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Women & Religion

'A'isha B. Abi Bakr (614-678)

  • Born around 614 A.D, she was one of Prophet Muhammad favorite wives. Both passionate in their faith, they grew older together, and eventually Muhammad died in Aisha's arms
  • Soon after his death, her father took Muhammad's place in 632 A.D., because of her father’s political power she gained some to and for 44 years she advocated for Islam and its teachings.
  • She also delivered public speeches, immersed herself in the involvement of war and battles, and helped both men and women to understand the practices of Muhammad.
  • Aisha dies after a life of fighting for the conservation of her faith at the age of sixty-six in about 678 A.D after spending her final two decades in Medina transmitting her detailed observations of the prophet Muhammad's words and deeds to male and female Muslims.


"Aisha bint Abi Bakr." Encyclopedia of World Biography, vol. 36, Gale, 2016. Biography in Context, Accessed 11 Mar. 2017.


Juan Eduardo Campo, Encyclopedia of Islam, Infobase Publishing. 2009


Spellberg, Denise. Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr. Columbia University Press, 1994.

Dr. Amina Wadud (1953- )

  • Dr. Amina Wadud is a dynamic voice in the reform of Islamic religion. She wrote the book Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Texts from a Woman’s Perspective; which is a huge part of what she is known for.
  • This book delves into thoughts and the perspectives that are overlooked when reading the Qur’an. It is proven through these illustrations that there is more than one way to perceive the words and dictations of the book.
  • Dr. Wadud makes it known that the reasoning for her writings is to “... propose to make a 'reading' of the Qur'an from within the female experience and without the stereotypes which have been the framework for many of the male interpretations.” (Wadud 3).
  • When asked if there are men who want and/or agree with reform she answered “Absolutely... One of the ways in which we are representing reform in Islam is by our ability to be able to make it meaningful to women and men equally” (“Interview Amina Wadud”).


“Amina Wadud.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Services,


"Interview Amina Wadud." PBS. PBS, Mar. 2002. Web. 10 Nov. 2016 <



"The Quiet Heretic." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 Aug. 2005. Biography in Context, Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.


Wadud, Amina, Dr. Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's

Perspective. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 3. Print.

Arwa Al-Sulayhi (1084-1138)

  • Born in 1048, Arwa al-Sulayhi was a powerful queen of Sulayhi Yemen during the Fatimid dynasty. With the death of her mother-in-law and her husband’s incapable state as a result of war injuries, Arwa took the reins of the Sulayhid state into her own hands.
  • After her husband’s passing, Arwa assumed not only political authority but was awarded a vital religious rank never before ascribed to a woman. In this position, Arwa played a crucial role in the Fatimid effort to spread Ismailism throughout the Indian continent.
  • When a schism caused by succession disputes divided the then unified Ismaili community, Arwa chose the legitimate imam and thus was able to retain strong ties between Sulayhid Yemen and Fatimid Egypt in Cairo.
  • She also founded an independent religious center with still has followers today in India, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere; this branch is responsible for preserving a great number of Ismaili texts and literature from the Fatimid era.
  • Her grave in the mosque of Dhu Jibla has served as a place of pilgrimage for all kinds of Muslims.


Daftary, Farhad. "Sayyida Hurra: The Isma'ili Sulayhid Queen of Yemen." Women in the Medieval Islamic World: Power, Patronage, and Piety (1998): 117-30.


Hamdani, Sumaiya A. "Fatimids." Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, edited by Richard C. Martin, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2016, pp. 368-371. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.


“Queen Arwa al-Sulayhi.” Wisemuslimwomen,

Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)

  • At age 16, Benazir left Pakistan to study at Harvard Radcliffe College, and after completing her undergraduate degree, she studied at Oxford University.
  • Benazir Bhutto became one of the youngest chief executives in the world, and the first woman to serve as prime minister in an Islamic country.
  • While in office, she brought electricity to the countryside, built schools all over the country and also made hunger, housing and healthcare her top priorities.
  • She was determined to modernize Pakistan as she established 60,000 new literacy centers.


“Benazir_Bhutto_cropped.” Wikimedia, 28 Sept. 2004,


Houtman, Gustaaf, and Akbar Ahmed. “Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007): A Conversation with Akbar Ahmed.” Anthropology Today, vol. 24, no. 1, 2008, pp. 4–5. (Links to an external site.).


