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Celebrating International Muslim Women’s Day at TNF

“Muslim Women’s Day is a call to action to… centre Muslim women’s voices for the day, to empower us, to flood the Internet with new, diverse, positive stories and Muslim women’s voices, and basically just pass the mic.” – Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the founder of www.muslimgirl.com, grew up in a Post 9/11 America concealing her Islamic identity to avoid judgment and hate crimes. At the age of 13, Amani’s family relocated to Jordan, her father’s homeland due to rising violence against Muslim communities in the US. She had to return when she was 17 when her mother took ill and preferred to be with relatives in New Jersey. It was upon Amani’s return, shade paid $7 for a domain name and launched a community for young Muslim women to feel safe, relatable and to change the narrative. On March 27, 2017, Amani and MuslimGirl launched the first-ever official Muslim Women’s Day, to celebrate Muslim women and to raise their voices. “We wanted to create a day where we just celebrate Muslim women… and engineer a new precedent for Muslim women’s representation in mainstream media,” Amani told CNN.

MuslimGirl.com announced that the theme for this year’s Muslim Women Day is “Securing Our Space.” The New Feminist joins MuslimGirl in commemorating this day. We are taking the opportunity to change the narrative and the culture around how the world perceives and talks about Muslim women. By highlighting Muslim women who have held their own in various spaces, despite the stigmas and backlash the community faces. We hope that our Muslim readers feel empowered to secure take up space and we hope that our non-Muslim readers are encouraged to support Muslim women in holding their spaces.

Politics & Activism:

Ilhan Omar

Omar became the first hijab-wearing US congresswoman in 2019. 

Despite having faced many Islamophobic comments and racist threats, Ilhan Omar held on to her space. “I stand here before you tonight as your congresswoman-elect with many firsts behind my name,” Omar said the night of her election. “The first woman of colour to represent our state in Congress. She is the first woman to wear a hijab and the first refugee ever elected to Congress. And one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.” 

In an interview with Vogue magazine, Ilhan noted she faced discrimination for being both black and Muslim. “Wearing a hijab was an odd thing and something people instantly noticed. Not only was I made aware that I was black and Muslim; I was also a refugee and a female. I sit on the intersection of many identities which lends itself to many stereotypes.” Omar told Vogue that her wish for Muslim women around the world is that they never wait for an invitation to be the change they want to see in the world.

Mala Yousafzai

“I grew up in a society that believed women are not as capable or as strong as men—their job was to cook, clean, and care for children. Too often people misinterpret our religion and use it to hold women back. But Islam teaches equality.”

Malal Yousafzai was just 11 years old when she started blogging anonymously for the BBC under the pen name, “Gul Makai ” speaking about her life under Taliban rule and her desire to go to school. Yousafzai and her family were forced to leave their home as tensions rose between the Taliban and the Pakistani government but Malala and her father continued to speak out for girls’ education. In 2011 she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and by the next year, the Taliban had found her on a school bus and shot her in the head. Malala was airlifted to a Pakistani military hospital and taken to an English intensive care unit. Thankfully, Malala did not succumb to her injuries and after many months of medical treatment, Yousafzai settled with her family in Birmingham where she had full access to education. Malala was grateful she could continue school and so decided to keep fighting “until every girl could go to school.”

A proponent for girls’ right to education, a survivor of a Taliban attack, co-founder of the Malala Fund and the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Yousafzai, who was born in Pakistan in 1997, is a trailblazing, exemplar Muslim woman with significant contributions to girls’ development and progression across the globe.

Malala travels to countries across the globe to meet girls fighting poverty, wars, child marriages and gender discrimination to go to school. The Malala fund supports and advocates for the rights of women and girls. “The fund advocates for quality education for all girls by funding education projects internationally, partnering with global leaders and local advocates, and pioneering innovative strategies to empower young women.”

Entertainment:

Neelam Hakeem

Neelam, with an Instagram following of over 450,000, is a pioneer for Black Lives Matter, women’s rights and social injustice. She inspires women of all walks of life to be creative and fierce. Neelam is not just your average Modest Fashionista/ Modest Influencer, she is an extremely talented Muslim rapper. 

“Rap is not always positive in its portrayal of women. While I do believe that we should do whatever we want – no one should dictate to a woman how she should dress. There should be options.” Hakeem’s modest identity and contributions to the industry has been well received with big names like Diddy, Will Smith, The Shade Room and Erykah Badu have all reposted her songs on their Instagram profiles. 

