There was no question in my family that my sister and I would be given the same opportunities in my life as my brothers. Nor was there in Islam. We learned at an early age that it was men’s interpretation of our religion that restricted women’s opportunities, not our religion itself. Islam infact had been quite progressive towards women from its inception: the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)* had forbidden the killing of female infants common among the Arabs of the time, and called for education for women and their right to inherit long before these privileges were granted to them in the West.
Bipi Khadijah, the first to convert to Islam, was a widow who ran her own business, employed the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)* when he was a young boy and later married him. Umm e-Umara fought alongside the men in the Muslims’early battles against their enemies, her powerful sword-arm saving the life of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)). Chand Bibi, the female ruler of the South Indian state of Ahmadnagar, defeated the Mogul Emperor Akbar and forced him to enter into a peace treaty with her. Noor-Jehan, the wife of Emperor Jehangir and the virtual ruler of India, was famous for her skill in the field of administration. Muslim history was full of women who had taken a public role and performed every bit as successfully as men. Nothing in Islam discouraged them, or me, from pursuing that course.
*Peace Be Uoon Him