11 Remarkable and Diverse Muslim Women and Their Roles in History

  1. Maryam bint ‘Uthmān

She is the half-sister of Nana Asma’u and took over the role of Nana as women’s leader after her death in 1864. Maryam was married to the amīr of Kano, who consulted her regularly about state affairs; her influence lasted until arrival of the British

  1. Fātimah al-Dimashqiyyah (fl. 10th century)

Fatimah was a Sufi mystic who openly debated scholars in Damascus and was especially keen to discuss “the art of silence”.

  1. Asmā’ bt. Shihāb al-Sulayhiyyah (d. 1067)

After spending two years as a political prisoner, she became the queen of Yemen. She ruled for 20 years, proving herself to be a successful administrator and skillful diplomat. She was famous for always honouring agreements

  1. Bersilat (fl. c. 1500)

Besilat is widely believed to be the originator of the class of Southeast Asian martial arts known as ‘silat’. She would instruct her fellow villagers on the island of Sumatra in the art of self-defense.

  1. Habba Khātūn (d.c. 1609)

Known as “Nightingale of Kashmir”, Habba was a Kashmiri Muslim poet and singer. She divorced her first husband to travel and study Qur’ān and Farsi with Sufi teachers. She was a key figure in the development of the Kashmiri language.

  1. Azīza ‘Uthmānā (d. 1669)

Aziza was a Tunisian philanthropist. She founded the Sadiki Bimāristān, the first modern hospital in Tunisia dedicated to the poor and/or mentally ill. She also set up a fund to support unmarried women who couldn’t support themselves.

  1. the Habiwash band

This band was a group of 500 Abyssinian women in India, armed with swords and shields, who formed an armed regiment to defend the zenana (women’s quarters) of neighbouring kingdoms.

Nur Jahan
  1. Nūr Jahān

Meaning ‘light of the world’, Nur was the de facto ruler of the Mughal Empire 1611-1627. She was a poet, advocate for women’s rights, diplomat, military tactician, athlete and a fashion/textile designer.

  1. Sayyida al-Hurra (d. c. 1561)

‘The free noblewoman’, was an Andalūsī-Morrocan refugee who, having been humiliatingly forced to flee Granada during the Spanish Reconquista, became a powerful “pirate queen” and the ruler of Tétouan for 30 years.

  1. Bija Munajjima (fl. 16th century)

A Muslim mystic, astronomer, poet, mathematician, and philanthropist. The Afghan Bija was known for her ability to calculate calendars, which required expertise in advanced math. She founded a public bath, school, and mosque.

  1. Bībī Fātimah (fl. c. 16th century)

Bodyguarding is a man’s job, right? No! Bibi Fatimah was the chief of the royal bodyguards of Mughal emperor Humayun’s family. At one point, Humayun himself was very ill and was caught in a political crisis, and she served as his primary guard, showing a relationship of trust.

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Written by Hassam Munir

Hassam Munir

Hassam Munir is a student and independent researcher of Islamic history based in Toronto, Canada. He enjoys looking into the past from fresh and diverse perspectives. He is the founder of the iHistory project, where he blogs regularly. To read more of Hassam's work on Islamic history, visit www.ihistory.co.

  • aida

    Great, article very inspiring, Thank you!