Snapshots of Muslim Women’s Leadership (2006)

In recent history, Muslim women around the world are taking on different kinds of leadership roles. What follows are some snapshots of Muslim women’s leadership in North America and in other parts of the world. This list is not intended to be comprehensive.

Canada

The spring of 2004 saw the election of Canada’s first Muslim woman as a Member of Parliament. Yasmin Ratansi, originally from Tanzania and elected from Toronto, describes herself as “a business person with a strong social conscience.” Her election comes after fifteen years of working toward this goal.[1]

On April 22, 2005, Raheel Raza, a Canadian of Pakistani origin, became the first woman in Canada to lead mixed-gender prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.. The event was planned by the Muslim Canadian Congress. Around forty people attended, the majority of which were men.[2]

Irshad Manji is the outspoken author of The Problem with IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to...: A Call for Honesty and Change. Manji is the initiator of a movement to reclaim the Muslim tradition of Ijtihad (independent thinking). Based in Canada, her work calls for Islamic pluralism and a foundation for young, reform-minded Muslims to explore and challenge their faith.[3] In the U.S., she received the “Chutzpah award” from Oprah Winfrey and Ms. Magazine named her a “Feminist for the 21st Century.”[4]

United States

From January-December 2001, the Islamic CenterAn Islamic center will typically include a mosque, school, and area for social and cultural activities. When a new Islamic center is being organized in the United States, attention is paid to community needs, including a weekend or full-time school, indic... of Greater Toledo, Ohio, elected Cherrefe Kadri as the first female president of a mosqueMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... in the U.S. She is believed to have been the first in the world.

On July 17, 2004, Asra Q. Nomani entered a mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia through the men’s door and participated in Friday prayers in the traditionally male section of the mosque. Today, mosque leaders are talking about greeting women at the front door. Similar efforts to remove partitions and walls or to adjust rules are underway in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and in the San Francisco Bay Area.[5]

On Friday, March 18, 2005, the progressive group, Muslim Wake Up!, planned and carried out Friday prayers at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City where Amina Wadud became the first Muslim woman on record to publicly lead mixed-gender prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not..[6]

Dr. Ingrid Mattson was elected as Vice-President of the Islamic Society of North America in 2001 and continues to hold the position. She advised the Afghan delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 1995. Mattson has also worked in various interfaith positions.[7]

In the fall of 2005, two women launched the first Islamic Sorority—Gamma Gamma Chi. Their purpose is “to give a positive face for Muslim Women.”[8] The founders have received calls from women in eighteen states who are interested in starting their own groups and a small group of women is working to gain support for a chapter at the University of Maryland-Baltimore.[9]

Around the country, Muslim Girl Scout troops are popping up. Newspapers in Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago, Brooklyn and Portland have published stories about the girls in these troops. They receive Islamic merit badges for learning prayers or teaching non-Muslims about their religion. Several also emphasize leadership skills. The troops have edited the pledge to reflect their beliefs: “On my honor, I will try to serve AllahAllah is the word for God in Arabic, used by Arabic-speaking Christians, Jews, and Muslims. According to Islam, Allah is the creator and ruler of the entire universe, the ultimate judge of all human beings, characterized by mercy and compassion. By means ... and my country, to help people and live by the Girl Scout law.”[10]

France

In 2005, twenty-four-year-old lawyer, Hanife Karakus, became the first woman presider of one of France’s 25 regional Islamic councils.[11]

Indonesia

Megawati Sukarnoputri was the first Indonesian woman head of state-a position she held from July 2001 until October 2004. The 2004 Forbes Magazine listed her as the eighth most powerful woman in the world-behind Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Rodham Clinton.[12]

Iran

Shirin Ebadi is both the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2003, she accepted the recognition for her work as a human rights activist. In 1975, Ebadi became the first female judge in Iran, an office she held until 1979. In 1993, she opened a law practice, advocating for the rights of women, children and victims of government oppression.[13]

The Women’s Islamic Sports Foundation hosted the Fourth Women’s Islamic Games in Tehran in September 2005. Muslim women from 48 countries around the world participated in a variety of sporting events.[14]

Jordan

In November 2002, the Second Women’s Summit was held in Jordan’s capital, Amman, and hosted by Queen Rania. Two notable achievements were a call for the creation of special Arab legal groups to help chart legislation that will emancipate women and the creation of the Arab Women’s Organization.[15]

Malaysia

Sisters-In-Islam is an active group of Malaysian Muslim theologians and organizations that raises questions about the traditional interpretations of the Qur’an with respect to women’s rights. The group develops new theological approaches to Islam which ensure equal rights for women and men.[16]

Pakistan

In February 2003, Majida Rizvi chaired the Commission on the Status of Pakistani Women in Islamabad. The commission’s report eventually challenged the government to read the Qur’an with an understanding of the rights of women and to adjust the laws accordingly.[17]

Spain

Calling for “gender jihadJihad means literally “struggle or exertion” in the way of God. The “greater jihad” involves struggling against evil within oneself, while the “lesser jihad” involves working against injustice or oppression in society, sometimes even using arm...,” a conference on Islamic Feminism gathered in Spain in late October 2005. The conference sought to blend Islam with feminism. One organizer explained the goals by defining “gender jihad” as “the struggle against male chauvinistic, homophobic or sexist readings of the Islamic sacred texts.”[18]

