Muslim Women in Resistance: The Overlooked History of Women Resisting
In April 2020, Dr. Seema Yasmin published Muslim Women Are Everything, a collection of stories of Muslim women. The book was borne out of an angry tweet — a response to the awe people seemed to be in by the prospect of Muslim women doing anything at all. The tweet then turned into a poem called “Yes, Muslim Women do Things.” From the poem came her book. From her tweet to the book, all have become a form of testimony to the plethora of diverse capabilities that Muslim women have.
Indeed, today most of the media regarding Muslim women is often shrouded in white saviourism or orientalism. The strength and resistance of women in general, but, more specifically, Muslim women, is often overwritten with the narratives of men who participated in the same way. Traditionally, and even today, history is written for and by men. These narratives, especially those of resistance, more often than not tend to exclude women. According to Nahla Abdo, a scholar and activist, “there is an absence of academic and feminist institutional interest in the lives and experiences of women.” Despite the lack of representation of women in literature, their stories are pervasive in the cultures in which they occurred.
More recently, there have been efforts to retell sections of history in order to include the “invisible” women who played crucial roles in shaping movements. Women for generations have taken part in both visible acts of collective resistance and, the more overlooked, everyday acts of resisting. Muslim women have played a fundamental role in social movements and fighting for social change and their stories should not be overshadowed.
Muslim women played key roles in the civil rights movement in the U.S. Those involved in the civil rights movement today have heard stories of both men and women converting to Islam in order to “boldly protest racism and advance opportunities for African Americans.” Clara Muhammad, a Muslim woman, played a significant role in constructing “the vehicle that transmitted notions of race pride to the Black masses.” She is not considered to be a part of the so-called “mainstream” civil rights movement, but her work contributed to the evolution of the movement in creating it to what we know it as today.
Clara Muhammad’s activism and resistance aren’t an exceptional case either. In India, Muslim women had crucial roles in shaping the independence movement and emerged victorious. Begum Hazrat Mahal, Abadi Bano Begum, Bibi Amatus Salam, and Hajara Begum are all examples of Muslim women who “proved their strength, enthusiasm and determinism in the fight for freedom.” These women not only helped India gain independence, but also broke the “stereotype of Muslim women in the society, who are merely perceived to be clad in Burqha and were never let out of the house.”
During colonial times, when the French and British encouraged Muslim women in their colonies to not wear the veil in order to “imitate European women”, women that continued to wear their veils “became a representation of national identity and disapproval with the West during liberation and pro-independence movements.”
Resistance takes many forms but, regardless of what shape it takes, Muslim women throughout history have left indelible marks on resistance movements. Despite the impact their participation has on movements, Muslim women’s stories, and really women in general, are often left out of history. Their absence in written history makes it more important than ever to recognise their accomplishments and keep the stories of Muslim women alive. Although their resistance may not always be visible, their importance should not be ignored.
In the U.K., and throughout the Western world, Muslim women are disproportionately targeted by Islamophobic sentiment and hate. Despite this, Muslim women still find ways to not only resist but to help to their communities.
JAN Trust’s late founder, Rafaat Mughal OBE, and our current CEO, Sajda Mughal OBE, provide further examples of Muslim women who have had a large impact on their communities through their activism and resistance. JAN Trust for over 30 years has helped marginalised communities by providing access to services, resources, and opportunities. We empower minority women and work to combat stereotypes by speaking out against racism and all forms of discrimination. For more information visit our website.