Individual Women

Umm Salamah

Umm Salamah

About Umm Salamah: 

Umm Salamah was a very active and foremost Muslimah. She never hesitated when she had the chance of doing something good. She was involved in many battles, helping soldiers and the wounded. She was also very eloquent and had the gift of being able to speak and write beautifully, poetry and prose alike. Umm Salamah was very knowledgeable about religious matters and she narrated no less than 387 hadiths and issued many fatwahs. 

After the death of Prophet Muhammad her scholarship became even more important and many people, men as well as woman, from all walks of life used to come to her to ask her counsel. She had many students and placed great emphasis on teaching women even though she taught men as well as women. Her daughter is said to be her greatest student.  

Her story

Umm Salamah or Hind (her given name) was born to a rich and prestigious family from the Quraysh tribe and happily married Abdullah ibn Abdulasad from an equally wealthy family. They had a comfortable life until they accepted Islam along with a few other people. All of a sudden the once so popular couple became the target of the Quaraysh’s anger and persecution. The more they stayed steadfast with Islam, the more they got harassed until life in Mekkah became unbearable and they received the permission from Prophet Muhammad to emigrate to Abyssinia with a number of other Muslims. Their journey is passed on to us in detail thanks to Umm Salamah who documented their tales. 

They soon returned from Abyssinia to be closer to Prophet Muhammad. During their absence many other great people accepted Islam, which strengthened the Muslim community.  Unfortunately life has not become any easier for the Muslims in Mekkah, and the young couple, who had three children by now, decided to emigrate again, this time to Medina. When Umm Salamah’s family heard about this they became enraged and demanded she stay with them instead of leaving again with her husband who apparently didn’t give her the comfortable life she deserved. Her husband’s family in turn took away their children as revenge to her parents for not letting her leave with Abdullah. A big family feud ensued and Umm Salamah ended up being separated from her children as well as husband. She was in such despair about her situation that she went back to the spot where she got separated from her family every day to just sit down and cry and weep. 

Eventually her tribe returned her children and Umm Salamah wasted no time in leaving with them to find her husband. Happily, they were reunited in Medina soon after. Umm Salamah fell pregnant once more and all was well until tragically her husband was injured in battle and passed away. Umm Salamah could not have been more devastated. She was pregnant, her young children were orphans now and she did not only lose her husband but also her best friend. She tried making the dua her husband had taught her while still alive: ‘Surely from Allah we are and to Him we shall certainly return. O Lord, give me in return something good from it, which only You, Exalted and Mighty, can give.’ However, every time she tried to utter the last part of the dua she would break down and ask ‘but who could be better than Abdullah?’ After a while her question was answered when the Prophet Mohammed asked for her hand in marriage and Umm Salamah became one of the mothers of the believers. 


Sipra, M., (2014), ‘The precious Pearls', Darussalam Publishers

Webb, S. (2011)  'Mothers of the Believers', Audio Series

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Umm Salamah was a woman of knowledge and bravery, her counsel on religious issues was sought by men and women alike.

Nusayba bint Ka'b al-Ansariyah

Nusayba bint Ka’b al-Ansariyah


Nusayba bint Ka’b al-Ansariyah, also known as Umm Omara and al-Maziniyyah, was one of only two women who joined in the second pledge of allegiance to Islam by newly converted Muslims.  Nusayba is most known for her early conversion to Islam and her bravery at the Battle of Uhud where she was the only woman to fight in defence of the religion. Umm Omara was part of the Banu Najjar tribe living in Saudia Arabia during the time of the Prophet. She fought in many battles alongside the Prophet against the Meccans in the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of Hunian, the Battle of Yamama, and the Treaty of Hudaibiyah. 

Initially, Umm Omara was attending the Battle of Uhud alongside the warriors to offer assistance and supplies. However things escalated very quickly and the battle turned from a victory to a defeat. When Prophet Muhammad’s archers disobeyed him and started retreating from the battle field, Umm Omara entered the battle with a sword at the ready to defend and shield him from the enemy, receiving several wounds while fighting.

