidah and her companions paved the way for us science majors to be where we are. Heal on, ladies.
7. Nana Asma’u
Nana is the symbol for education and independence of women under Islam. She is seen as a model for African feminists till this day. Nana was fluent in Arabic, Greek, Fulfulde, Hausa, and Tamacheq. Nana was a poetess. She is still respected as an educator and advisor.
So for my women writers. When you are sitting there writing in your journals, remember Nana. She is proof that our words don’t go unnoticed. Don’t ever believe the notion that writing isn’t important. Through your writing, you can educate. Through your thoughts, you can inspire. Never remain silent. Find your voice and use it.
8. Nusayba bint Ka’b Al-Ansariyah
Nusayba is known today as being one of the first advocates for women’s rights in Islam. While she was a close companion of Muhammad (PBUH), she raised a question many of us have had while reading the Quran. Nusayba asked the Prophet why God only addresses men in the holy book. Soon after, a special Aya was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) in Chapter 33, Verse 35 that states women can have every quality and spiritual level as men. Thus, declaring us equal.
Unfortunately in a world like today, being deemed as equal does not mean we have the privilege of stopping our fight for it. To this day, it is evident that the world does not view us women as a man’s equal counterpart. In fact, the patriarchal hierarchy placed upon us by today’s society works against us. So, when you are feeling defeated in a man’s world, remember Nusayba. Speak out for your equality when you feel the world hasn’t handed it to you.
Has the idea of women in power and equality caused you to faint yet? No? Good, because it shouldn’t. Women thriving and succeeding should not be a taboo in Islam because it has been happening since day one. So to any individual telling women that their job is to remain at home as a caregiver, I want you to read this list several times. If Muhammad (PBUH) viewed us women as his equal counterpart, why can’t you?
We have every right to be out and about in the outside world. Islam does not limit me as a woman. Rather, Islam liberates me to thrive.
So my final message to all my sisters reading this, please #ThriveOn.