Sadri, Houman A. "Benazir Bhutto." Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, edited by Karen Christensen and David Levinson, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. Biography in Context, 

Irshad Manji (1968- )

  • Irshad Manji is an author and activist that calls upon those of Islamic faith to reform their beliefs and ways of thinking. 
  • Irshad Manji penned several books to share her beliefs, with her most notable novel, The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change.
  • Besides publishing novels, Irshad Manji has hosted popular television shows such as QT: QueerTelevision, a program that would shine a spotlight on her fellow gay Muslims.
  • Irshad Manji currently works for the Moral Courage Project, which is a project that she launched to help New York University students improve their leadership skills.


"Irshad Manji." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2012. Biography in Context, Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.


Lichter, Ida. Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices against Oppression. Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books, 2009.


Saraswati, Raquel Evita. “Irshad Manji.” Commons wikimedia, 12 June 2013,

Malala Yousafzai (1997- )

  • Malala Yousafzai is a practicing Muslim woman who as a young teenager stood up to the Taliban terrorists in order to fight for her right of education.
  • She spoke and acted through her religious beliefs as well as her passion for education. 
  • On 9 October 2012 Malala was attacked by a Taliban aboard her bus who proceeded to shoot her in the head and neck. She miraculously survived this brutal attack and continued to fight for education while her life was threatened.
  • Malala sought out to ensure education for all, but she also managed to attack entire culture’s perception of women.


“Malala Yousafzai.” Commons wikimedia, Department for International Development, 22 Oct. 2015,


"Malala Yousafzai." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2015. Biography in Context, Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.


Robinson, Don G. "Malala Yousafzai: A Voice Worth Hearing -" Jaidpub. N.p., 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

Nusayba b. Ka'b al-Ansariyya (Lived around the 6th to 7th century A.D.)

  • Nusayba fought against the Meccans in the Battle of Uhud, Hunain, Yamama, and the Treaty of Hudaibiyah.
  • She was the first woman to fight in defense for Islam religion, and one of the only two women who participated in the second pledge of allegiance to Islam by newly converted Muslims.
  • The first woman to ever fight in battle for the religion. She serves as an inspiration for the women of Islam tradition, as she always showed strength and remained faithful to her religion.
  • Nusayba has shaped the Islam religion for women by earning respect for them through her strength and bravery when fighting alongside the Prophet.


Anha, RadiAllahu. “(Umm Umara) Nusayba bint Ka'b Al-Ansariyah”. Accessed 8 November. 2016.


Hamdy, Emad, and Umm Salma. "The Iron Woman: Nusaybah Bint Ka`b." Muslim Figures, n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.


“Nusayba bint Ka’b al-Ansariyah”. WiseMuslimWomen. WISE. 2016. Accessed 8 November. 2016.


Zakaria, R. "Women and Islamic Militancy." Dissent, vol. 62 no. 1, 2015, pp. 118-125. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/dss.2015.0011

Rab'ia al-Adawiyya (713-801)

  • Born into a poor family in Basra, Iraq in approximately 717 C.E. She was considered a Sufi master; a seeker or voyager along a spiritual path to God, who acquires truths of their reality and a specific vision of the world through love and devotion.
  • When she was about twenty years old, along with her three sisters, she became an orphan and was taken into slavery. While in slavery she was awakened by Allah, and set out to live her life fully devoted to Him.
  • Inspired by her devotion she gained followers who were convinced Allah was talking and working through Rab'ia al-Adawiyya. She was praised and often referred to as the first true saint of Islam and a beacon of light of hope that caught the attention of many people.
  • She would walk down to the al-Aqsa Mosque and would give sermons for both men and women up until she died in 801 C.E. Devoted followers of Rab'ia al-Adawiyya built a tomb for her on top of the Mountain of Olives which still exists today. Her tomb is often visited by those who remember her and want to thank Allah for the miracle.


Al-’Adawiyya, Rābi’a, and Rachel Lumsden. "An Eighth-Century Female Sufi." FeministWritings from Ancient Times to the Modern World: A Global Sourcebook and History. Vol. 1. N.p.: n.p., 2012. 27-31. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.


"Dear lady of foreign poets ." N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.


"Rabi'ah al-'Adawiyyah." World Eras, edited by Susan L. Douglass, vol. 2: Rise and Spread of Islam, 622-1500, Gale, 2002. Biography in Context, Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.

