Muslim Women: Past and Present

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Throughout the ages, from the earliest days of Islam to contemporary times today, Muslim women have been and continue to be active leaders in their communities and countries across the world. This directory is a growing archive of leading Muslim women scholars, activists, writers, politicians, artists, religious and spiritual leaders, civil society leaders and more. Please contribute to this archive by suggesting Muslim women to be featured through our recommendation form.

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Jamila al-Medina

Known For: Singer, Musician
Dates: Hijri unknown – d. 98 AH
Common Era unknown – 720 (CE)

Country: Saudi Arabia

About

Jamila al-Medina was a well-known singer from the early Umayyad period. As a naturally talented young girl, Jamila was self-trained in the art of singing. She would memorize and sing songs from Sa’ib Khathir, a famous male singer.  Over time, the people of Medina began to praise Jamila for her voice and her self-composed songs. The community appreciation and desire to learn music from her led Jamila to gain freedom from her master.

After becoming a freewoman of the Banu Sulaym, Jamila married a wealthy man and began to hold concerts and teach the nobles in her house. Jamila was also hired by the slave masters to train their girls. Soon after, Jamila formed an orchestra of fifty girls, who were taught to play the lute and to sing.

Beside lessons and performances, Jamila is also known for organizing a “musical hajj.” She invited all of the musicians of Medina, including poets and her orchestra of fifty girls. Jamila’s entourage set out to Mecca, where they were greeted with songs and poems by the Meccan musicians.

Jamila continued to teach and sing for the rest of her life.  A student of hers proclaimed, “In the art of music, Jamila is the tree and we are the branches.”

Sources

Jennifer Heath, The Scimitar and the Veil: Extraordinary Women of Islam, (Mahnah: HiddenSpring, 2004).

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