Umm Omara was of one of the first advocates for the rights of Muslim women and she was the first woman to ask Prophet Muhammad why revelations of the Qur’an only addressed men and excluded women. Soon after this exchange this verse was revealed:

“Verily, the Muslims men and women, the believers men and women, the men and the women who are obedient, the men and women who are truthful, the men and the women who are patient, the men and the women who are humble, the men and the women who give Sadaqat, the men and the women who observe fast, the men and the women who guard their chastity and the men and the women who remember Allah much with their hearts and tongues, Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.” (Quran 33:35)

This revelation addressed both genders and for many confirms that both men and women have spiritual, and human rights to an equal degree.

Umm Omara was a warrior-woman who stood up for religion and what she believed in. Her self-sacrifice and perseverance has been an inspiration for Muslim women across time and she occupies a special place in the history of Islam. 


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 Nusayba bint Ka'b al-Ansariyah was one of the first advocates for the rights of Muslim women and a brave and admired warrior.

Fatma Al Fihri

Fatima Al-Fihri

Early Life

Fatima Al-Fihri was the daughter of a successful businessman, Muhammad Al-Fihri. She was born in Tunisia in the 9th century and moved to Morocco with her family as a child. She was from a prestigious family and inherited a fortune due to the early death of her father. She strived to help the community through her dedication and hope for her vision.


The young Fatima was pious, well educated and had a great passion for knowledge of Islamic religious science and architecture. She was renowned for being a deep thinker and her vision was cultivated and encouraged to grow in the Islamic society she lived in. She decided to use her resources to honour the Islamic tradition of learning and academic study and build a university and mosque in Fes, Morocco. 

The Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque

The Al-Qarawiyyin mosque and university complex is renowned for being one of the world’s oldest degree-granting universities in the world. The construction process was reported to have been overseen by Al-Fihri herself. Being situated in one of the most influential cities in the Muslim world, the university played a leading role in academic relations between the Islamic world and Europe. It has also been renowned for centuries as a key centre of cultural and religious exchange. Thinkers associated with the university include the author Leo Aricanus and the jurist Muhammad al-Fasi. Almost 1200 years have passed since the university was founded and yet it continues to this day to graduate students from various disciplines.

Fatima Al-Fihri’s Legacy

To this day, Fatima Al-Fihri is highly respected and looked up to by Moroccan women for her kind-heartedness, perseverance and wisdom. She is held up as an inspiration to all and her rich legacy lives on in the excellence of the institution she founded.


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Fatima Al-Fihri founded the Al-Qarawiyyin mosque and university complex which is renowned for being one of the world’s oldest degree-granting universities in the world.

Nuriye Ulviye Mevlan Civelek

Nuriye Ulviye Mevlan Civelek 1893 - 1964

Nuriye Ulviye Mevlan Civelek was the founder of the first Muslim feminist magazine of the Ottoman Empire, Kadinlar Dunyasi [Women’s World.] A trailblazer of her time, Civelek, who was also known by the names Nuriye Ulviye and Ulviye Mevlan, wanted to create a space for women to develop and be empowered through informed conversation and debate with their peers. The magazine was formed as the official journal of the Osmanlı Mudafaa-i Hukuk-u Nisvan Cemiyeti (Association for the Defence of the Rights of Ottoman Women), which was also founded by Civelek and held the unique status of being the first women’s organisation recognized under Ottoman law.

 Kadinlar Dunyasi was published daily for its first 100 issues and weekly thereafter between the years of 1913 and 1921. 

 Among the aims of the publication were to produce a magazine to give a voice to women of all social classes and ethnic backgrounds in the Ottoman empire, to exchange views and experiences with feminist movements outside the Ottoman Empire, to foster dialogue and solidarity among women on an international level and to actively contest problematic gender stereotypes. The writer Serpil Cakir has noted that ‘Kadinlar Dunyasi’ differed from other women’s publications, such as Hanimlara Mahsus Gazete, in that it gave a platform to women from all walks of life as opposed to just elite or literary women.

