Today is officially Muslim Women’s Day, a day that is dedicated to empowering Muslim women voices and stories, and celebrating their achievements and the increased representation they have made possible in the media and beyond.
This year’s theme is, “Securing Our Space,” to support and encourage Muslim women to continue to take up space in places they are underrepresented in, and to empower them to be strong, fearless, and confident in the spaces they have already taken up. It’s reinforcing that Muslim women have an unwavering right to exist, be seen and heard as they are, for who they are.
For far too long, Muslim women have been subjected to racism, discrimination, biases and stereotypes that have made it challenging for them to participate equally in society. But that didn’t stop them.
Muslim women all over the world have fought and continue to fight for their rights and for equal representation and opportunity. Due to their relentless efforts, representation for Muslim women has come a long way over the past decade.
We have seen more and more Muslim women break down barriers in a variety of fields and communities, becoming positive role models for the younger generations. They are taking up spaces and making themselves known in places they have been historically underrepresented in.
One important way to celebrate Muslim Women’s Day is by commemorating the accomplishments made by Muslim women and amplifying their voices and stories. In honor of this, we’re sharing 32 Muslim women who are “securing spaces,” and have made important strides for Muslim women and girls everywhere.
Read on to learn more about these inspirational women below!
Gwendolyn Willow Wilson is a comic book writer and journalist based in America. In 2003, she converted to Islam. She has published several different works, but is best known for relaunching the comic, Ms. Marvel, which features the first Muslim superhero, Kamala Khan. Her comic book is now being turned into a television show on Disney +. Check out the trailer for Ms. Marvel that was just released, here.
We can’t discuss Ms. Marvel without mentioning the woman playing her. Iman Vellani is a nineteen-year-old actress from Canada who got her big break playing Kamala Khan. She will be starring in the Disney+ show, Ms. Marvel premiering in the Summer of 2022, along with starring in the sequel to the 2019 film, Captain Marvel. This makes her both the first Muslim character and actress playing the first-ever Muslim superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Khadija Omar is the first-ever Miss Somalia and the first hijabi contestant to compete in the Miss World pageant. She is living out this dream of hers with the hope that she can inspire other young hijabi girls to go after their dreams as well.
Her experience growing up in a refugee camp in Nairobi has motivated her to give back and assist others in need. She has worked with the UNHCR and the Somali Youth Action to create climate and livelihood education programs, supported flood-prone areas, and helped secure sites and distribute first aid kits to internally displaced people. In addition to modeling and community work, she is a professional makeup artist, as well as a Psychology major at York University in Canada.
Halima Aden is a model who has broken down many barriers. As the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, she received a lot of media attention as a result. This led her to be signed to one of the biggest modeling agencies, IMG models, making her the first hijabi supermodel. She has modeled for many different brands and magazines including Sports Illustrated, where she was the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini in the swimsuit edition. In 2020, she quit modeling because the industry was not compatible with her religious beliefs. She is now a global ambassador for Modanisa, a modest fashion brand.
Aheda Zanetti is the inventor and designer of the burkini or burqini, and the founder of the globally leading sport and swimwear brand, Ahiida. The burkini is a modest swimsuit that covers everything except the face, hands, and feet, and also protects from harmful UV rays. After seeing her own niece struggle to find a modest way to wear her sports uniform when playing netball, Zanetti was inspired to create modest options for athletes and swimmers that fit with the Australian sport and beach culture. Her brand originally only offered modest sportswear until she added the burkini, and changed the game for Muslim swimmers and athletes everywhere.
Mariah Idrissi is a British model and is known for being the first Muslim hijab-wearing model for H&M. Since then, she has been an advocate for modest fashion. When she is not modeling, she is an international public speaker who focuses on modest fashion and female empowerment.