Turkey

In 2004, the Diyanet—the country’s government body that oversees mosquesMasjid (plural masajid) in Arabic means “place of prostration,” or the place where Muslims bow in prayer; in English, this word has become “mosque.” A masjid contains a prayer hall in which there is a mihrab or prayer niche, and a minbar or pulpit... and trains religious leaders—added 150 women as preachers across Turkey. As of 2004, women make up the majority of students of theology at several Turkish Universities.[19]

United Kingdom

Shazia Mirza is a rising star on the British stand up comedy circuit. A Muslim whose parents were born in Pakistan, Mirza’s comedy act includes humorous approaches to Islam and cultural differences. “I want to do something challenging and I want to take risks…I want [audiences] to laugh. Because the only way of talking about some issues sometimes is through humor.”[20]


[1] Fatah, Tarek. “Yasmin Ratansi-Canada’s First Muslim Woman MP” Muslim Canadian Congress website 23 July 2004. Accessed 2 February 2006.↩︎
[2] Raheel Raza website Accessed 2 February 2006.↩︎
[3] Irshad Manji website: http://www.muslim-refusenik.com/aboutirshad.html, Accessed 9 February 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: Irshad Manji’s current website can be found at http://irshadmanji.com/.]↩︎
[4] Bates, Stephen. “’Bin Laden’s nightmare seeks Islamic reformation.” The Guardian. 9 May 2005. Accessed 3 February 2006.↩︎
[5] Goodstein, Laura. “Muslim Women Seeking a Place in the Mosque.” New York Times. 22 July 2004. Accessed 31 January 2006 at http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/nocimwosepli.html.↩︎
[6] Muslim Wake Up! muslimwakeup.com, Accessed 9 February 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: Muslim Wake Up! is not currently operational.]↩︎
[7] “Ingrid Mattson,” Islamic Society of North AmericaThe Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was established in 1982 to serve as an umbrella organization for Sunni Muslim student and professional groups across the country. ISNA, with national headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana, sponsors national and re.... Accessed 20 March 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: Currently available at http://www.isna.net/ingrid-mattson.html.]↩︎
[8] Collins, Althia quoted in “Muslim Sorority planned at UK” Islam Online, http://www.islamonline.com/cgi-bin/news_service/world_full_story.asp?service_id=1904. Accessed 12 January 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: This article is currently available at http://talk.politics.mideast.narkive.com/pO7nuvZ7/muslim-sorority-planned-at-uk.]↩︎
[9] Duin, Julia. “Women Start First Islamic Sorority.” The Washington Times. 4 January 2006. Accessed 12 January 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: This article is currently available at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2006/jan/4/20060104-122658-7552r/.]↩︎
[10] Vazquez Toness, Bianca. “The New Girl Scouts.” Minnesota Public Radio. 11 July 2005. http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2005/06/30_tonessb_girlscouts/. Accessed 9 February 2006.↩︎
[11] Simons, Marlise. “Muslim Women Take Charge of Their Faith.” International Herald Tribune. 4 December 2005. http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/12/01/news/islam6.php. Accessed 20 March 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: This article is currently available at http://www.ummah.com/forum/showthread.php?71174-Muslim-women-take-charge-of-their-faith.]↩︎
[12] Forbes Magazine. http://www.forbes.com/finance/lists/11/2004/LIR.jhtml?passListId=11&passYear=2004&passListType=Person&uniqueId=MVC8&datatype=Person. Accessed 30 January 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: This article is currently available http://www.forbes.com/free_forbes/2004/0906/068.html.]↩︎
[13] “Shirin Ebadi – Biographical,” http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2003/ebadi-bio.html. Accessed 20 March 2006.↩︎
[14] Bad Jens. http://www.badjens.com/. Accessed 31 January 2006.↩︎
[15] Husseini, Rana. “Second Arab Women’s Summit sets stage for participatory strategy in advancing women’s cause.” Jordan Times. 5 November 2002. http://www.jordanembassyus.org/11052002001.htm/. Accessed 31 January 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: This article is no longer available online.]↩︎
[16] Ali Engineer, Asghar. “Muslim Women on the Move” 9 July 2003. Counter Currents website Accessed 20 January 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: This article is available for download at www.csss-isla.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/July-1-15-03.pdf.]↩︎
[17] Baldau, Scott. “A bold move on women’s rights.” Christian Science Monitor. 5 February 2003. http://www.csmonitor.com/atcsmonitor/specials/women/world/world020503.html. Accessed 20 January 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: This article is currently available at http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0205/p06s01-wosc.html.]↩︎
[18] Tremlett, Giles. “Muslim Women Launch ‘Gender Jihad.’” The Guardian. 31 October 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,2763,1605058,00.html. Accessed 31 January 2006. [Editor’s note 2016: This article is currently available at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/oct/31/gender.religion.]↩︎
[19] Schleifer, Yigal. “In Turkey, Muslim Women Gain Expanded Religious Authority.” The Christian Science Monitor. 27 April 2005. http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0427/p04s01-woeu.html. Accessed 19 January 2006.↩︎
[20] Bradley Ed. “Funny Girl.” CBS News. 2 May 2004. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/funny-girl/. Accessed 7 February 2006.↩︎