In July, the JAN Trust team came across an article about the oldest library in the world recently restored by the Canadian-Moroccan architect, Aziza Chaouni. What amazed us about the library (apart from its incredible beauty and architecture), was that it was founded by a Muslim woman. The library, located in the University of Al Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, was established in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a Tunisian merchant. Reading about Fatima prompted us to consider other Muslim women and how they’ve made a change to the world.
As of 2015, there have been eight countries that have had a Muslim woman as their head of state. One of the most prominent of these women is Benazir Bhutto – the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan and the first female leader of a Muslim majority country. Though her premiership was fraught with controversy, she served as a role model for women, demonstrating that it was possible to overcome the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated world. Most importantly, she was a role model for Muslim women in particular. A more current Muslim female politician is Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the President of the Republic of Mauritius and the first female to be appointed this role.
In comparison, two of the most influential countries in the West (the UK and USA) have had only one elected female leader combined – Margaret Thatcher. Hillary Clinton is currently in the run to become the first female President of the USA; if she wins, this will be a landmark victory in the US.
The next influential Muslim woman under the spotlight is Noor Inayat Khan, a Special Agent during World War 2 who supported the French Resistance against the Nazis. Noor was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Despite her subsequent capture and murder by the Nazis, her legacy lives on. She was awarded the George Cross from the UK and the Croix De Guerre by France and a statue of her can be found in Gordon Square, London.
Lastly, we must acknowledge the work of our Director, Sajda Mughal OBE, who is a multi-award winning activist for women from BAMER and Muslim communities. She has worked tirelessly to help minority women overcome barriers to integration and inclusion in order for them to improve their prospects. Women can visit the JAN Trust centre in North London where they can learn new skills and meet other women who face the same difficulties as them. Sajda was the architect of a number of our programmes including JAN Trust’s Web Guardians© programme which aims to empower these women to tackle online extremism and other dangers on the net helping them to protect their children and become active members of society.
Although Muslim women are gaining increasing visibility in the media, much of this attention perpetuates stereotypes of subjugation or threat. Far more work is needed in order to positively present these women to the world. More attention needs to be given to athletes like Ibtihaj Muhammad and Hedaya Wahba who defied the odds and competed in the Rio Olympics, or Eqbal Asa’d, the youngest doctor in the world. The more attention given to these women, the more they can show other young Muslim women that they can make a difference in the world!
We at JAN trust believe in empowering women and understand that Muslim women have a vital role in today’s society. Visit our website www.jantrust.org to learn more about the work we do.