Rayan Abdullah Al Sulaimani is the CEO of Atelier Zuhra. This fashion house was originally owned by her mother in Dubai. When she took over the brand, she created a Ramadan Eid collection which sold out in four hours. Much of her brand and fashion is inspired by her heritage and culture. Her pieces have graced many red carpets on an array of celebrities from Paris Hilton to Eva Longoria. In 2021, she ranked 30 on Forbes’ “40 Women Behind Middle Eastern Brands 2021.”
Rashida Tlaib is the first Muslim Woman to serve in the Michigan legislation. She was a lawyer before shifting her focus to politics. Some of the policies she fights for are: Environmental Justice, Equity, Small Businesses, Fighting Corporate Greed, and Economic Justice. Tlaib was also the first Palestinian-American elected to congress. She is very passionate about issues regarding Palestinian Human Rights. President Joe Biden has praised her for her intellect and passion about Palestinian Human Rights.
Ilhan Omar is a policy analyst, organizer, public speaker, and advocate. She is the Minnesota House of Representative. She was sworn into office in January 2019. This made her the first African refugee to become a Member of Congress, as well as one of the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress. Some issues Omar is passionate about are Immigration, Workers and Economy, Education, Environmental Justice, Healthcare, and Foreign Policy.
Nusrat Choudhury is a Bangladeshi-America lawyer and the first Muslim nominated to serve as a U.S. federal judge. She is currently the Roger Pascal Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, and leads a team that works to advance civil rights and civil liberties in Illinois. Prior to this, she worked as the Deputy Director of the national ACLU Racial Justice Program, and was also a Marvin M. Karpatkin Fellow.
Hawa Abdi was a Somali activist, doctor, farm manager, and spokeswoman who did incredible work for the village she owned in Mogadishu. During a civil war, she transformed it from a rural village to an abode for 90,000 displaced people that included a hospital, operating theatres, a school, and feeding centers. Over her career, she assisted women with childbirth, leading her to become Somalia’s first female obstetrician. She received several awards for her work and now has a foundation called the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation. In August of 2020, she unfortunately passed away.
Linda Sarsour is a political activist based in America. She first became recognized for protesting police surveillance of American Muslims, but her work expanded to other civil rights issues including feminism, police brutality, immigration policy, and mass incarceration. Sarsour has also fought for racial justice in the U.S., organized the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and challenged the legality of the Trump travel ban by leading a federal lawsuit against Trump.
Previously in her career, she was the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York. She was also the co-chair of the 2017 and 2019 Women’s March, as well as the 2017 Day Without a Woman. Another organization she is involved in is Justice League NYC, an organization dedicated to reforming the NYC police department. Time magazine included her in its list of “100 Most Influential People” in 2017.
Sarsour is also the published author of the book, We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders: A Memoir of Love and Resistance, which is a memoir about her experience as a Palestinian American Muslim woman, and how it led her to become an activist for marginalized communities and voices.
Farhana Khera is the founder, former president, and executive director of Muslim Advocates. This organization is made up of Muslim lawyers and policy experts who work to defend people of all faiths against injustices. She is also a distinguished civil rights lawyer, and has represented clients facing discrimination, as well as advised public officials and corporate executives on issues surrounding civil rights, equity, and inclusion. As a former student of Wellesley College, she received the alumni achievement award which is the college’s highest honor.
Uroosa Arshid is UK’s first hijabi firefighter who is blazing the way and breaking barriers in the fire and rescue service for other women who hope to follow in her footsteps. She is given a special hijab to wear underneath her oxygen mask. Being a firefighter was a childhood dream of hers, and she didn’t let the stereotypes or stigma get in the way of her making it a reality. Instead, she challenged them, and is helping to make the industry more diverse and inclusive.
Dr. Khatija Mohammad Yusoff is an acclaimed and highly respected academician and virologist who is recognized for the work she has done on the Newcastle Disease Virus. She studied at La Trobe University in Australia, and graduated with a First-Class Honors in Microbiology. Her research on the Newcastle Disease Virus has expanded people’s understanding of how virus-cancer cells function, and how they can use NDV as an anticancer agent to treat cancer.