 Kadinlar Dunyasi was also radical for its time in that men were not allowed to write for it. The editors reasoned that that ‘it would be more helpful if the men interested in furthering women’s status would write in newspapers that otherwise devoted no attention to women’s issues.’ 

 The association organized symbolic shows of action such as the entering of a post office en masse by association members to mark the beginning of a struggle for Muslim women’s right to enter public offices. They also established a place of businesses for seamstresses to emphasize the importance of women’s economic independence.

The association’s work inspired two journalists from Europe; Grace Ellison from The Times and Odette Feldman from the Berliner Tageblatt to come to Istanbul to inform the public of their own respective countries about the Ottoman women’s movement.

Why shouldn't a woman, a future wife and mother, as talented, well-educated and intellectual as men, not be paid the same income as men? And why should she remain silent and passive instead of protesting for her rights to equal payment? It is this very passivity, my dear friend, which feminism cannot allow accept."

(Ulviye Mevlan, "Düşünüyorum ", Kadınlar Dünyası, 22 Mart 1918, no. 166, p. 2. Quoted in: Serpil Çakır, Osmanlı Kadın Hareketi, Istanbul, 2011, 3. Ed., pp. 373-374.)



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 Nuriye Ulviye Mevlan was the founder of the first Muslim feminist magazine of the Ottoman empire and a dedicated women's rights advocate

Fatima Aliye Topuz

 Fatima Aliye Hanim (Topuz) 1862 - 1936

"I had a separate room as well as a desk, even a bookcase."


Fatima Aliye Hanim is held to be the first female Muslim novelist of the Ottoman Empire. 


Her first novel, ‘Hayal ve Hakikat’ (Dreams and Reality) which was penned together with the author Ahmed Mithat Efendi was published under the names ‘Bir Kadin (A Woman) and Ahmet Mithat.’ She published her first book, Muhazarat (Useful Information)  under her own name in 1892. 


Topuz was highly concerned with the rights of women and she addressed this in her works. She wrote for the magazine ‘Hanimlara Mahsus Gazete’ (Newspaper for Women) without reportedly giving up her conservative views and founded the Society for supporting Ottoman Women (Nisvan-ı Osmaniye İmdat Cemiyeti) in 1897. In her 1896 book Nisvan-ı İslam ("Women of Islam"), she aimed to shed light on the experiences of Muslim women and address criticisms leveled at them or misconceptions about Muslim women in Europe and beyond. She suggested that Ottoman women could solve many of their problems if they took the example of the lives of women in early Islam.


She developed her ideas for women’s rights within an Islamic framework and spoke up against Ataturk’s ‘modernizing’ reforms with regard to women.  At the same time she also spoke out against practices such as polygamy.


Despite all her work, Topuz has been overlooked often in Turkish history. Some suggest this may be because she was always in the shadow of her father, Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, who was a prominent scholar and historian. Indeed her gravestone made no reference to her literary works or achievements but instead was inscribed only with the fact that she was the daughter of Ahmet Cevdet Pasha.In recent years however, Fatima Aliye’s legacy has been in some senses revived. In 2009 she was chosen as the first Turkish woman in history to have her portrait featured on a bank note.


This decision was criticized by secularists who argued that a figure such as Halide Edip Adivar, who fought alongside Ataturk and championed his views, would have been a more appropriate choice. Mustafa Ozyurek, an MP for the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) described Aliye as a “dubious personality” who most Turks had never heard of.


Refreshingly however, the Istanbul Modern Museum organized an exhibition named after her first work ‘Hayal ve Hakikat’ in September 2011. This exhibition showcased the works of 72 Turkish women artists from different generations and reflected how they transformed their dreams into reality. The legacy of Fatima Aliye, who was not afraid to stand up for what she believed in and strived to better the lives of women while remaining true to her own values and heritage, lives on.