Hakeem has proven that Muslim women are not just covered from head to toe, silenced and controlled by men in their lives, in fact, Neelam’s husband is her music producer and biggest supporter. Neelam told Vogue magazine in an interview that she has a voice that is being heard; she has received messages from followers telling her that she changed the perceptions or dismantled stereotypes they held about Muslim women. Neelam sees that the world is changing and becoming more inclusive, allowing Muslim women to have a seat. 

Hakeem has claimed her space in the music industry, broke down barriers and continues to inspire all women, not only Muslim women, to do so, “One wish I have for Muslim women around the world is that we become a pivotal voice on this planet giving a different perspective and balance to this world.”

Maysoon Zayid

“We are not making history, we are changing the story.” – Maysoon Zayid. 

Zayid, born in New Jersey to Palestinian immigrants parents, has transformed and made waves in the entertainment industry not only as a Muslim woman but as a woman with a disability. She is one of the first Muslim women to become a comedian in the USA and has performed in Palestine and Jordan, pioneering Arabic standup comedy. 

Having Cerebral palsy, Zayid has dedicated her life to advocating for disabled students in worldwide education, “I believe that if my parents had not sent me to public school, I would not be here today as an advocate for the disabled. I am very lucky that my parents let me receive an education equal to everyone else, and let me do what I love.” Using her platform as a comedian, Zayid fights for causes she believes in. She told Chen that she is dedicated to fighting for the rights of people with disabilities and dedicated to fighting violence against women.

“When I started doing stand-up comedy, I immediately realised the power I had. Nowadays, worldwide, people’s ability to speak freely is being censored. But comedy is powerful,” Zayid told the interviewer Chen from UNESCO. In 2013, Zayid did a TED talk which she believes changed her life. The positive feedback she received from millions of followers empowered her. “At least 20% of the emails were heart-breaking for me. Some people, ranging in age from 12 to 50, talked of wanting to commit suicide. What they need is someone to say they have worth and can be loved.I started to see how much violence disabled people face and how hard it is for them to get an education. I had thought it was just an “Arab thing” and did not realize it existed everywhere. This reinforced my belief that my mission is to link TV with films, YouTube, etc., to create positive images of disability.”

Zayid told Chen that being a Muslim woman is hard, as Muslims are stigmatized as terrorists, and being a disabled woman is harder as women with disabilities are three times more likely to be attacked or assaulted. However, it is being a female comedian that is most difficult, “when a woman walks on-stage, you can feel the energy drop in the room. The assumption is that women are not funny. We have to work ten times harder (than men) to make audiences laugh.”

Zayid has faced hurdles after hurdles but she continued to stay in her space, “I am Palestinian, I am Muslim, I am a woman of colour, I am divorced, I am disabled, and I am childless with a cat named Beyonce.”

Sports:

Asma Elbadawi

Born in Sudan and raised in the United Kingdom, Asma Elbadawi is a Muslim spoken poet, basketball player and Sports Inclusivity Activist. Elbadawi, proud of her hijab, played an influential role in the very successful #FibaAllowHijab campaign that advocated for hijabs on basketball courts. In 2017, Elbadawi began lobbying and gathering signatures on an online petition. She collected 130,000 signatures and Fiba (International Basketball Federation) reversed its rule.” In a recent interview with Red Bull, Elbadawi said “I’m a lass from Yorkshire who campaigned for something I felt strongly about and we were all doing it together. It showed me the power of the collective and made me realise I should never, ever feel my voice is not powerful enough.”

Four months ago, Elbadawi was recruited to star in an Adidas campaign to celebrate women in sport and spread a message that women’s goals and dreams are possible. In the video (https://www.instagram.com/p/CaFVaJpFujQ/) Elbadawi is adorned in a beautiful blue dress and hijab, playing ball and saying “I don’t just play ball. I’m queen of the ball. And I believe in equal pay. When they tried to ban my hijab, I fought, I won, and kept wearing my crown. On my court, we all rise. My story is not impossible, because I’m possible.”

Elbadawi has not only secured her space in Sports and Art, but she uses her voice and platform to advocate for inclusivity and encourage Muslim women to secure their space. She told The National News, “I also felt that if a group of us Muslim women managed to get together and use our voices to change the history of basketball, then we have the ability to do far greater things as individuals and as a collective.”

