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.
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#RemoveItForZayn Trends On Twitter After Islamophobic Song Gains Attention
Recently, fans of popstar Zayn Malik broke the internet (yet again) when #RemoveItForZayn began trending on Twitter. The hashtag went viral after a couple of fans took notice of a racist song targeting the star that was available for streaming on Spotify, implying that Malik was responsible for 9/11.
While Muslims remain to be the target of Islamophobia, Muslim celebrities are most susceptible to hate speech and bullying. The singer’s biracial identity just happens to be one of the very incessant victims. This time, to the highly offensive song.
The fandom put together a social media campaign demanding the removal of the song from Spotify. Thousands of fans tweeted the hashtag to express their opposition to the situation and their call to action. This resulted in the song being taken down from the music streaming platform a day later.
The said song titled “Zayn Did 9/11” focuses on the terrible terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon in 2001. Uma Kompton, the artist, unreasonably implies (in a not-so-decent way) that the singer was responsible for the horrific events. Probably referring to his Arabic name and religious affiliation. Lyrics of the song are, however, downright racist and extremely insulting towards not only Malik but to the religion Islam itself. The repeated use of abusive language makes it inappropriate to be put on any public website.
So an islamophobic and racist song is targeted at Zayn Malik and y'all go silent. He tweets #FreePalestine and he gets DEATH THREATS. so for all you white girls saying youre in love with Zayn and obsessing over Pakistani/Arab culture.. where's the energy now??💀#removeitforzayn pic.twitter.com/HmVzzMtg3w— fatimah🌷فَاطِمَة (@fatimahh_ali) July 20, 2020
Even though the song was brought to notice recently, it remained available on platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Youtube since 2017. The artist herself is an infamous parodist and a troll whose Twitter account was previously removed in 2016 due to a series of controversial tweets. Kompton is known for her abusive comments and racist remarks and also remained the topic of a couple of other controversies in the past years.
But hold up! This isn’t the first time something like this targeted Malik. A song with the same name was released back in 2013 by Rucka Rucka Ali, who is known for his dark-humor and parodies. Unsurprisingly, lyrics of the two songs resemble very closely to each other and gave rise to a similar campaign seven years ago too. Directioners took to social media and created petitions to get the song removed. Because, obviously, joking about such sensitive topics does not sit well with everyone.
The artist writes some highly objectionable things in this rap track. He refers to the singer as “Zayn Hussein” the leader of Al Qaedirection and mentions how he planned the attack when he was only 8 or 9. This and his other song “Al Qaedirection” (which follows almost the same plot) was all a part of his shot at being humorous. And it gets even more offensive with every line.
The fact that these songs are still available on youtube and a few other platforms adds to the anger of Malik’s fans. It also calls for questioning the holes in the content guidelines of these streaming services. Does this evident verbal assault not fall under the category of hate speech? Why did these services continue to make such songs accessible to the public for all these years?
Acts of outright racism or even such attempts at making fun of situations that are unpleasant for a number of people should not be provided with a platform as famous as Spotify to be promoted on. Artists like Rucka Rucka Ali are unaware of the impact their humor can have and how it can fuel racial injustice. Youtube and Apple Music along with other websites/apps where these songs are available should understand the gravity of the ongoing events and take appropriate measures to settle everything.
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Picture this: it’s 2016. I’m scrolling through my Tumblr dashboard at 2AM on a school night, as usual. Among the photos of inspirational quotes, white models and stylised flowers appears a GIF of Usher with a hijabi. Intrigued, I paused and hit the video link, only to see a woman in a turban taking the lead on the song. The R&B icon was only ‘featuring’. My jaw dropped.
Her name was Yuna.
I had never seen a Muslim woman artist that was the lead, ever. Not in movies, not in books, and certainly not in music. The industry was still adjusting to new female rappers. I hadn’t felt a sense of enlightenment in discovering Muslim representation since Janet Jackson’s apparent conversion to Islam was smeared all over headlines earlier that year. I immediately followed Yuna and deep-dived into a melodic journey as she dropped her album Chapters a few months later.
Crush by Yuna featuring Usher immediately became my anthem as I dealt with the heavy transition into my freshman year of college. It was around that time that new artists began to emerge as mainstream media took a shift in becoming more inclusive.
Yuna had already established herself in her home country of Malaysia after writing hit EPs in the early 2010s. As she grew in popularity, she went further by signing to major record labels in the US, allowing her to reach international audiences. Most musicians will tell you that their dreams are to dominate the industry and fall into the glamorous world of pop. Yuna, on the other hand, just wants the world to truly recognize her talent.
Making it onto Billboard’s Top 10 R&B Albums in 2016, among many other achievements, Yuna is more than just the token hijabi in the music industry. Since representation is crucial in deconstructing societal norms, oftentimes Muslim creatives are pigeonholed into being “groundbreakers”, Muslims that dismantle stereotypes and set new standards. However for Yuna, she is more than a category. Her talents exceed her identity as a “Muslim singer.”
