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If Islam Empowers Women, Where Are The Female Leaders?

06 March, 2020
Q I hear it all the time: "Islam empowers women". I have not been Muslim very long, but at my local mosque I have never seen a woman speaking at the pulpit. I have a few Muslim friends and they tell me that we are not allowed to be leaders and scholars in our faith. It's about gender segregation, they say. Is this true? If so, how can anyone say Islam empowers women??


Short Answer: When we look at classical Islamic knowledge..we see women who were pillars of every part of society.


Asalamu Alaikum,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Maryam Amir, from Let the Quran Speak, addresses this question in the video below:


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Aisha Khaja:

How does Islam deal with female scholarship?

How does Islam deal with female scholarship specifically here in the West?

We had the opportunity to sit down with Maryam Amir to learn about her journey on becoming a scholar at “Be Me” Women’s Conference.

Maryam received her master’s in education from UCLA. She’s currently pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies through Azhar University. She studied the Arabic language and the Quran in Cairo, Egypt and has also memorized the Quran. She’s currently a lecturer with Hikmah Institute.

[…] Welcome to our show Maryam… So I want to now talk about your personal story so how did you come to learning about Islam and how did Islam become so much into your life that you actually studied it?

Maryam Amir:

So my parents basically embraced Islam when they were in college in the United States and when I was growing up, they really, you know, wanted us to be close to God and Islam. And they were very, very open and they didn’t push us in any way.

But I really wanted to be Britney Spears! I felt like that was my calling, really. Really I’m not kidding. Absolutely! You know, born and raised in California, it was a really big deal. Hollywood is nearby and so I wasn’t into the whole Islam thing.

And I remember my parents, when I was in high school, said that we’re going to take a trip to Mecca and we’re going to go to this holy pilgrimage and my reaction…

A Transformation: How I found my true call

[…] I just remember just seeing the Kaaba for the first time, you know, seeing the house of God for the first time. It just hit my heart. It was the first time that I felt like God is real and this is tangible and I’m going to die one day and I will go back to him and I want to make my life count for something.

And so I started reading the Quran. And I had never… I’m not Arab so I didn’t know Arabic. So I started reading it in the translation and the more that I read it, the calls for social justice… […] So in that period going through that process of reading the Quran in translation, reading about social justice in the Quran, the calls for social justice, women’s empowerment in the Quran…


The Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace be upon him, his community was so empowering for women. Feisty women! Women who were involved in battles! Because, at that time, there were a lot of battles for self-defense. There were battles where people were fighting because of the injustice.

Women used to be buried alive and now women are partaking in the political system! It was incredible to me that we didn’t have these messages in our mosques when our faith is so intimate when it comes to raising our voices. Not having other people speak for us, but amplifying the voices that we have. And that is such an example in the prophetic narrative.

So for myself, I wanted to help share that and that’s why I ended up going to Egypt so that I could study.

Aisha Khaja:

Walk me through your journey because I read an article about this very experience, and I was shocked about the experience that you had studying Islam in the United States, the perspective that you were given about how you should be as a Muslim scholar, female scholar, versus what happened in Egypt.

Maryam Amir:

Right. So growing up, I didn’t see Muslim women giving lectures, even though there are so many qualified Muslim women. It just wasn’t a norm for our community, unfortunately, because that’s not necessarily an Islamic practice [excluding women from being role models].

[…] Going into Egypt and seeing that Islam is just…living life! […] You have Muslim women who are business owners, Muslim women who are teaching classes, Muslim women who are entrepreneurs…

[…] We have a rich Islamic history of women and scholarship. We have a rich history of women being judges, of women being a part of the political system, being surgeons, being therapists, being mothers. There are women who are a part of every single aspect of life in our history I didn’t see that necessarily in the United States [in the mosques] […]

When we look at classical Islamic knowledge, traditional Islamic knowledge, we see women as teachers of the Quran and Quran reciters. […] We see women who were pillars of every part of society.

If Islam Empowers Women, Where Are The Female Leaders?

What we need to do as a Muslim community is start giving platforms to women in our communities. one creating spaces where we can study the way that men can and alhamdulillah–thank god–we’ve already started that process.

But also amplifying those voices, bringing those voices onto stages, creating programming specific where women’s voices are encouraged. Because other women need to see that this is a normal part of our faith.

And it’s so hard when you hear people say “Muslim women are oppressed”. I mean, in some places Muslim women are oppressed, just like non-Muslim women are oppressed. But the point is that that’s not from our faith.

So bringing us back to recognizing that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, created a society where women were involved in every aspect…

I hope this helps answer your question. You can also check out more from Let the Quran Speak at the link here.

Please keep in touch.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Women Scholars of Hadith

Nana Asma’u – The Early Islamic Feminist Icon

Re-Imagining Muslim Spaces