Nadiya Hussain is a British author and baker. She rose to fame on the hit TV show, “Great British Bake Off,” where she was the first hijab contestant to both compete and win. Since then, she has published several different cookbooks, her most recent one being, Fast Flavours. Besides being a baker and author, she is a mother of three.
Lena Khan is breaking barriers and stereotypes in Hollywood as she became Hollywood’s first and only hijabi director. She directs the new comedy film, Flora & Ulysses on Disney+, which is about a young girl that teams up with a superpower squirrel. Some of her other work includes The Tiger Hunter, some episodes of the Netflix teenage comedy, Never Have I Ever, as well as the series The Secret Life of Muslims.
Nida Manzoor is a British writer and director. She has directed on hit television shows such as Doctor Who. One of her most recent projects is, We Are Lady Parts, a television show about British Muslim women who are in a punk rock band and are on a mission to get a gig. This show has been nominated for several awards and has won the award for “Best Comedy Series” at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Manzoor herself has won the award for “Best Emerging Talent” at the Rose d’Or Awards, an award for excellence and achievement in International TV and Audio programme making.
Waad Al-Kateab is a Syrian journalist and filmmaker. She made a name for herself in 2019 when she released the film For Sama. This was a true story about her own life and living through the uprising in Aleppo. She received a lot of critical acclaim for this film, which led to major film nominations. For this film, she was nominated for an Academy Award and four BAFTA awards, which she won for Best Documentary.
Shohreh Aghdashloo is an Iranian-American actress with many credits to her name. She has been working since 1976 and has starred in many major motion pictures including, X-Men: The Last Stand and Star Trek Beyond. She has also been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in House of Sand and Fog, and is a Primetime Emmy Winner for her role in House of Saddam. Her performances led her to receive numerous film critics’ awards as well as a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Noor Tagouri is known for being the first hijabi news anchor in the U.S., as well as the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to be featured in Playboy. As controversial as it was, Tagouri saw it as an opportunity to break the stereotype that hijabis are submissive or oppressed. In addition to taking back the Muslim American narrative, she is an innovative storyteller, a public speaker, as well as an award-winning journalist and producer.
In 2019 Noor founded At Your Service Imprint, a consulting and production company that tells people’s stories as a form of service. Tagouri also shares representative stories on her podcast, “Noor,” where she collaborates with other storytellers to shed light on their unique experiences and journeys. “Sold in America” is another podcast that she produced, where she uncovers the ugly truths and misconceptions of the U.S. sex trade.
Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is a scholar-artist-activist who has contributed incredible work throughout her career. She wrote the book, Muslim Cool, which explores race, religion, and popular culture in the United States through the experiences of Black Muslim Americans. As part of her activism, Khabeer created the one woman show, Sampled: Beats of Muslim Life that discusses race, gender, hip hop, and Muslim life in America.
Zaha Hadid is an iconic Iraqi-British architect who was recognized as a major figure in the world of architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. She worked on several prominent structures including the Heydar Aliyev Centre and the London Aquatics Centre. She sadly passed in 2016, but her work continues to have a large influence in architecture.
Yuna is a singer-songwriter from Malaysia. Gaining a large following on the website Myspace launched her career. In 2011, she signed with an indie-pop label. She was able to receive commercial success in the U.S. on her single “Crush,” which was a collaboration with Usher. This song peaked at #3 on the Billboard R&B chart. Her latest release is a collaboration with the artist SHAUN called “So Right.” She is also the first hijabi to front Coach’s global campaign.
Neelam Hakeem is a modest hijabi rapper who converted to Islam in 2007. She is the first Black Muslim Female rapper to be featured in Vogue Arabia. Her rap songs are often about important issues like the political, social, and equitable injustices of women, and have been reshared by artists like Will Smith, Diddy, and Erykah Badu. Hakeem is changing the game in the music industry, not only through her modesty, but by also promoting cleaner and less derogatory rap. In addition, she has modeled for brands like Culture Hijab, Dulce by Safiya, and Hayah Collection.
