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Growing Tradition of Muslim Women’s Leadership

Following hot on heels of Mehreen Faruqi, the first female Muslim senator to take office in Australia in 2018, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, American Muslim Congresswomen, are the latest to join a tradition of Muslim women around the world taking positions of leadership.

In an increasingly interconnected world, Tlaib and Omar are much-needed role models. Their presence online makes for a valuable reference point for young girls and women to look up too in an easily accessible way.

While the last century saw Bhutto (PM Pakistan), Zia (PM Bangladesh), Ciller (PM Turkey), Hasina (PM Bangladesh), and the start of this century saw Sukarnoputri (President Indonesia), Otunbayeva (President of Kyrgyzstan), Toure (PM Senegal) Gurib (President Mauritius) and Yacob (President Singapore), senators Faruqi, Tlaib and Omar stand out as Muslim women leaders in predominantly non-Muslim countries.

All these women, however, come from a tradition dating back to the time of Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, where women were involved across the board, including positions of authority.

Growing Tradition of Muslim Women’s Leadership - About Islam

The Historic Tradition

Women As Negotiators: In the year 5 AH, after an expedition against the tribe of Qurayza, there was a political prisoner tied up in a courtyard. Seeing his condition Umm Salamah approached the Prophet and petitioned for the prisoner’s release. The following year (6 AH), when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was negotiating the treaty of Hudaibiya between the city of Madinah and the tribe of Quraish in Makkah, many Companions were upset at the weak terms of the treaty. So Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) took advice, guidance, and wisdom from Umm Salamah. Her insight and direction led to the treaty being accepted

Women As Executives: Shifa bint Abdullah was regularly approached by Prophet Muhammad on matters of trade and on how to manage the markets of the city. And later on, Caliph Umar appointed her as an administrator, a modern CEO, to the largest market in Madinah.

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Women As Community Leaders: Following in her footsteps was Umm Waraqa who was also appointed to lead the market committees of Makkah and Madinah. This is the same lady who went to Prophet Muhammad, got permission from him, and led prayer in her home. Prophet Muhammad also assigned a muezzin in her home, to announce the call to prayer.

Women As Political Advisers: Fatima bint Qays was one of the female Companions of Prophet Muhammad. When the second Muslim leader, Umar, was murdered, a committee gathered at her house to help determine who would be the next  leader. It wasn’t just because of space or location, but the wisdom, insight, and guidance she could offer.

These are just a handful of examples showing that Muslim women were not limited to household chores, or raising children only. The tradition of being involved, advising and leading in society can be clearly seen at the time of Prophet Muhammad, and in the years thereafter.

Growing Tradition of Muslim Women’s Leadership - About Islam

The Modern Era

As human beings, our inspiration is not limited to Muslim-only personalities, but when we see Muslims succeed, becoming positive contributors to society, we feel a sense of pride knowing that there are those who share similar values of faith, who have understood the better values of faith, and are living with them by example.

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, both demonstrate that a woman’s ‘Muslimness’ is not down to whether she does or does not cover her hair; as one of them does and one of them does not.

Indeed, their dress, be it traditional or modern, is irrelevant to their Muslimness. Their identity as American Muslims is instead a mix of their different and rich cultural backgrounds, and more importantly, reflected in how they add value to the societies in which they live.

After all, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once said the best of people are those who add value to society; what better measure for ‘Muslimness’ could there be, or “The best people are those who are most beneficial to other people.” (Musnad Shihab. 1234)

If girls, women, boys, and men are to learn anything from these Congresswomen, it is that working to improve the lives of people is amongst the highest honors.

And while all of us have our own interpretations of faith, judging others for their choices and their relationship with God does not make us better Muslims, especially as is it not any of our business.

Working together for our common good is a tradition dating back to Prophet Muhammad, and his Sunnah also shows that women can not just only lead, but be amongst the best from whom to take direction and advice from.

Congratulations to both Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. God bless!

About Farrukh Younus
Farrukh I Younus has a background in mobile phone strategy across Europe and Asia, and has visited China on more than 25 occasions. Dedicated to understanding and delivering solutions based on new technology, Younus has spoken on the subject to the EU in Brussels, and regularly attends industry-leading conferences. He currently runs a video platform, Implausibleblog, delivering lifestyle content via social media; where his focus is on understanding consumer behaviour with regards to digital content and digital advertising. His interests include travel, nouvelle cuisine, and chocolate.