"… I am not writing these lines in order to defend women. For in matters of humanity, there is no difference between women and men. We are all human beings."  Fatma Aliye, Çok Eşlilik Taaddüd-i Zevcat, (Polygamy), Ankara, 2007, p. 66


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Fatima Aliye Topuz is held to be the first female muslim author of the Ottoman empire.

Umm Kulthum

Nightingale of the Nile

Egyptian journalist Raja al-Naqqash once wrote that during his youth he misunderstood “listening to Umm Kulthum” as “listening to singing”, because the female artist was all anyone appeared to listen to. [1] Born at the turn of the century, Umm Kulthum is one of the most celebrated singers of the Arab world. Lauded as the “Star of the East”, the “Great Pyramid of Egyptian Song”, and the “Nightingale of the Nile” [2], she positively dominated the music culture of the Middle East until her death in 1975.

Umm Kulthum radiated elegance and style as a performer (in 2008, one of her dramatic necklaces sold for $1.2 million at an auction in Dubai! [3]), but her authenticity in the eyes of the Arab public was surely rooted in her more modest and relatable beginnings. Growing up in a small Egyptian town, she enjoyed the common experience of learning to recite the Qur’an as a child, and furthermore helped to support her family by publicly singing religious songs alongside her father, who was a Muslim leader in their local community. This informal training enabled Umm Kulthum to develop her own skill and artistic identity as a singer. [4]  While this identity blossomed and crystallised, Egypt expanded its own identity as a centre of entertainment and culture. The Egyptian radio and film industries took off, and Umm Kulthum rode the rising wave of commercial Egyptian music to take a well-deserved place at the top of the charts. [5]

Soundtrack to a new Egyptian identity

The arc of Umm Kulthum’s coming of age as a musician was particularly special because it spoke so powerfully to the historical events unfolding in Egypt. Egypt gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1922, around the same time that Umm Kulthum established herself as a popular singer in Cairo. In many ways, Egyptians saw Umm Kulthum as a superheroine of a new Egyptian identity. Her music became a soundtrack to the political movements of the time, and as her popularity spread beyond Egypt to other parts of the Middle East, she helped define Arabs’ feelings of belonging to a broader, international community. On the first Thursday of every month, when Umm Kulthum regularly sang on the radio, streets across the Arab world were deserted as people stayed home to hear her voice. [6] As one writer recalls, “Everyone from the Bedouin with their transistor radios to the businessmen arriving for the event by private plane listed to Umm Kulthum.” [7] Keep in mind that this was not a passing obsession or a blip on the map of Egyptian pop music: Umm Kulthum’s career flourished for nearly four decades. She was Egyptian pop music.

One of the most unique and impressive characteristics of Umm Kulthum’s music is its mixed form. It was commercial pop, yet her style also paid homage to traditional Arabic poetry, while her delivery clearly reflected her days reciting the Qur’an. Umm Kulthum herself claimed “the Qur’an was her first teacher”. [8] Her training in religious recitation influenced how she pronounced and emphasised words in her music, how she breathed and paused when performing. The result is a collection of songs – some romantic, others traditional and folk-like, and still others performed with entire orchestras – that enchant their listeners and command attention. What’s more, Umm Kulthum’s songs were marathons compared to the three-minute pop songs of today: a single song often lasted for more than an hour, yet the Nightingale of the Nile kept people listening eagerly until she was finished. One expert observes of Umm Kulthum’s drawn-out music: “By the time she gets to the end of the line, everybody reaches a kind of ecstatic breakthrough that people feel can only be arrived at through singing of poetry.” [9] This ecstasy was everywhere during Umm Kulthum’s reign. As one fan puts it, “Her music was like a household fixture, like the lightbulb, like your mom’s cooking, it came with the spices, and that’s why everybody relates to her.” [10]

