Famous Muslim Women
Throughout time, Muslim women have served actively in their communities and impacted their societies. From the earliest centuries of Islam, women have been scholars, leaders, advisers, and businesswomen. Along with being wives and mothers who are supportive of leaders, Muslim women have been leaders themselves. Some women stand out as exemplary role models of Muslim women.
After Muhammad's death, Aisha defended his teachings with both the pen and the sword. More than 300 hadiths are attributed to Aisha, and she played a vital role in laying out Islamic teachings as we know them today. She also took her place on the battlefield against Muhammad's son Ali and the forces she accused of corrupting Muhammad's message.
If you were to ask a Muslim woman, “Who is your role model?” or “Who is the most famous Muslim woman?” the answer would likely be one of the women of the earliest Muslim community. Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, was a wealthy businesswoman before and after her marriage. Aisha, a later wife of the Prophet, was an energetic leader and scholar who held educational sessions for both men and women after the Prophet's death. Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, was a humble and devout person who also made her opinions known to those around her.
In the early Muslim community, it was not only the Prophet Muhammad's female family members who were respected as role models. Ash-Shifa bint Abdullah was skilled in medicine and was appointed by Umar to a position of public administration during his caliphate. Samra bint Nuhayk became a market inspector. Rabi'ah bint Mu'awwad was a great scholar of Islamic law who taught even the male scholars of Madinah.
In later times, Muslim women held positions of authority within the Islamic caliphate. Sitt al-Mulk served as regent of Egypt during the eleventh century, where she carried out virtually all of the responsibilities of caliph and effectively managed the affairs of the empire. Shajarat al-Durr was a military leader during the thirteenth century. She led successful campaigns against the Crusaders and even captured King Louis IX of France.
Muslims need not look only at ancient history for female role models. In more recent times, women have served in the Muslim world as writers, doctors, scientists, politicians, and even prime ministers.
Zaynab al-Ghazali was a twentieth-century Islamic activist and promoter of women's Islamic rights. In Egypt, she petitioned for women's rights to work, enter politics, and take an active part of public life. Sherin Ebadi, a lawyer and judge who fought for human rights and democracy in her native Iran, was honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2003. Dr. Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert to Islam, is a professor of Islamic ethics and legal theory and in 2006 became the first female president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Muslims, particularly Muslim women, look to these role models as examples of the balance one can achieve between piety, personal growth, and service to humanity.