20 Muslim Women to Watch in 2020

Maliha Abidi

— As told to Manal Moazzam

The feminist book every girl needs: a Pakistani author and artist has compiled more than 50 illustrations and written stories of real women of Pakistan. The book is called “Pakistan for Women: Stories of Women Who Have Achieved Extraordinary Things.” Maliha Abidi of Maliha’s Art is the author and artist of this book, and through the art and writing, she displays the immense impact of women’s empowerment to inspire girls.

There isn’t a book like this in Pakistan; it is truly the first of its kind. In the book trailer, Maliha discusses her motivation and why such a book was needed in Pakistan, especially for little girls, and why she decided to write and illustrate it.

For her clear penchant for forward-thinking and ingenuity, this young creative is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Maliha says, “Sometimes girls are not all that encouraged to follow their dreams because their parents or they themselves think that since we are from Pakistan, we belong to a country with not many resources and that’s why we can’t achieve our dreams.”

In a country like Pakistan, where girls’ education is still an issue and because of cultural restrictions, Maliha recognized that a book that brings together stories of more than 50 impactful women who have accomplished great things, like “Pakistan for Women,” might be the catalyst needed to empower Pakistani women to challenge norms and pursue their dreams. For her clear penchant for forward-thinking and ingenuity, this young creative is certainly one to keep an eye on.

In this eye-opening chat with Muslim Girl, Maliha lets us in on the one little thing you need to live a fulfilling life. Hint: You’ve had it with you all along:

Muslim Girl: What is your biggest inspiration behind the work that you do?

Maliha Abidi: On a personal level, my biggest inspiration is my father, my husband, women who raised me such as my strong grandmother, who I lost to cancer in 2012, and also my aunt.

Moreover, the movement and stories of women inspire me. The more I learn, the more I read, the more I realise that I have a role to play in my community. We all do. There are some brutal stories surrounding women, and we have a solid history that shows the unfairness, struggles, and hurt that women have been through.

Women who were able to achieve something amazing, regardless of their circumstances, they inspire me and millions like me!

What has been the best lesson you’ve learned along your journey?

I still have a long way to go in this journey, but what I have learn is that we all have a place in this world. We are here for a reason. To find your true calling, keep learning, keep questioning, keep striving and you will find where you fit in.

Once you do fit in, you will be a great part of the community. You will contribute to change, and the world will be a better place. This is what I try to do with my work, and women empowerment. I just used to be this kid who liked to create art. Now I am a woman who is constantly learning more and more about the stories of women from around the globe, and I’m trying to do my part in lifting those stories and sharing them.

What is the most important challenge you’ve overcome as a Muslim woman in your field?

Other than a few comments back in high school and a few rude comments online about how I am a terrorist, I have not encountered much.

Look to our religion and its teachings as a way of life rather than just a religion.

I know the Muslim community has seen way worse, and my experiences don’t reflect their experiences, but I am well aware of the incidents. Just because I haven’t been through anything major doesn’t mean that Muslims around the globe aren’t victims of Islamophobia on a daily basis.

What is the one message you hope to deliver to the next generation of Muslim girls?

Being Muslim is a strength. Look to our religion and its teachings as a way of life rather than just a religion. Islam has so much to teach, and so many beautiful things to share, but is constantly misunderstood, misrepresented. I believe that as Muslims, through our actions, through the way we treat people, the way we contribute to the community, we can definitely show people the true meaning of Islam. That is the least we can do as Muslims.

What advice do you wish you could give your teenage self?

Calm down! What is the hurry? Also, think with a clearer mind, leave a toxic people behind quicker, and know that everything will be alright.