Advancing Civil and Political Participation

Can Muslim women be political leaders?

The Qur’an exemplifies women’s leadership by praising the intelligence, political strategy, and acumen of the Queen of Sheba. The Queen prioritized the welfare of her people with her leadership, which was founded upon transparency with her public and consultations with them. In contrast to this, the Qur’an portrays the Pharaoh as an illustration of egocentric male leadership. These two figures indicate that merit, not gender, determines one’s ability to be a good leader. Furthermore, early Muslim women assumed state leadership in Yemen where Sayyida Hurra ‘Arwa Bint Ahmad al-Sulayhiyya reigned for over 70 years, and in Delhi where Razia Sultana was chosen over her four brothers to rule over the Sultanate.

Quranic Support

“Behold! The country is ruled by a Queen (of Sheba) who has been given everything and she has a tremendous throne” (27:23)

“Oh you nobels, give me your opinion on the problems. I would never make a wake decision unless you are present with me” ( 27:32 [Queen of Sheba])

The Prophet’s Sayings

“Take half of your religion from this red haired one (Ai’sha).”

Cultural biases in Muslim majority countries have enforced unjust patriarchal interpretations of Islamic texts that favor women’s subordination to male authority, resulting in significant gender inequalities and the exclusion of Muslim women from political and civic life. Jurists and scholars opposed to women’s political leadership cite the hadith related by only Abū Bakra Nufay’b al-Harith: “Never shall a folk prosper who delegate their affairs to a woman”. Many scholars do not consider Abu Bakra as a credible narrator of hadith and believe that the political turmoil during his time may have influenced this hadith.

In the last forty years, nine Muslim women have become heads of Muslim-majority nations in Bangladesh (1991), Turkey (1993), Iran (1997), Pakistan (1988), Indonesia (2001), Mali (2001), Senegal (2001), Kosovo (2011), and Mauritius (2015). In the 20th century, Muslim women activists have participated in nationalist movements against colonial powers in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, and Hindustan (now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). In 2011, during the Arab Spring, the string of democratic uprisings that swept across the Middle East and North Africa, women across social and cultural spectrums united together to advance the tenets of justice and human rights.

WISE Position

At WISE, we work toward reinterpreting Islamic sources through an egalitarian lens, to expand the participation of Muslim women in political and civic roles. We assert that the qualifications to lead depend primarily on an individual’s competency in religious knowledge and acceptance by the community, rather than gender. WISE advocates that every Muslim woman should engage in the level of religious and political education and leadership that she is compelled to pursue.

WISE Women Active on the Issue

Fuziah Salleh, Kashmala Tariq, Mahfuza Folad, Masouda Jalal, Shahina Akbar, Tawwakkol Karman,

Related Articles

Fatima, Nishi. “10 Totally Badass Female Muslim Politicians You Should Know.” Huffington Post. 24 June 2015. Web. “Women and Politics in Islam.” 2013. Web.