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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Mohja Kahf

photo of Mohja Kahf

Known For: Poet ; Associate Professor of Middle Eastern literature and Islamic Studies
Country: United States

About

Mohja Kahf, born in Damascus in 1967, is a Syrian-American poet and novelist.  Her own conception of Islamic feminism influences the themes of her poetry and writing as do other issues facing American Muslims.  She explores both important historical female figures in Islam as well as contemporary Muslim women.  Historical figures prominent in Mohja’s poetry include Hagar, the wife of the prophet Abraham, Khadija and Aisha, wives of the prophet Muhammad, and Fatima, daughter of the prophet Muhammad.  According to The New York Times, her writing on contemporary subjects “draws sharp, funny, earthy portraits of the fault line separating Muslim women from their Western counterparts.”1

Mohja’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is a departure from her poems in form, but not in content.  The novel’s protagonist Khadra Shamy is a Syrian girl growing up in the American Midwest in the 1970s.  The story looks at the “cultural clashes of Muslim life in America, including racism between Muslims and bigotry by non-Muslim Americans” through the lens of Khadra’s life.2 Mohja borrows from herown life experiences growing up in Indiana to color the story.3

Of the intersection of Islam and art, Mohja says: “One of the primary messages of the Qur’an is that people should recognize the beautiful and do what is beautiful. This is not simply a moral beauty but a visual and auditory beauty as well. Conduct should be beautiful, writing should be beautiful and speaking should be beautiful.”4 The beauty in Mohja’s writing ranges from the classically reverent in her poems about historical figures to a beautiful humor that simultaneously enlightens.  Egyptian-American professor Dina Ibrahim commented on Mohja’s work after attending one of her readings. “It is just so refreshing for someone to put a lighter spin on being a Muslim in America,” she said. “Are we only going to talk about the war, are we only going to talk about how our faith is so misunderstood? It gets really old.”5

 

[1] “She Carries Weapons; They Are Called Words,” The New York Times.
[2] “‘Tangerine Scarf’: A Story of Muslims in America,” NPR.
[3] “Mohja Kahf to Speak,” IU South Bend News.
[4] “Writing & Language,” ASMA Society.
[5] “She Carries Weapons; They Are Called Words,” The New York Times.

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This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women chronologically by the Common Era century. We are actively building the archive of Muslim women leaders from the past, as well as from today, and we would welcome your recommendations of women to feature. Please complete our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.
This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women by their Country. We are actively building the archive of Muslim women leaders from the past, as well as from today, and we would welcome your recommendations of women to feature. Please complete our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.
This search feature will enable you to find Muslim women leaders by entering the keyword(s) of your choice. If you cannot find a particular woman that you are looking for, please let us know by completing our “Recommend Muslim Women” form and check the site again in the near future as we actively expand this section of the portal with your suggestions.