By daring to exist outside of the mold, she reflects an authenticity that is evident in her work, and takes on a new meaning of representation. Being an icon in Malaysia while working with high profile artists like Jhené Aiko, Tyler, the Creator and G-Eazy – she embodies versatility and brings a fresh voice to the scene.
After recently leaving Los Angeles, Yuna began to shed her skin, leaving her record label behind and going independent. Her latest single “Stay Where You Are” is the first release since her album Rogue dropped last year.
The music video was shot entirely on an iPhone 11 during quarantine at Yuna’s home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and also features some of her fans’ submissions; friends like the musicians MadeinTYO and Jay Park, and Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad make special appearances throughout.
Although stationed in Malaysia, Yuna stays on the forefront of pushing for social justice – she recently sent proceeds of her music video to NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, in an effort to help against racial injustices in the United States.
Muslim sat down with Yuna for an exclusive interview after leaving her record label, going independent, and moving back to Malaysia with her family. We discussed her relationship with identity, her experiences in the music industry and what it means for her to give something back.
You recently broke out of your contract and became fully independent, congratulations! How is that, do you feel free? What led to this decision?
YUNA: You know, like, it’s actually a really good thing when you get signed to a record label, it means you’re doing something right. Your music is being heard, and people are actually paying attention to you and giving you the opportunity to make the music and for me, Malaysian Muslim girls sometimes don’t come by like that.
This is an exciting moment for me, I have full control. There’s definitely that feeling of being liberated in a way that you know now you don’t have deadlines, or that you can actually earn a huge portion and it’s yours.
As a woman in the industry – as a Malaysian hijab-wearing Muslim woman – do you find yourself facing particular challenges?
YUNA: Regardless, even if you’re like an amazingly talented pop star and look like Dua Lipa – it is gonna be tough. It was tough in the beginning trying to break away from that stereotype.
Wearing the hijab – I didn’t like the fact that I had a label. I was always the “Muslim singer” and I’m more than that. It’s more than just me being Muslim. I really want you to focus on my music and work. I understand representation is everything these days, but at the same time, you have to recognize the talents and the skills that I’ve worked on. Like, for so long it was really hard to get here.
In the beginning people wanted me to change the way I look, or change the way I think or the things I sing about.
I kept hearing “if you want to be a singer, you got to take off the hijab,” and this is before leaving the country and going to the US. This was like, in my country, in my city. I was told that by people from the label, “Oh, you know, this is how you got to look” – and it’s just ridiculous to me.
You have a huge presence and fanbase in Malaysia. As a Malaysian-Muslim do you find yourself feeling under pressure for having to embody a perfect representation for your community?
YUNA: Oh, yeah! In the beginning, I had to deal with a lot of pressure – Malaysia is so close knit as a community. Everybody knows everybody so people would go to my mother and say, “do you know what your daughter is doing online?”
As I grow older, I realized that you know what, like, nothing I do is going to please everyone. Someone will find something that’s wrong with you, you know? So I decided to not fall into that feeling of being pressured. Especially not being pressured into being someone that I’m not.
You achieved so much with your music, what would you say was your biggest accomplishment?
YUNA: I think my biggest accomplishment is taking that first step going to Los Angeles for myself as a female and that is still my biggest accomplishment. I think, like, it was the first real time that I really felt like, “wow, I made it.” No one knew that I could do it. Not even me.
That was the turning point in my life. I think, like, when I got on that plane, flew out to LA I was a different person, the old Yuna was gone.
I just have to ask – how was it working with big names like G-Eazy and Usher? We have never seen such a prominent Muslim musician able to reach as far as you have within the music industry, how has your experience been?
YUNA: It’s really cool. Every morning I wake up, I know who I am. I’m a Muslim singer-songwriter who works in the music industry. I pray, fast and partake in Ramadan – that’s a part of me. But at the same time when I go into the studio, I meet people who are huge artists or huge producers that people can’t even dream of working with. They’re awesome people and they don’t treat me differently. I don’t treat them differently either. Like I see them as an artist as well. So, when we work together, it’s amazing. I don’t know how I got here, but I feel like this is meant for me. I don’t know how to explain it. So I just take it day by day and be very thankful and grateful for the opportunity.
How has it been being an artist during this pandemic? Were you able to work?
YUNA: Well, I’ve started teaching music classes. My husband [Adam Sinclair] and I started this online learning platform because we were just like, we need to do something local to inspire people who want to be more creative.
During this time when it’s difficult for someone like me to be creative, I think, to give something back, like just do something for other people, really helps. I feel like that’s a better thing to do right now. Of course, I would love to be able to release more music in the future, but I think now that we’re just at home, it’s a really nice thing to be able to teach every weekend. I’m actually like a teacher – I like all the slides and everything! It’s kind of fun.