Music pioneer

Umm Kulthum’s power as a symbol of dignified and inclusive Arab and Muslim identity was only enhanced by her own identity as a woman. Her father was for a time uncomfortable with presenting his talented daughter to men he didn’t know, and consequently she spent several years of her youth dressing in boy’s clothes when she sang with him. [11] As she came into her own as a performer, however, she mastered and set a new standard for a type of creative expression which was in many ways previously dominated by men. Just as Egypt and the larger Arab world forged new identities that recognised the past while looking forward to the future, Umm Kulthum pioneered the bridging of gaps between traditional and modern styles. She sang many songs that were originally composed by male artists, but made them entirely her own by injecting them with unsurpassed talent and creative flair. [12]

Umm Kulthum created a central space for culture and music at a time when politics could easily have dominated conversations about Egypt and the Middle East. Her music complemented the political sentiments of much of the Arab world, but offered to the public a distinct, artistic form of expression. Hers was a form of expression to be respected – indeed, even Egypt’s beloved President Gamal Abdel Nasser rescheduled a speech to work around one of Umm Kulthum’s concerts! [13] Millions mourned Umm Kulthum’s death in 1975. Citizens of Cairo took turns carrying her casket in an extended tour around the city during her funeral, which surpassed President Nasser’s in size. [14] Fortunately, Umm Kulthum’s legacy lives on, as her songs continue to be played on the radio and honored in television documentaries, while her fame and popularity becomes increasingly global. 


[1] Danielson, Virginia. “Listening to Umm Kulthum.” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 30.2 (1996) 170-173. Online.

[2] “Profile: Egyptian Singer Umm Kulthum.” All Things Considered. National Public Radio. 14 Dec. 2000. Radio. 

[3] “Umm Kulthum’s rare necklace sold for $1.2 m at dubai auction.” Gulf News 30 April 2008. Online.

[4] “Profile: Egyptian Singer Umm Kulthum.” All Things Considered. National Public Radio. 14 Dec. 2000. Radio.

[5] Lohman, Laura. Umm Kulthum: Artistic Agency and the Shaping of an Arab Legend, 1967-2007. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2010. Print. 1.

[6] “Profile: Egyptian Singer Umm Kulthum.” All Things Considered. National Public Radio. 14 Dec. 2000. Radio.

[7] Danielson, Virginia. “The ‘Qur’an’ and the ‘Qasidah’: Aspects of the Popularity of the Repertory Sung by Umm Kulthum.” Asian Music 19.1 (1987) 26-45. Online. 29.

[8] Ibid. 30.

[9] “Profile: Egyptian Singer Umm Kulthum.” All Things Considered. National Public Radio. 14 Dec. 2000. Radio.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Gehr, Richard. “Review: The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century.” The Village Voice 30 December 1997. Online

[13] Danielson, Virginia. “The ‘Qur’an’ and the ‘Qasidah’: Aspects of the Popularity of the Repertory Sung by Umm Kulthum.” Asian Music 19.1 (1987) 26-45. Online. 29.

[14] Ibid

By Unknown - probably dead the photo was first published in Egypt and taken by a government photographer working for the local press (منتديات المغرب التقنية) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons;


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Lauded as the “Star of the East”, the “Great Pyramid of Egyptian Song”, and the “Nightingale of the Nile”, Umm Kulthum positively dominated the music culture of the Middle East until her death in 1975.

Nana Asma'u


Nana Asma’u was the daughter of Usman dan Fodio, the founder of Sokoto Caliphate – one of the most powerful North African kingdoms of the era. She continues to be honoured in northern Nigeria as an early feminist icon and a pioneer in the field of women’s education.


Women’s education

Nana Asma’u was known throughout the sub-Saharan Muslim world as a leading scholar. Fluent in Arabic, Fulfulde, Hausa and Tamacheq, and well-versed in Arabic, Greek and Latin classics, her great learning was a product of a vibrant tradition of female scholarship. For the Qadiriyya community to which she belonged, education and the pursuit of Truth were religious duties common to both women and men – to deny women the opportunity to develop their God-given talents was to challenge God’s will. Asma’u’s father wrote often on the subject of women’s education:

“How can educated men allow their wives, daughters and female dependents to remain prisoners of ignorance, while they themselves share their knowledge with students every day? Muslim women, do not listen to the speeches of those who are misguided... They deceive you when they preach obedience to your husbands, without telling you of the obedience which is primarily due to Allah and His Prophet.”