Stephanie Kurlow is recognized as being the first hijabi ballerina. She is from Sydney, Australia and has been dancing from a very young age. Unfortunately, she struggled with finding a dancing school that was accommodating to her beliefs. In 2018, she was offered a scholarship at The Royal Danish Ballet, and is now working towards becoming the first hijabi ballerina to dance in a professional company.
Zahra Lari is a twenty-six year-old figure skater from Abu Dhabi who became known as the world’s first hijab professional ice skater. She has trained in several different countries and is also the first figure skater from the Middle East to compete internationally. As the founder of Emirates Skating Club, the first registered and licensed figure skating club in the United Arab Emirates, her mission is to develop the sport of figure skating in the United Arab Emirates and surpass international standards. Lari is a Nike ambassador as well.
Asma Elbadawi is a woman of many different skills. She is a talented basketball player, which has led to her become an ambassador for Adidas, and a poet as well. Recently, she has campaigned for the International Basketball Federation, FIBA, to allow Muslim women to wear hijabs amid the French Government trying to ban the hijab. Her poetry can be found in her book called Belongings. It is a compilation of thirty different poems that detail her experience as a British Sudanese woman.
In 2016, Ibtihaj Muhammad came on the fencing scene and broke down several barriers for Muslim women. She was the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics, where she earned a bronze medal. Muhammad also owns the fashion brand Louella by Ibtihaj that she runs along with her sisters. She is also a New York Times bestselling author of the children’s book called, The Proudest Blue. Another one of her novel’s is called Proud, which is a memoir detailing her journey of becoming an Olympic medalist. The first-ever hijab-wearing Barbie was modeled after her by Mattel, inspiring and empowering Muslim girls everywhere.
Iqra Ismail is a twenty one-year-old athlete and coach based in London. She is the director of the women’s football club, Hilltop Women’s Football Club, and the captain of the Somali Women’s National team. She has been playing since she was eight years old, and joined her first club when she was 14. It’s no surprise that she became the youngest Football Black List Winner of 2019. Her mission is to make football more accessible and expand Hilltop’s reach.
Ismail stopped playing soccer after she declined a contract she received from an American club out of fear of the Islamophobia and racism that heightened during Trump’s election. This led her to create the women’s football club, Never Underestimate Resilience, for Black and minority ethnic women to play soccer in a safe space.
Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana is the first hijab-wearing pro wrestler in the world, as well as the first Malaysian female champion. At the young age of 19, she was able to defeat not only female opponents, but four male competitors as well, and was awarded with the Malaysia Pro Wrestling Wrestlecon championship belt. Her goal is to one day be part of the WWE arena as a full-time professional wrestler. Due to her achievements, she made Forbes’ list of 30 Under 30 2020: Asia’s Sports And Entertainment Stars Who Are Making Their Mark Across The Globe.
Kübra Dagli is a Turkish Taekwondo world champion. She won a gold medal at the 2016 World Taekwondo Championship in the Freestyle Duo Poomsae category. After she won the gold, she received much backlash for wearing the hijab while competing. As of early 2021, she is still fearlessly competing.
Muslim women are often told that they can’t do certain things, take up certain spaces, follow certain goals or career paths–and not by their religion– but by their overprotective parents, old-fashioned cultures, and the judgmental, ignorant society at large. These Muslim women are showing the world that Muslim women can, and yes, even in their hijabs.
They are challenging the notion that their religious beliefs and practices hold them back and oppress them, and instead are showing how it’s the very strength and pride in their faith that emboldens and empowers them to reach their true potential, fulfill their dreams, and surpass everyone’s expectations, including their own. They have broken barriers, shattered glass ceilings, and paved the way for the younger generations to come. So we should not only celebrate and honor their achievements today, but each and every day.
What Muslim woman or women are you inspired by? Let us know in the comments below!