Zahra Lari

Lari was only 11 years old when she watched the Disney movie Ice Princess and knew from that moment she wanted to be a professional ice skater. At the age of 21, Zahra lived out her dream of making history as the first person from her country to compete in the Winter Olympics and the first to wear a hijab at the event. Now 27-year-old hijab-wearing ice skater told Gulf News that while hurdles were thrown her way, she was insistent to never give up. She added that she didn’t just persist for herself but “for women all over the world and for Emirati women especially and to show the world that we are strong and we can accomplish anything we put our minds to and we too can raise the UAE flag internationally.”

Lari’s hijab was not well received at first. She had points deducted in competition for wearing it but she did not let it stop her. Lari held on to her space in the sport, wore her hijab and fought for what she believed in. Thanks to Lari’s determination and influence, rules have been amended to allow women to wear their hijabs. Lari notes that the world of sport is becoming more inclusive, “I mean, if you look at the UAE alone, women from here are representing their nation in every sport possible. Football, horse riding, think of it and women are doing it.”

Lari told Vogue that she wants Muslim women of the world to always recognize their value, believe in themselves and never set limitations on what they can do. Lari has shown us that Muslim women have a space in sport and they just have to claim as theirs and ignore the negative comments.

Business:

Business is largely a male-dominated industry. Over the last two decades, women have been defying this stereotype, making breakthroughs in the industry. Muslim women, who have been stigmatized to be oppressed and unable to access the freedoms of this world, have created spaces in the pursuit of entrepreneurship, cashing in on a rapidly growing market for Muslim-focused consumer goods. 

Muslim women entrepreneurs are breaking stigmas generally held about Muslim women. 

Huda Kattan

Born in Oklahoma, United States, to Iraqi parents, she established her business, Huda Beauty in 2013. In 2010, Kattan, trained to be a makeup artist in Hollywood, decided to launch a makeup tutorial blog. Almost a decade later, she is now worth over £386 million ($510 million).

Kattan, who does not wear a headscarf but fully identifies with her Arab Muslim heritage, has claimed her space in the beauty and business industry. Apart from her incredible success in business, Kattan is known for her influence on promoting acceptance and self-love. Having struggled with self-confidence herself, Kattan often speaks out on the importance of recognizing one’s own true beauty. She is not only an inspiration for Muslim women to follow their entrepreneurial dreams, but as a mother of a young girl, she is on a mission to change the beauty industry by getting rid of the unrealistic standards of beauty set by extreme photo editing (https://hudabeauty.com/us/en_US/blog-i-need-your-help-to-change-the-beauty-industry-75463.html )

Melanie Elturk

As a Muslim-American teen Elturk could not find stylish, high-quality hijabs in her hometown of Detroit. Elturk began observing Muslim high-schoolers abandoning their hijabs altogether with the belief that it was a result of limited options and a lack of attention to young consumers. “Girls didn’t really have role models that they could look up to and say, ‘Wow, look at that woman out there in the world wearing a hijab, kicking butt.’ She’s successful because she wears a hijab and not despite it,” explains Elturk. In 2010, already established as a civil rights attorney, Elturk threw her hands in the business industry by sourcing and selling vintage headscarves. Six years later, with her husband, Elturk launched the e-commerce site, Haute Hijab (https://www.hautehijab.com). Elturk created a well-crafted hijab shopping platform, offering hijabs for every occasion, even hijabs that can be worn in sports. 

The mission of Haute Hijab is to build a world where every woman feels comfortable and confident. Elturk told Vogue, “ if a Muslim woman chooses to wear a hijab, I want to contribute to building a world where she doesn’t have to hesitate or sacrifice her beliefs in exchange for a feeling of safety, belonging, or acceptance. She should be able to practice her religion without fear of consequence.”

According to a 2016 BBC article, “According to our research, women represent 50% of the [Muslim] start-up business community and this figure is set to grow further over the next few years.” There are many other names breaking stigmas in the industry. 

To name a few others: Safiya Abdallah founder of modest-inclusive fashion brand Dulce by Safiya; Shahin Hussain founder of The Mocktail Company; Sabah Nazir founder of Islamic Moments; and Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American to represent America at the Olympics while wearing hijab and founder of fashion brand Louella.

Muslim women are more than the religion they identify with, they are multifaceted, they are creative, intelligent, sophisticated, moving, inspiring and empowering. Today, March 27th, 2022, we honour Muslim women all around the world, we amplify their voices and we encourage them to claim and own their spaces.

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BEFORE YOU GO...Have you read: Women’s charity founder: “Return of Taliban will leave women vulnerable to traffickers"
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