In common with many nineteenth-century European women, female scholars often justified their learning as a service to the community, emphasising that only educated women could be good wives and mothers, and fulfil their familial duties.
During the 1830s, Asma’u formed a group of female teachers, called jajis, who travelled throughout the Caliphate educating women from a great range of backgrounds: rich and poor, Muslim and non-Muslim. In turn, each jaji taught their own groups of learned women, called the ‘yan-taru, or “those who congregate together; the sisterhood”. To each jaji she gave a malfa – distinctive balloon-shaped hats usually worn by men.



In the predominantly oral culture of the Caliphate, learning was overwhelmingly passed on through the spoken word. The key teaching method employed by the jaji was the repetition and memorisation of poetry composed by Asma’u and other female scholars.

Asma’u’s poetry was designed to be as accessible as possible to the widest range of women. She wrote a large collection of poetry in Fulfulde, primarily for the Fulbe aristocracy, and in Hausa, intended for the population at large. She made extensive use of mnemonic devices, enabling her works to be easily memorised by teachers and students, and explained in fuller detail during instruction.

Through historical narrative, elegy and admonition, Asma’u’s poems of guidance became tools for instilling the founding principles of the Caliphate in the minds of its subjects. In her writings, she documented many achievements of the early state, including the Fulani Jihad (1804-1810), in which her father conquered Nigeria and Cameroon.



As well as educating women for the sake of their own intellectual and spiritual fulfilment, Asma’u’s educational work served a powerful political purpose.
Through the spread of Islamic learning, the inhabitants of the Caliphate’s newly conquered territories could be integrated more thoroughly into the ruling Muslim order. In time, the jajis became symbols of the new state, and their malfa hats emblems of Islam.

Asma’u outlived most of the founding generation of the Caliphate, making her an invaluable source of guidance to its later rulers. When her twin brother Bello succeeded her father as Caliph, Asma’u became his advisor. According to contemporary sources, she wrote instructions to governors, and debated freely with the scholars of foreign princes across North Africa.




Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd, One Woman’s Jihad: Nana Asma’u, Scholar and Scribe, (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2000)

Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u, ‘Nana Asma’u’s Tradition: An Intellectual Movement and a Symbol of Women’s Rights in Islam during the 19th Century’,  

Katja Werthmann, ‘The Example of Nana Asma’u’, Magazine for Development and Cooperation

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An African feminist icon and a pioneer in women's education

Aminatou Haidar

" My situation is yet another example of the will of the Sahara people to continue the struggle until we achieve our goal...My fight is not just for my two sons; it is a fight for all Saharawi children so that they can live free and in happiness.

"My hunger strike is a clear reflection of the will of the Saharawi people especially the women who have played a leading role since 1970. Yes I am weak physically but not morally."

Video message – played at 35th European Conference of Coordination and Support to the Saharawi people (EUCOCO) in Barcelona.

Aminatou Haidar is a human rights campaigner and political activist who has been advocating the Western Sahara’s right to independence from Morocco since the 1980s. She is the President of the Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) and has brought the cause of the Western Sahara to the international stage through her work.

The Western Sahara: Africa’s last colony

The Western Sahara was a Spanish colony before being annexed by Morocco in 1975.  Ever since then, this territory’s sovereignty has been fought over between the kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front - the national independence movement of the Saharawi people.

There have been several diplomatic attempts to resolve this issue but all efforts came to a deadlock sooner or later. This bleak outlook did little to faze Aminatou Haidar and, with the odds stacked firmly against her, she has been on an unrelenting quest to put the Western Sahara and its people on the map. 

