Bad Girls of Islam

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History can be murky, eh? Few of us have as much time as we’d like to dig into what actually happened, when and why. As a result, we tend to have a generalized, though hopefully generally accurate, broad stroke understanding of life.

This is true about Muslims. One of the key “outsider looking in” characteristics of Islam is that the religion and it’s adherents oppress women. My purpose here isn’t to challenge that idea. The evidence is ample. But it might help to remember that that’s not the whole story.

In a fun article, Azad Essa talks about a couple of key books shedding light on this.

“In her book, Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory, Fatima Mernissi tries to account for the contradiction between a history of scholarship that did include women and the ‘lowly image attributed to Muslim women in their own society today.’

“Mernissi says the memory of women ‘as active, full participants in the making of culture’ exists. [But] she argues that these histories have been mediated by conservative (men) who have played the role of gatekeepers to the existing annals of knowledge.”

Bringing some of that memory to life, Hossein Kamaly’s new book, “A History of Islam in 21 Women,” profiles women who worshipped, studied, taught and ruled throughout Islam’s history. It’s only slightly exaggerating to say these women didn’t take nothing from nobody!

For example, Safiye Sultan (1550–1619) started her career as a concubine during the Ottoman Empire. She went on to give birth to a future sultan and guide matters of state from both behind the scenes and before. Rich and powerful, by some accounts pure and merciful, Safiy was not without deep faults. But she was a force to be reckoned with in Ottoman Constantinople.

While not withholding concern and prayer, let’s also give respect where it’s due. Throughout history, Muslim women have done much with little. Most still do.

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