Musings of a Muslimah, Reflections

International Women’s Day – Islam and Feminism

So it’s international women’s day and this year I thought I would try to share my thoughts on Islam and Feminism and what it means to me. This is an area that I am incredibly passionate about and will often speak up about these things regarding issues both with how Muslim women are perceived in the wider community and the treatment of women within Muslim communities.

Islam and feminism is a topic that ignites many varying opinions and I often find myself having long discussions with people about this. Some Muslims believe there is no space for feminism in Islam and some believe that it is the way forward and there are many opinions that range from one end of the spectrum to the other. This is also affected by what the word feminism means to each person and how they interpret it. Me, personally, I am somewhere in the middle.

For me feminism is fighting for justice for all women and people all over the world. However, to me justice and equality isn’t the same thing. Being equal doesn’t necessarily make things just. So I will advocate for justice for all. This to me is exactly what Islam teaches. Islam teaches that we must treat everyone with justice and any act of oppression is sinful and every person who was treated unjustly will get their justice whether it is in this world or the next. This has always brought me peace to know that Allah is The Just and that He will always make sure that we are all given our justice. So for me feminism and Islam go hand in hand.

I can however see why many have issues with calling themselves a feminist, the media perpetuates a single type of feminism and many of us have encountered people who believe in this type and that we must all adhere to this or we aren’t feminists. This type is white feminism and I truly hate this brand of feminism. It only advocates for certain women who look like them and that we must all believe in these beliefs. I have been told by white feminists that to truly be free I must take off my hijab and my refusal to do so is in fact internalised misogyny. They don’t think that women can have different views on what is empowerment for them. For many this is the only view of feminism they have seen and so are obviously hesitant to call themselves feminists and be linked to this brand of feminism.

Islam has given women so many rights and yet all we see are the narrative that Muslim women are submissive and oppressed. This is the only narrative the media is willing to show everyone and yet when you actually look at Muslim women we are excelling in so many areas. Yes, there are those who want to keep us submissive and do so in the name of our faith but that doesn’t mean it is the reality of so many of us. It is an issue all over the world no matter what culture or religion you come from. Yet Muslim women are often singled out, even though Muslims come from all walks of life and cultures.

When you look at what Islam actually says about women you will see that we are given such a high status in our faith and we have so many rights from owning property, education, working, our money is ours and so much more. We are to be treated with the utmost respect and when you see Muslim women throughout history you will see they were incredible women. They were scholars, warriors, queens, scientists and more. They were feisty and opinionated and fought for what they believed in. They were not these submissive meek women that people today would have us believe.

Over the years I realised that this is a battle on two fronts, one is the wider society and media that will perpetuate a single harmful narrative and the other is that there are people within the Muslim community who want to keep that patriarchal society where women are controlled by the men in their lives as this is what benefits these men. But more and more we are seeing change, we are seeing that there are so many incredible women excel in so many ways. And at the end of the day whether women choose to study, work or decide to stay at home, be a full time mother (les face it this is a whole full time job) it should be these women’s choices. Not something that is enforced upon them.

For me the more I learnt about Islam and women in Islam the more empowered I felt. I knew my rights, I knew what Islam said about women and it helped me to actually build a better relationship with Allah. I learnt about justice in Islam and how everyone will get their justice for any form of oppression that happens to them and that this is why we need to be extra careful in how we treat people (and even animals and plants) because we will be held accountable for our actions. I spent time learning about Islamic history and especially women throughout history and I was left in awe of how incredible these women were.

My journey started with learning about Khadijah (ra) who was the first person to become Muslim and was the wife of the Prophet (pbuh). She has been my role model since I was a teen and she has been the person who has truly shaped who I am today. She taught me so much and in many ways she saved me. Growing up in a culture that treated women as less, despite that Islam advocates for justice and equality in treatment towards men and women. I felt suffocated at times and it made me push away from my culture and faith but after I learnt about her and how she was a successful businesswoman and did so much for her community, known as the Princess of Quraysh and still perfected her faith. For her there was no contradiction in fighting for justice for women and her faith and it made me re-evaluate and go and learn more which lead me down the path I am on today.

I will continue to advocate for justice for women both within our communities and share how incredible Muslim women are through the blog posts I write and more. I will continue to learn and grow and my journey will continue to change me because I know that the person I was 10 years ago isn’t the person I am now.

If you want to learn more about Muslim women throughout history, I share a monthly blog post series about them. You can find it here.

I have also written a whole post about Khadijah (ra) and how much she means to me which you can read here.

Inspirational People

Inspiring Muslim Women – Queen Amina of Zaria

Amina lived in the 16th Century and became the first woman to become queen in a male dominated society. She was known as a great military strategist and expanded the territory of the Hausa people of North Africa to its largest borders in history.

Born around 1533 in Zazzau, renamed Zaria, (one of the original states of Hausaland). This is now a province in modern day Nigeria. She was born to the ruler of Bakwa and after the death of her father, her brother became the ruler. Her brother passed away after a 10-year rule and it was then that she became Queen.

While her brother had ruled, she had become an incredible military leader, honing her military skills and eventually becoming the leader of Zazzau cavalry. She accumulated great wealth and military awards which earned her the respect of the military and established her authority as the leader of the Zazzau cavalry even before she ruled the city-state. So, she was able to become Queen after the death of her brother.

She ruled for 34 years and during this time she continued to lead and expand her kingdom and lead an army of 20,000 men. She opened up many trade routes and it is believed that she was the first person to form a government of the Hausa people.

