Debbie Almontaser

Visionary Muslim Women: Shattering Barriers in Today’s World


The issue of Muslim female leadership has gained significant attention lately, both within
Muslim societies and outside of them. This is mainly because Muslim women have
historically faced many obstacles and have been vastly underrepresented in leadership
positions. Despite historical obstacles, Muslim women are stepping up as leaders, breaking
down barriers, and making a difference in their communities and the wider world. Through
their resilience and determination, Muslim women are not only transforming their own lives
but also inspiring others towards gender equality and empowerment.

Muslim women in leadership roles often face unique challenges, including gender bias and
discrimination based on religious identity. Additionally, they could run into social and cultural constraints that prevent them from holding leadership roles. Additionally, Muslim women leaders may face intersectional discrimination due to their gender, religion, and other identities. Moreover, Islamophobia, a form of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims, particularly from the West, can be directed towards Muslim women in leadership roles, further exacerbating the challenges they face. Islamophobic attitudes and actions can hinder their advancement, limit their opportunities, and subject them to negative stereotypes and bias. This can also create a hostile environment that affects their mental health and well-being. Despite these obstacles, Muslim women leaders continue to work tirelessly to challenge Islamophobia, overcome these barriers, and make positive contributions to their communities and beyond.

Join us as we celebrate the following Muslim women and their unwavering efforts to
advocate for the rights of Muslims and other marginalized communities worldwide.

1. Ilhan Omar


Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American and one of the first Muslim women in the US
Congress, is known for her advocacy for Palestinian rights and social justice. As a U.S.
Representative for Minnesota\’s 5th congressional district, she has introduced proposals like
the Zero Waste Act and serves on various committees. Omar is a vocal advocate for women,
people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. She has faced controversy for her views on
Israel and U.S. foreign policy, but remains committed to progressive policies and social
justice despite criticism and threats. Omar is seen as a trailblazer for Muslim women in
American politics and a symbol of hope for immigrants and refugees worldwide.

2. Rashida Tlaib

Rashida Tlaib is a Democratic U.S. Representative for Michigan\’s 13th congressional district
since January 3, 2019, and a member of \”The Squad\” alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,
Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley. Born in Detroit, Michigan, to Palestinian immigrants on
July 24, 1976, Tlaib holds a bachelor\’s degree in political science from Wayne State
University and a law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Before entering politics,
she practiced law and served in the Michigan State House of Representatives from 2009 to
2014. Tlaib is known for her progressive stances on issues such as Medicare for All, a $15
minimum wage, and climate change, as well as her vocal criticism of the Trump
administration\’s immigration policies. She has been recognized for her advocacy on social
justice, civil rights, and equality, although her views have also generated controversy.
Overall, Tlaib is a prominent progressive voice in American politics.


3. Leila Ahmed


Leila Ahmed, an Egyptian-American scholar, is renowned for her work on Islam and
women\’s rights. Born in Cairo, Egypt in 1940, she studied at the University of Cambridge in
England and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States. Her
influential book \”Women and Gender in Islam\” (1992) challenges traditional interpretations of
Islamic texts, arguing that cultural traditions have shaped the status of women in Muslim
societies as much as religious doctrine. She has also written about the experiences of
Muslim women in the West, including her own journey as an Egyptian immigrant to the
United States, in books like \”A Border Passage: From Cairo to America – A Woman\’s
Journey\” (1999) and \”Quiet Revolution: The Veil\’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to
America\” (2011). Ahmed\’s significant contributions to the field have been recognized with
awards such as the Guggenheim Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency,
and the University of Louisville\’s Grawemeyer Award for Religion. She has also taught at
esteemed institutions like Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego.