Haidar’s struggle

 Haidar was imprisoned twice as a result of her activism. The first time was in 1987, after taking part in a demonstration calling for the Western Sahara’s right to self -determination. Three years of imprisonment followed and Haidar endured torture at the hands of the Moroccan authorities in the process. The second time was in October 2005 and again, this was due to her participation in a demonstration. On this occasion, however, Haidar’s efforts did not go to waste. She drew the attention of the European Parliament who decided to pass a resolution for her release.

This was a great achievement both because it helped raise awareness of the Saharawi issue at international level and because it speeded up her eventual release in January 2006. These experiences also demonstrate the lengths Haidar is prepared to go to in honour of the Saharawi cause but perhaps the best example of this was the hunger strike she went on in 2009.

The hunger strike that captivated the world

In November 2009, on her way back from the United States, Aminatou Haidar was refused entry into Western Sahara by Moroccan authorities as she failed to confirm Moroccan nationality on her landing card. Haidar was questioned for 12 hours and her passport was confiscated.  Eventually she was expelled from the country and flown to Lanzarote airport where she was left to fend for herself.

And that she certainly did. The weeks that followed saw Haidar put her health at risk by going on a hunger strike in protest of the treatment she had been subjected to.

Days into the hunger strike, the strength of her convictions did not falter.  The Spanish government offered her refugee status or Spanish citizenship to allow her to travel home but she refused because she did not want to be “a foreigner in her own land”.

The strike lasted for 32 days and came to an end as a result of mounting, and eventually crushing, international pressure on the Moroccan and Spanish governments. From the French president to Amnesty International, a host of influential public figures and organisations got involved and called for a speedy resolution to the situation.

On 18th December 2009, Haidar was allowed to return home to Laayoune with her political beliefs intact and her conscience clear.

The Sahrawian Ghandi

Aminatou Haidar has received a number of awards and prizes including the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award and the Civil Courage Prize and she was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Haidar has inspired, and continues to inspire, men and women of all faiths throughout the world. What makes her remarkable are the values she upholds more than anything else.

It would be hard to match her integrity, courage and selflessness in her fight for justice. So much so, in fact, that she is widely referred to as the Sahrawian Ghandi. Whether she is worthy of this title or not, one thing is certain, she is a truly inspirational Muslim woman.

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Have you heard of the Sahrawian Ghandi?

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan






A World Traveller

Noor Inayat Khan was born in Moscow in 1914, to an Indian father and American mother. Hazrat Inayat Khan, Noor’s father, was the leader of a Sufi sect and helped bring Sufi mysticism to the West. He was so renowned that Tsar Nicholas II personally invited him to Russia to impart his knowledge. Noor’s father was not only a famous Sufi teacher; he was also the direct descendent of the celebrated Muslim ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan.

Soon after her birth, Noor’s family left Russia for England, where Noor attended nursery school in Notting Hill. In 1920 they moved to France, living in a house donated by one of Hazrat’s devotional followers. After her father’s premature death in 1927, Noor took on the responsibility of caring for her mother and younger siblings. She juggled this duty with a degree in child psychology at the Sorbonne, as well as a music course at the famous Paris conservatory. Noor then pursued a career as an author, writing poetry and children’s stories. Her talent meant she contributed regularly to French radio and in 1939 Noor had a book, Twenty Jataka Tales, published in London.

The Onslaught of War

The outbreak of World War Two and the invasion of France forced Noor’s family to England. Despite Noor’s outspoken commitment to Indian independence from the British, and to her father’s teachings of ahimsa (non-violence), she felt it was her duty to contribute to the war effort against the Germans. In November 1940 Noor joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) where she trained as a wireless operator. Her obvious ability at this, combined with her fluency in French and English, led to her being recruited to the Special Operations Executive as a secret agent. She was the first and only Asian to be recruited.