So you just released your latest hit, “Stay Where You Are” and by the time this feature is out, your music video will be going live – Can you tell us a little bit about it?
This is my first independent release and we didn’t even plan to release the song! I played it on my piano and decided to post that video in March. So I posted that knowing, these are the kinds of things that independent artists can do now. It’s really exciting for me to just play unreleased songs like that randomly.
So I played it and people reacted to it.They connected to it and really loved the song. I told myself, you know what, I think this is something that more people would want to listen to during this time, we should release the song immediately – so that was it. I just felt that it’s a beautiful song and the message of the song – a lot of people can relate to it right now. Not just like staying where you are as in staying at home, but to stay lovely, stay positive.
People are going through some really, really difficult moments in their lives and I just want something uplifting that I can share with the world.
Tell me about this music video! How was the process creating it? – I noticed it involves people from all over the world holding signs that say “Stay Where You Are” – Where did the idea come from?
YUNA: I work with my husband a lot. We would always brainstorm ideas for music videos. He’s a director, he shot a lot of my music videos and for this one, we were just like, I don’t know what to do. It was my manager who said, “Hey, why don’t you get your fans included in this? It could be a song where everyone joins in and you have a lot of fans who would definitely want to be part of it.”
I knew straight away, that was it. It’s also a nice way to celebrate my first indie track and get everyone involved.
What are you working on currently? Do you have any exciting news for our readers?
YUNA: I think now I’m just focusing on releasing singles. I’m currently back home in Malaysia. I’ve been writing, working on projects and staying with my family.
I’ve been traveling and working nonstop before. I haven’t had a proper vacation in 10 years. So this is definitely the rest that I needed, so I’m just gonna see this moment as a blessing.
Do you have any words of wisdom or messages you’d like to share with our young Muslim audience?
Wow, you know, just please be proud of yourself. I think that’s the most important thing. I always try to tell my Malaysian Muslim girls like… I feel as though they’re very timid. They’re very shy. So, I’m always like, “go slowly. If you have a dream, you’re good enough. You can do it and don’t listen to anything that’s trying to pull you down.”
Like, don’t let life pull you down and just be proud of who you are. Be proud of your roots, be proud of your identities.
Sometimes in life, you’re gonna come across people who will make you question your values because of the way you look or the way you do things or what you believe in, what you practice. But no. You know yourself, so just be you. Always believe in yourself. There’s gonna be a lot of people who are going to tell you no – just keep on going.
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Kamala Khan, a 16-year old Muslim, Pakistani-American character from Jersey City will be taking over our screens in the upcomings months. Also known as the superhero “Ms. Marvel” in Marvel’s comics, she has the ability to shape shift.
Marvel Studios revealed that Kamala Khan will get her own live-action television Disney+ series at the D23 convention in California in August 2019. Titled “Ms. Marvel”, the series will be produced by Marvel Studios and written by British writer Bisha K. Ali. It is said to tie directly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films – the show will share continuity with Marvel’s latest films, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, as well as future feature films. This makes sense, given that Kamala Khan’s superhero name is a tribute to Captain Marvel, who headlined the first female-led superhero film in the MCU. The series is expected to be released in 2022.
In anticipation for Khan’s appearance in Disney+ series, a video game featuring the character has also been announced less than two years before her TV appearance.The game’s publisher, Square Enix, announced that the next Marvel Avengers game would include Kamala Khan as one of its main playable characters and will make her central to the plot. This received praise from fans and industry insiders.
Putting Kamala Khan at the forefront of superhero television and gaming comes as a result of Marvel’s push for more diversity and representation in its various outlets. In addition to the successful 2018 feature film Black Panther, which consisted of primarily Black cast and crew, Marvel continues to diversify its production both on and off screen with future films such as The Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings and Blade.
Representation remains important in shaping and influencing the cultural identities of children growing up as part of a minority culture. For many adults today, racial, religious and/or cultural representation on any form of media while growing up was generally not readily available. Maria Afsar, a 25 year-old gamer, said that Khan’s video game appearance was something she has been waiting for “her whole life.” She first heard of Ms Marvel a few years ago and thought it was “so cool” that she had a background the same as her, being Pakistani, Muslim, and a girl.
Kamala Khan’s comic character was co-created in 2014 by Marvel editor and director Sana Amanat. As a Muslim-American herself, Sana Amanat wanted to create a character young girls of a similar background could identify with and look up to. Kamala’s costume also represents her cultural identity.
“I think it’s absolutely insane that Kamala is in one of the biggest Marvel games that we’ve done,” she said during the promotion of the game. “The fact that she’s the entry point character in this game makes so much sense. People from all backgrounds can relate to her.”