She brought incredible wealth from gold to crops to the land. She also introduced metal armour including chain mail and iron helmets to her army. She built and fortified the walls around her lands, known as Amina’s walls, and these were used as the prototype for all the walls built in the Hausa states. Many of these walls still exist to this day and have become an incredible testament to her reign as Queen and military leader.

She refused to marry, instead focusing on her reign and was given the name Amina, daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man. She is still remembered as a brave, fierce and intelligent leader.

Inspirational People

Inspiring Women Throughout History – Razia Sultan

If you have been following me for a while you know that I have a monthly feature where I post about Muslim women throughout Islamic history because they do not get the recognition they deserve. There are so many incredible women and we don’t ever hear about them and they are never included in books about female empowerment either so I decided to share them myself. You can find all the previous posts on my blog under the Inspirational People section.

This month I will be talking about an incredible woman called Razia who became a queen in India and the only woman to ever lead the Delhi sultanate.

She was the daughter of the then Sultan’s slave and eventually her father, who the Sultan adored found himself in line for the throne. When her father became Sultan he ensured she received the same education as her brothers. He taught her to be a warrior and a leader and before he died, he named her successor. However, people did not want her to rule and so her half brother became sultan even though he was unfit to rule. He was selfish and didn’t care about his people and it wasn’t long before he was assassinated. Razia then became Sultan.

When she became Sultan she devoted herself to running her empire. She led her armies into battles and strengthened her kingdom in many ways. She was a major patron of learning and set up schools, libraries and more. She supported the works of scholars and those who studied and taught Quran. She loved her people and they loved her. She proved herself to be was fierce, competent leader and Sultan.

However the nobles were jealous of her and bitter that a woman was ruling the empire and secretly plotted to overthrow her. They spead lies and discord among the people, saying she is unfit to rule and when Razia found out she raised an army and led them into battle against the nobles who had conspired against her. She was outnumbered however and lost to them, they took her throne and some say they killed her and other sources say they imprisoned her.

Even though her throne was taken from her, she remains an incredible woman who achieved so much in helping her empire and her people and will always be known as the fierce warrior queen.

Inspirational People

Inspiring Muslim Women Throughout Islamic History – Rufaida Al-Aslamia

This month’s post is about Rufaida, who was the first nurse and surgeon in Islam and her work was considered so important that it is still used today. She drafted the world’s first code of Nursing Conduct and Ethics for preventing sickness and it is still used today. While we are often taught about Florence Nightingale and the things she accomplished, Rufaida has been forgotten and even though she was doing incredible work even before Florence.

She lived in Medina and even before Islam she was already learning about the human body and treating people as her father was a doctor and she learnt from him. When she heard about the Prophet and his message she was one of the first people to go to him and become Muslim. Because of this she was present as a healer from the beginning of the call.

She took part in all the battles that happened and was in charge of taking care of the injured soldiers. She was given her own tent, which was essentially a mobile care unit, to treat those injured and the Prophet (pbuh) himself would praise her abilities and tell people to send the injured to her to treat them. Not only did she treat people herself she also trained other women and was in charge of them during battles too.

Outside of battles she continued to treat people regularly and was even given permission to set up a tent to work from in the Prophet’s (pbuh) masjid. She ran a clinic where she cared for everyone especially those who would not be able to go anywhere else to get help including the poor and orphans.

She was known to be kind, generous and empathetic, a great teacher and organiser and also trained Aisha (ra) in nursing. She taught many health education and even did social work going out into the community to help prevent the spread of diseases. She expressed the importance of hygiene and stabilising a patient before any surgical procedure and more.

She not only revolutionised how people were treated by creating new practices to prevent sickness but also taught many women so that they could continue her work. She was an incredible woman who empowered generations of Muslim women.

Inspirational People

Inspiring Women Throughout History – Queen Zubaydah

This post is dedicated to one of two women who is known as one of the Two Queens of Baghdad.

Her name was Zubaydah bin Ja’far and was an Abbasid queen and wife to Harun ar-Rashid. We often hear about him and what an incredible man and Caliph he was but we don’t hear about his wife who was just as incredible. It is often thought that Zubaydah and Harun are one of the main inspirations behind 1001 Arabian Nights though some do say that his mother, Al-Khayzarun, is the inspiration behind Shahrzad.

She was known for her courage, beauty and wisdom and was a patron of the arts and even wrote poetry herself. She was also eloquent in her speech and charming. Not only was she passionate about the arts but she also gave substantial money towards it to try to bring more poets and literary figures and scientists to Baghdad. She also sponsored teachers to teach Islamic studied to students. She had memorised the Quran and was a student of hadith and Arabic literature.

She had a lot of influence during her rule and was able to make some incredible achievements. Her husband regularly spoke to her and asked her for advice regarding all matters regarding running the court and kingdom and he always believed her decisions were wise and correct.

While her husband was away with his army, she had the authority to run the kingdom. She also accompanied her husband on his military excursions and also went to perform Hajj with him. While they were at Hajj she noticed that pilgrims had difficulty accessing clean water so she had engineers build tunnels along the road to Makkah to provide clean water, this is still known as Zubaydah’s river. Because of this, more and more people started using the road as there was access to water and this road became known as Zubaydah’s road.

This wasn’t merely just tunnels though, she had shelters with deep wells and water pools built along with guest houses, masjids and more to provide safety and security for travellers and their caravans and animals. There was also minarets built along the road which lit fires at night to guide travellers. This was all built travelling in the direction of Makkah. These were so well built that they survived for centuries. This road became an area where people from different places could meet and trade and also exchange stories and histories which allowed the area to flourish and become more a built up. She spent billions building this so that people could benefit for centuries to come.