Women around the world are showing up to fight patriarchal oppression — we can’t forget that Muslim women are part of this equation. The images and information we receive about Islam is fragmented, and many times is framed to highlight differences rather than similarities.
Here are five practicing Muslim women who are reverent in their faith and who embody freethinking and unencumbered womanhood. They are putting in more to the world than they are taking from it and kicking ass simultaneously.
Thirty-year-old Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first female Muslim American fencer in the world and is also ranked as one of the best. She was the first U.S. Olympian to compete in hijab, challenging stereotypes about what an Olympian should look like. She also runs a women’s clothing line with her siblings called Louella, which merges Islamic dress codes with contemporary Western fashion. Not only has she broken down barriers related to her faith, she has also contended with racial discrimination, competing in an overwhelmingly white sport. However, she stands on the shoulders of her ancestors and understand her success goes far beyond individual achievement. In a recent interview, she said, “I feel like I’ve been blessed to be in this position, to be given this platform. When I think of my predecessors and people who’ve spoken out against bigotry and hate, I feel like I owe it not just to myself but to my community to try to fight it.” We are rooting for Ibtihaj on the Road to Rio!
This Kurdish singer embodies the divine feminine and is currently using pop music as a warrior cry to protest ISIS, along with the oppression of her people. This 26-year-old pop singer was born in Iran, raised in Finland and currently lives in the U.S. Her videos have received more than six million views — along with several death threats.
Although Luv has been cultivating her artistic talents for years, it wasn’t until ISIS dropped bombs on her home country that her music became political. Helly Luv told Vice magazine, “I saw how ISIS killed and raped and burned and beheaded innocent people — not just innocent people, but my people. That really lit a fire inside of me. I felt like I needed to do something on my end. I was doing humanitarian work for refugees and victims who’d escaped, but I still felt like I needed to do something more, something bigger, something more effective. Maybe my voice could be heard around the world. As an artist, I feel like my weapon is my voice and music.”
She used her voice as a weapon and filmed her video where the bombings took place, but she is unafraid — she even has the words “No Fear” tattooed on her body in Kurdish. “I believe that nobody will have fear anymore after you see so much injustice. When you see so much bad and ISIS killing innocent people and raping young girls — there’s no more fear left in you. It becomes strength and a power. You want to fight against it. There’s zero fear in me.” I mean, can you get any more badass than Helly Luv? #swoon. Check out her video, “Revolution,” to see her in action.
Nimat Hafez Barazangi
Nimat Hafez Barazangi is a Syrian-American scholar, educator and Muslim women’s rights advocate who uses her words as both a weapon and a source of enlightenment. She fights against the ideology of radical fundamentalism by questioning the established notion about women’s subservient role in Islam. In 2004 she published the radical feminist book Woman’s Identity and the Qar’an: A New Reading. Her research reinterprets the Qar’an and provides Muslim women with tools to move toward a “gender revolution.” In the book’s introduction she says, “I intend this book to affirm the self-identity of the Muslim woman as an autonomous spiritual and intellectual human being … I want to bolster the present Muslim woman’s moral courage to stand up for her rights and effect change.” Barazangi’s story rejects the misconception that radical feminism and Islam cannot coexist.
Stephanie Kurlow is a 14-year-old Australian ballerina who dances in hijab. She converted to Islam six years ago and originally thought she would have to give up her passion for ballet due to the dress code. However, her love of dance persisted and she used her faith as a tool instead of a hindrance. Kurlow told CNN, “Being Muslim makes me dance different. Islam is really truthful and I feel more connected to God now.” To pursue her dreams, Kurlow has started a crowdfunding campaign to support her study at an interfaith performing arts school. Her goal is to be the first professional ballerina in the world to perform in hijab.
Azadeh Moaveni is an Iranian-American journalist and writer, and is the author of Lipstick Jihad and co-author of Iran Awakening. She has been one of the few American correspondents allowed to cover Iran since 1999 and works to build bridges of cultural understanding and and debunk stereotypes. Moaveni is also interested in building bridges between women in her own community. In one interview she said, “I spent the first half of my career totally engaged with how to get the West to understand us better, how to convey our reality, how to prove that we were not all chained to the stove frying onions … Now… I’m much more interested in having a dialogue with and trying to bring about some change within my own community, within the Iranian diaspora and Iranians inside Iran.” Go Azadeh!