Razia Sultan (DOD October 14, 1240)

  • Known as the “Warrior Queen of India,” Razia Sultan was a part of the religion of Islam.
  • Razia Sultan was the first woman ruler of India and she was the only woman to ever be crowned into the Delhi sultanate (Razia: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2007).
  • She was a ruler for three and a half years (1236-1240). During the duration of her dynasty, she abolished taxation on non-Muslims and established schools, libraries, and many other places of research that focused on the Koran and the Traditions of the Prophets (Razia: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2007).
  • Minhaj, the ruler who brought an end to Razia’s rule, stated, “[She was] a great sovereign, sagacious, just, beneficent, the patron of the learned, a dispenser of justice, the cherisher of her subjects and of warlike talent, and was endowed with all the admirable attributes and qualifications necessary for kings” (Razia: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2007).
  • Today, her tomb is located on the streets of Old Delhi in Northern India. “Some of the local residents have turned the tomb into a place of worship where prayers are conducted five times each day” (Razia: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2007). The Warrior Queen of India will always be remembered for her courage and devotion to her religion.


Bhandari, Vivek. "Raziyya, Sultana of Delhi." Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, edited by Karen Christensen and David Levinson, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. Biography in Context, Accessed 12 Mar. 2017.


Razia: Encyclopedia of World Biography. (2007). Detroit: Gale Virtual Reference Library.


Shindevaishu. “Real Image of RAZIA SULTAN.” Commons wikimedia, 4 Oct. 2015,

Tahirih (Born between 1817-1820 and Died in 1852)

  • Born in 1818 she earned the titles of Huruf-i Hayy (“the letters of the living”) and Janab-i Tahirah (“her excellency, the pure”) as the daughter of a prominent Shi’i mullah, a scholar of Islamic theology and sacred law. An intelligent, vigorous student herself, the young woman became one of eighteen disciples of the Bab, a man regarded as the gateway to a new age for humanity.
  • Tahirih outlined her spiritual ideals in a beautiful body of poetry—accessible education, universal spirituality, freedom from precedent restrictions of Islam, total equality, and global unity were her predominant topics. Tahirih travelled and lectured to share her religion, often but not always speaking from behind a screen in accordance with Persian Muslim law.
  • “Let is emancipate our women and reform our society” Tahirih spoke in 1848. Such speech alarmed authorities and she was put under surveillance. Tahirih understood and accepted that questioning prevailing Muslim traditions endangered herself and her relatives. Her uncle was assassinated and adherents of the new faith were persecuted, so Tahirih went to Tehran to become a guest of Baha’u’llah, who she believe to be the awaited revered leader of their community
  • Tahirih was soon imprisoned; but undeterred, she continued to gain converts through secret messages. Prior to her brutal death in 1852, she said “You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women”. Thus Tahirih was solidified as a deeply admirable martyr, with a widespread legacy of wisdom, bravery, and activism.


Back, Stefan. “Poet Tehereh - Tahirih.Jpg.” Commons wikimedia, 28 Apr. 2007,


Morse, Carmel L. "Ghazals and a Quotation (c. 1848–1850)." Feminist Writings from Ancient Times to the Modern World: A Global Sourcebook and History, edited by Tiffany K. Wayne, vol. 1, Greenwood, 2012, pp. 211-214. Gale Virtual Reference Library.


Root, Martha L. Tahirih the Pure. Los Angelas, California 90025: Kalimat Press, 1938. Google. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.


Schimmel, Annemarie. "Qurrat al-ʿAyn Ṭāhirah." Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed., vol. 11, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, pp. 7574-7575. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Zeynab Al-Ghazali (1917-2001)

  • Zeynab Al-Ghazali was an Egyptian activist who founded the Muslim Women’s Association.
  • This organization offered lessons for women, maintained an orphanage and provided assistance to poor families.
  • Zeynab believed that Islam already gives women rights like freedom, economic rights, public and private rights. As a result, she claimed that women must study the Quran more to recognize these rights.
  • Finally, Zeynab encouraged women to appreciate their roles in the household because it should be their only responsibility as Muslim women.


Booth, Marilyn. "Zaynab al- Ghazali." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East, Gale, 2004. Biography in Context, 


Horton, Matt. "Zainab al-Ghazali." Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Nov. 2005: 78. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Uthman, Ibrahim Olatunde. "A Triadic Re-Reading of Zaynab al-Ghazali and the Feminist Movement in Islam." Islamic Studies, 31 Mar. 2010. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.


“Zaynab Al-Ghazali.” Zaynab Al-Ghazali | Maslaha,

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