4. Zainab Salbi


Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi-American activist and author, founded Women for Women
International, a nonprofit organization that provides support to women in conflict-affected
areas. She is a prominent voice in global conversations on women\’s rights, conflict
resolution, and humanitarian efforts. She has worked with the United Nations, the World
Health Organization, and the International Criminal Court as a consultant. Salbi has written
books on women\’s rights and her memoir, \”Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny:
Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam,\” recounts her childhood experiences in Iraq and her
journey as a leading advocate for women\’s rights.

5. Amina J. Mohammed

Currently serving as the UN\’s deputy secretary-general is Nigerian diplomat Amina J.
Mohammed. She advanced environmental policy and sustainable development programmes
while serving as Nigeria\’s Minister of Environment. Amina Mohammed oversaw the creation
of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while serving as the UN Secretary-General\’s
Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning. She is a fervent supporter of
eradicating poverty, empowering women, and sustainable development, particularly in Africa.
For her leadership, Amina Mohammed has won various honours, including the title of one of
Forbes\’ 100 Most Powerful Women in the World. She still plays a significant role in the UN\’s
efforts to promote sustainable development and international diplomacy.


6. Malala Yousafzai


Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and a Pakistani activist for female
education, has become a prominent global advocate for girls\’ education. She established the
Malala Fund, a non-profit organization empowering girls through education, and has been
recognized by Time magazine as one of the world\’s most influential people multiple times.
Despite surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2012, she remains committed to
promoting education and empowering girls and women, both in Pakistan and globally. She
has also been involved in efforts to support refugees and displaced people..

7. Mariam Hussein Ali


Mariam Hussein Ali is a well-known Somali politician and activist who has made strides
towards gender equality and women\’s rights. She has advocated for laws and policies that
support women\’s rights and greater political representation while serving as a Member of
Parliament in Somalia. She has also fought to stop harmful behaviours including child
marriage and FGM as well as gender-based violence. For her services to social justice and
women\’s empowerment, Mariam Hussein Ali has won honours. She is still a devoted
champion for Somali women and girls

8. Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi: Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, human rights lawyer, and activist. She
fought for women\’s and children\’s rights in Iran and the Middle East. As one of Iran\’s first
female judges, she founded the first independent NGO in Iran. Despite facing challenges
and opposition, she has represented victims of violence, journalists, and dissidents. She has
authored books on human rights and served on international boards. Ebadi has faced
harassment, imprisonment, and the closure of her law practice, but remains committed to
fighting for justice and equality. She is a symbol of hope for human rights defenders


9. Dalia Mogahed & Yasmin Mogahed


Dalia Mogahed is an American scholar and activist who serves as the Director of Research
at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. She is also the first Muslim woman to
serve on the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Dalia Mogahed and Yasmin Mogahed are sisters. Both are American Muslim women who
are well-known for their activism and work in the fields of Muslim spirituality, social justice,
and interfaith dialogue. Dalia Mogahed is a researcher and author who focuses on issues of
Muslim identity and Islamophobia, while Yasmin Mogahed is a speaker and author who
addresses topics related to spirituality and personal development from an Islamic

10. Tawakkol Karman

Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni journalist and human rights activist, made history in 2011 by
becoming the first Arab woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Known for her efforts
in promoting democracy and women\’s rights in Yemen, Karman was a key figure in the
Yemen protests during the Arab Spring. Despite facing imprisonment and death threats, she
remained steadfast in her commitment to peaceful activism and was appointed as the Chair
of Yemen\’s Youth Freedom and Change Coalition. Her work has inspired many to continue
the fight for justice and equality in the Middle East and beyond.


In conclusion, Muslim women have made significant contributions and played pivotal roles in
various fields, ranging from politics and education to business and activism. They have a
long and rich history of leadership, breaking barriers and dispelling prejudice. While there
are still challenges to overcome in achieving gender equality in some nations with a majority
of Muslims, Muslim women\’s leadership stands as a testament to their resilience, tenacity,
and power. Their unwavering determination to make a difference serves as an inspiration to
all women and a beacon of hope for a more inclusive and equitable future.

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