Sara S. & Wali Ahmad
Unlike the general assumptions regarding the status of women in Islam, Muslim women are known to be some of the most powerful and distinguished characters in history. Islam describes women to be integral parts of their fathers, husbands, and children’s faith. However, they are not only referred to as mothers or daughters of some of the most important men in Islam but also as the influential figures that they were.
Muslim women worked alongside men to leave their marks on different spheres of life and oftentimes changing the course of history. Besides playing a significant part in the emergence of Islam, women in Islamic history made name for themselves as some successful educationists, scholars, and rulers too.
Muslim women volunteer to do groundwork in our communities. They study, and they’re underrepresented because they aren’t at the podium as much. They teach your children Qur’an. They raise the next generation. They serve. They organize. They show up to functions in faith spaces.
— sara (@damuskus_) June 16, 2020
Here are 7 Muslim women who might be forgotten over the centuries but are inspiring examples for young people today:
Sumayyah bint Khabbat:
One of the first women to convert to Islam, Sumayyah bint Khabbat was also the first Muslim woman to become a martyr.
She along with her husband and son started following the message of Islam at the time when Muslims were brutally being slaughtered by those in authoritative positions. Sumayyah was a dark-colored woman and belonged to a social class that was captured to be slaves. Having no tribal protection, she was killed by the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) uncle upon refusing to refute her Muslim identity.
Sumayyah bint Khabbat died before Islam spread. However, she contributed to the community with her utmost courage and became a model of strength for the Muslim men and women to come after her.
One of the most influential Sufis (mystics) in the Muslim culture, also known as Rabia Basri, belonged to a very poor family in southern Iraq. She spent a significant part of her early life as a slave before her master set her free so she could practice her devotion to Sufism.
She is recognized to be the one who introduced the Sufi school of “Divine Love.” This school focused on loving Allah for His own sake, rather than out of fear of His wrath or hope for reward. Most of Rabia Basri’s life is narrated by others as she did not leave behind any written works of her own.
This Muslim woman from the 9th century built the first university in the world.
Fatima al-Firhiyya moved with her family from Tunisia to Fez, Morocco. Growing up in a well-educated household, she studied Islamic law and Hadith. After Fatima and her sister inherited a considerable amount of money from their father, they built a large mosque in their city. That mosque was also a formal madrassa and welcomed students from all over the world to study science, Islam, astrology, languages, mathematics, and a couple more subjects.
Known today as The University of Al Quaraouiyine, it is the oldest running educational institute. It was also the first school to award degrees based on different levels of studies.
Arwa al-Sulayhi was the longest-reigning queen of Yemen. At first, she co-ruled with her first two husbands but went forward to achieve one of the most unique positions in Islam.
Arwa al-Sulayhi was known for her great memory and was well-versed in Qur’an, hadith, and poetry. Her reign was characterized by several architectural projects and the advancement of Yemen’s infrastructure, as well as its increased alliance with the rest of the Muslim world.
She might as well be the greatest example of a completely independent Muslim queen. How powerful is that?
Razia Sultana was the only female to sit on the Sultan’s throne in Delhi. She was also possibly one of the most powerful females from the Indian subcontinent.
Razia’s ascent to the throne was unusual not only due to being a woman but also because it was the general public who supported the idea of her rule. However, her short reign was later overthrown when two of her close officers conspired with Turkic opposition.
Though her rule was short lived, tales of her brave and resilient personality have inspired people for centuries. An eighteenth-century historian, Farishta writes “…Razia, though a woman, had a man’s head and heart and was better than 20 such sons.”
Sayyida al-Hurra, which is more of a title than a name (somewhat meaning an independent noble lady) was a ruler of Tétouan, Morocco. According to historians, she was also the last one to legitimately hold the title of al-Hurra (queen). After the death of her husband, she married the king of Morocco but refused to leave her city which also makes the first and only time a Morrocan king married away from the capital.
Also known as Mahpeykar Sultan was the wife of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I and the mother of Sultan Murad IV and Sultan Ibrahim. She is the second most influential female figure from the Ottoman Empire after Hurrem Sultan, the wife of Sultan Suleyman.
According to some contemporary sources Kösem was the most powerful of the Sultan’s advisors. The Sultan never refused anything to her given how deeply both of them were in love.
She is also known to have contributed a lot towards Islam during the time she was handling the matters of the empire.
READ MORE: Five Influential Muslim Philosophers You Need To Know