In June 1943 Noor was smuggled into France to be a radio operator for the resistance network. Many officers were against her deployment as she was a daydreamer who abhorred lying. However once in France Noor proved a conscientious and skilful worker. Unfortunately, shortly after her arrival many members of her network were betrayed and arrested, leaving Noor alone and vulnerable.  Though she had a chance to flee to England, Noor bravely decided to stay in France, continuing her work as the last remaining link to Britain and moving from place to place to avoid capture. On one heart stopping occasion she had to bluff her way past the Gestapo pretending that her radio was a home film projector.


After evading the Gestapo for months, Noor was captured in October, supposedly betrayed by a double agent. Hours after her arrest she attempted a daring escape across the roof, but tightened security after a British air raid thwarted her effort. Noor was then transferred to Germany where she was permanently shackled and kept in solitary confinement. Despite intense interrogation, the Gestapo were unable to get any information out of Noor, not even her real name. It is reported that ‘her resilience and tenacity and endurance had an effect even on the hardened prison chiefs of the Gestapo’. After nine months of imprisonment Noor was taken to the Dachau concentration camp. There, she was executed. For Noor’s bravery and self-sacrifice she was posthumously awarded the George Cross. She is remembered today as a formidable yet modest Muslim woman.

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A brave Muslim spy in World War Two

Nur Jahan: Mughal Empress

Early life

Nur Jahan (1577-1645) started off life as the daughter of noble, but poor, Persians, who migrated to India seeking prosperity. Nur was actually born on the family’s long journey, when they stopped to rest in Kandahar. Nur Jahan’s father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg, fortuitously secured employment from the third Mughal emperor Akbar, who was known for his tolerant and welcoming court. Mirza Ghiyas Beg quickly rose through the ranks and so Nur grew up in the splendour and beauty of the royal court. At the age of seventeen she was married to a Persian officer named Sher Afghan but after his death she caught the eye of Akbar’s son and successor Jahangir and so in 1611 she became his eighteenth wife. 


A Royal Wife and Ruler

Nur Jahan quickly became the favourite wife of Jahangir and his constant companion. He was reportedly bewitched by her beauty and charm and was so taken with her that he changed her birth name of Mehrunnisa to Nur Mahal (light of the palace) and then to Nur Jahan (light of the world). Nur Jahan was extremely intelligent and highly educated, and she effectively ruled the empire in place of her husband. Through her potent powers of persuasion Nur Jahan secured the right to give farmans -authoritative royal decrees - thus controlling most aspects of government.  She also had the power to give promotions and demotions.
This was astonishing, as at this time women were thought incapable of governing, especially in such a forthright manner. Nur was a savvy businesswoman and helped commerce and trade grow, both nationally and internationally, thus increasing the wealth of the empire. She collected duties on merchants’ goods and approved visitors to the court. She also engaged in international diplomacy with noble women in other realms, increasing the power of her empire.  Nur Jahan became so powerful she was able to issue coins in her own name. 

An All-Round Talent

Nur Jahan was known as a great patron of architecture and built many beautiful palaces, gardens and mosques, such as the Pathar Masjid mosque at Srinagar. Another great passion was the arts and she purportedly composed Persian poetry and sang ‘in the black marble courts while sitting in the moonlight with her ladies’.  Nur also loved reading and she owned a large personal library. Style and fashion were important to Nur and she dominated the Haram with her taste, reportedly introducing many new designs of dresses including Dudami (flowered muslin).

Her talents also included hunting and she often joined her husband on such expeditions. According to one legend Nur Jahan organised an army to rescue her husband when he was captured by rebels, joining the battle herself atop an elephant, shooting arrows into the enemy. Nur Jahan was not only talented, but also kind, and she was known for her benevolence towards poor women of the realm.  Official historians of the empire such as Muhammed Hadi speak of the great care she took of poor women by providing land and paying dowries for orphan girls, directly sponsoring five hundred such girls. Nur Jahan is rightly remembered now as the most famous of all the royal Mughal women and a historical figure whose story can inspire even today.

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Meet this amazing Mughal Muslim.

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