I am a proud Middle Eastern woman, and let me tell you why.
Ever since I was a young child, I envisioned women as being strong, beautiful creatures capable of many things. I first learned this invaluable lesson from watching my fierce mother, who overcame so many challenges, with an ever-present smile on her face. She faced things that would probably have broken someone else, but not her. My mother was the quintessential example of a strong, Arab woman.
And so, I grew up scoffing at the often spewed stereotype that Arab and Muslim women are oppressed, and don’t have rights. After all, Islamic history is littered with the strongest, most prominent historical figures to ever have lived. And guess what? They are all WOMEN. And so, whenever I feel depressed, or as though there’s no hope, I remember four of the strongest women our faith has blessed us with. And I highly encourage you to do the same, because ladies, we Muslim girls have strong role models built into our faith:
1. Maryam (May Allah Be Pleased With Her)
My first woman-in-strength is always Maryam (RA), who was chosen to be the mother of Prophet Isa. When she thought her life was over, it had only begun! God chose a chaste woman to be the mother of a miracle, and in doing so, elevated her status. This was, without a doubt, a masterclass in Allah’s mercy and love for the women He created!
2. Khadija (RA)
In times of strife, I also like to remember the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) first wife, Khadija (RA). Many of us are familiar with that powerhouse’s story, but for those of you who may not be, she was a smart, wealthy, and incredibly savvy businesswoman who valued honesty. Another thing to note, while women in the Western world only recently started picking up on the idea of proposing to a man, it happened in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Khadija (May Allah Be Pleased With Her) asked the Prophet (PBUH) to marry her when she learned about how honest and good he was. She was a widow, with three children from previous marriages, and she is a model example that being a widow and a woman limits us in no way, shape, or form. The example of Khadija (RA) tells us that women do have the right to choose their own husband, and her stories of kindness, business savvy, and strength never cease to amaze me.
3. Aisha (RA)
Our mother, Aisha (May Allah Be Pleased With Her) is an example for women to exercise their rights and their voice. God sent verses to exonerate Aisha after someone spread ill rumors about her, but only after she spoke out, since the Prophet (SAW) became upset with her and was having trouble coping with the rumors, even though he didn’t believe them. Aisha stood her ground, and ensured that her voice was heard. She challenged her own husband, and said that only God had the right to judge her, and she only had to answer to Him. Surah Al Nisa is all about women’s rights in Islam, and how women should be respected. Aisha (RA) is another solid role model for Muslim women, and a deep dive into her stories will show you so.
4. Khawla bint Al-Azwar
And finally, I bring us to this badass shero. Khawla worked as a nurse during wars. During one battle, her brother was taken prisoner. When Khawla learned of his capture, she took the general’s military outfit, and took off to get him back, without a second thought about her own safety. Other soldiers joined her, not knowing they were assisting a female and not their general. When her true identity was discovered, the men still supported her, and were amazed at how well she could fight.
Khawla got her brother back, and had other experiences with battle. Khawla gained the respect of the armies and their generals. She was captured once, along with other women when their camp was attacked, and she vowed not to become a man’s slave. She encouraged the other women to fight back and be killed rather than the alternative of becoming a man’s sex slave. Khawla and the women fought back against tyranny, and were rescued. Upon the arrival of the rescuers, however, it was discovered that Khawla had accomplished much of the victory already. From the stories I have read, it is evident that Khawla believed in following her heart. She had great passion and was known to be beautiful, as well as brave. She was a fighter, like the rest of the Muslim women before her. A real life “Mulan,” but even better! While women were not allowed to join the army in other parts of the world, the Middle East was another story. Many of the women who came before us were strong beyond what we can imagine, and they are all the sheroes we could ever need.
I remind myself about how Islam liberated women. The oppression that we sometimes witness against women in the Middle East comes from culture and patriarchy, not religion. And so, as a woman from the Middle East, I find strength and affirmation in these women’s stories. They remind me of where I came from, and that one should always remember their stories to find strength and determination. All these women had strong, unshakable faith in God, not in man, and in my book, that’s a good reminder for any day.