Monday 9 July 2018

Muslim Women Role Models

I might have mentioned (about half a dozen times) that I have really been enjoying my new job.  I have been working across a wide variety of disciplines: strategy, policy, business planning, community engagement and cohesion, equality and diversity, project management, data analysis and research.  It has been a good six months of learning new things and being upskilled, with a little blagging going on (fake it till you make it right? 😊).

Last week I started working with a new manager who wanted to know what I was working on and how he could support me.  He asked me where I saw myself in five years.  His questions stumped me.  I didn’t really want to say doing his job, but to be honest, doing this job felt like it had opened lots of doors for me and I couldn’t decide which one to go through and which road to follow.

I explained that although my family and husband especially supported me, I had no support from my peers or community.  As a very religious community of Muslims, I didn’t really know another religious Muslim woman in my personal circle that worked or put any emphasis on a career, I did know quite a few who frowned on my working and had tried to discourage me (with the best of intentions I assume).  I also explained that I didn’t really know anyone who had pursued a career in my area of work and done well, I didn’t really have role models or examples of religious Muslim women who balanced home, family and work, without compromising their faith.  I think my answer surprised him.  He encouraged me to look into options for further study (I mentioned I have been thinking about doing a Masters for some time) and to let him know what I was interested in and he would find me work and literature that would be of interest.

I left the meeting no clearer on what I wanted.  But it did make me think about who around me inspired, challenged or encouraged me.  Alhamdulillah my greatest role models are the Mothers of the Believers, the blessed wives of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and their beautiful characters and actions.  These are followed by the women amongst the Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and the amazing lives they led.

In modern times I admire people like Sarah Joseph, Salma Yaqub, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Dalia and Yasmin Mogahed, Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, Yvonne Ridley, Ingrid Mattson, Linda Sarsour…and to be honest I struggled to think of any more.

I intend to be open minded, to keep working on different things and see what resonates the most, maybe that’s what I’ll do my Masters in, who knows.  If I get half  a moment, I might sign up for a mentoring programme or who knows, even offer to be a mentor.

I am curious, for sisters who were the first in their family, community or chosen field to study, work, start a business or serve their community in some way: who were your role models?  Were there none?  Did you feel like a trail blazer? Did you open the door for others? Did you feel isolated or held back in some way?


  1. hello sister assalamualaikum. thanks for your sharing. In Indonesia we have dozen women role model like: Diajeng Lestari, Tri Rismaharini, Dian Pelangi, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, Jenahara, Zahra Zubaidah, Dwikorita Karnawati, Angella Fransisca, Laudya Chintya Bella, Meyda Safira, Oki Setiana Dewi, Ria Miranda , Sally Giovanny, etc. They are entrepreneurs, teacher, fashion designer, actress, or politician. THey are not perfect, of course. But many Indonesian muslimah proud to have them as their role model. Example, I know numerous muslimah who want to build startup after they meet DIajeng Lestari..hope you got inspired too, sister..

  2. Anonymous10 July, 2018

    Haleh Banani,she is a Muslim and Psychologist.

    1. I was trying to remember her name for ages when I wrote this post and just could not! She is certainly someone I admire alhamdulillah. Jazakh'Allah-khairun

  3. Anonymous11 July, 2018

    I wish you well in all your endeavours. Is it possible that your religious community needs to modernise itself to allow women to fulfil all their potential in this world?

  4. I love reading your blog. I have been working in the IT industry for over 16 years now. All the role models you have mentioned are great ones and would love to know more about them. However, I have this feeling that I cannot really follow or look upto someone unless I know they have faced the same challenges as I have, especially those coming due to culture. When I started working, I was the first person to have gone through an Engineering degree and pursuing a job in our community. There were different messages coming from different people. People with daughters were watching to see if they can really take the next step of having their daughters go out and study as I did. People who already married their daughters off without education thought it was far fetched for a woman to study and then work. Alhamdulillah, Allah (SWT) helped me create the trust in people which led to more and more girls pursuing studies and a career in our community. It also pains me to see that some of this has become an expectation from spouses, in-laws. And the girls struggle to manage home and work, with little or no support from spouse. Insha'Allah things will change.
    Your idea of mentorship is excellent. I think we should all use mentoring as a tool for us to clear our thoughts and progress forward. And also, we can mentor those who are just starting. Having local groups of working muslim women will be helpful as well. Apologies for making it too long :)

  5. Anonymous19 July, 2018

    Slm, I have been a long term reader of your blog many years, and I have always admired how you juggle everything. Have you come across Muslim Women Connect? They match up mentors to mentees in London, and you could be both if they have capacity. Your manager sounds very supportive, which is great and do take on his advice and support, and use it to advance forward. Just so you don't feel alone, I am also from a similar background to you both in terms of culture and also faith adherence (studied on the alimiyyah programme etc). I have a doctorate and work full time in the public sector. If you enjoy research, do go forward with the masters. The only thing with academia is that the vast majority of research jobs are short-term contracts, which can be challenging, but there are plenty of research based jobs outside of academia too. I don't have as many children as you mashallah, but as your children get older I'm sure you will have more time to enhance your career even further. You are an inspiration mashallah, and I'm sure other women will benefit from your mentorship.