By Nargis Rahman and Layla Abdullah-Poulos
We’re wrapping up 2023 with heart wrenching stories of hope and perseverance against the ongoing backdrop of the Israel-Gaza war. Haute Hijab is highlighting 10 notable Muslim women who are bringing awareness to the atrocities around the world, breaking barriers in sports, creating communities of care for women of color and so much more, all while holding onto great courage.
We are bringing you Muslim journalists, activists, judges and scientists from 2023 who are making a difference in the world – even risking their safety to bring people news from the ground. These women display what it means to have grace and dignity while practicing their faith, showing us that Muslim women are at the center of documenting history as it unfolds.
In compiling this list we agonized over who to ultimately include, because as is the inherent problem with lists like these, there are so many Muslim women who accomplished a variety of things and affected change in 2023. But we did our best! We also know that there's a chance that not everyone on this list is Muslim, such as some of the women journalists in Gaza. (Because we weren't able to confirm.) Nevertheless, their work is extraordinary in sharing the stories of Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Gazans alike.
So, who did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.
1. Muslim women journalists from Gaza.
From L to R clockwise: Plestia Alaqad, Bisan Owda and Hind Khoudary.
Since Oct. 7th, more than 19,000 people have died in Gaza
from the ongoing genocide according to the health ministry in Gaza. Palestinian Journalists Plestia Alaqad
, 22, Hind Khoudary
, 28, and Palestinian content creator Bisan Owda
, 25, have put their lives on the line to document what’s happening on the ground in Gaza. Through social media, they (along with other journalists) have updated the world on the deaths, realities and chaos, providing a crucial view into the chaos and violence Gazans have been subjected to on the ground.
Earlier in the conflict, Plestia showed videos from her home while there was shelling nearby, documented people moving about Palestine for shelter ahead of forced evacuations, and reported from inside of hospitals in dire conditions. She was one of five people highlighted by Vogue Arabia
for their “vital role” in documenting what’s unfolding in Gaza. Plestia previously oversaw the English Media Club, part of Press House Palestine
, an independent, non-profit media institution that helps teach people English to cover media topics.
Bisan Owda, a documentary filmmaker, is known for updating the world with near-daily videos in which she begins with, “This is Bisan. I’m still alive.” She shares with her three million followers (across various social media platforms) the gruesome first-hand experience
of trying to report on the ground, while simultaneously seeking shelter, living in refugee camps, and nearly missing being hit by Israeli bombs.
Hind Khoudary works as a freelance reporter for Turkey’s Andalou news. She shares pictures of the ongoing conflict and destroyed markets, hospitals and neighborhoods. She told TIME magazine that it’s exhausting to keep up, and that “to report and live the same exact thing is very overwhelming.”
2. Professor Jackie Yi-Ru Ying – winner of the King Faisal Prize for Medical and Science Laureates.
Professor Jackie Yi-Ru Ying
Professor Jackie Yi-Ru Ying was distinguished as a recipient of the prestigious King Faisal Prize for Medical Sciences
, an accolade that honors exceptional contributions in science and medicine. A trailblazer in her domain, Professor Ying's groundbreaking research and innovations have significantly advanced the frontiers of biomedical science. Her work, which encompasses the development of novel nanotechnology platforms for drug delivery and diagnostics, has been pivotal in offering new therapeutic strategies for various diseases.
This recognition underscores Professor Ying's profound impact on the scientific community and highlights her role as an inspiration for aspiring scientists globally. Her achievements are a testament to her dedication to enhancing healthcare through scientific innovation, and her selection for this esteemed prize reflects the global significance of her contributions.
Professor Ying's career, marked by a relentless pursuit of knowledge and application of cutting-edge science for the betterment of human health, makes her a deserving laureate of the King Faisal Prize, further cementing her status as a leading figure in medical science and research. (Layla Abdullah-Poulos)
3. Rashida Tlaib – censored during Gaza conflict.
Image source: Twitter
Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a prominent figure in American politics, has become widely recognized for her unwavering dedication to the Palestinian cause. As the first woman of Palestinian descent elected to the U.S. Congress, Tlaib's personal and professional journey is intrinsically linked to her advocacy for Palestinian rights. Her efforts extend beyond mere political rhetoric; she actively supports policies and resolutions that aim to address the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tlaib's commitment is rooted in her own heritage, lending a deeply personal dimension to her political endeavors. Despite facing significant opposition and criticism, including censure from fellow members of Congress
, she remains steadfast in her mission. This resilience reflects her broader commitment to human rights and social justice, hallmarks of her career in public service.
Tlaib's stance on the Palestinian issue has not been without controversy, particularly within the halls of Congress. Her outspoken support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and criticism of Israeli policies have sparked debates on the balance between advocating for Palestinian rights and maintaining strong U.S.-Israel relations. These positions led to several censure attempts (one being successful) by some of her congressional colleagues, highlighting the contentious nature of Middle East policy in American politics.
Yet, Tlaib's resolve in the face of such challenges underscores her dedication to what she perceives as a fight for justice and equality. Combining personal experience with political activism, her approach continues to shape the discourse around the Palestinian cause in the U.S., showcasing the power of representation and the impact of personal conviction in the political arena. (LA)
4. Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur and basketballer Fitriya Mohamed
Fitriya Mohamed and Ons Jabeur
Muslim women in American sports are increasingly becoming prominent figures, breaking barriers and challenging long-standing stereotypes in a realm traditionally dominated by men. Their rising presence is a testament to their exceptional skills and symbolizes a broader shift towards inclusivity and diversity in sports. This change is being led by remarkable athletes like Ons Jabeur
in tennis and Fitriya Mohamed in basketball, who are excelling in their respective sports and changing the narrative around what it means to be a Muslim woman athlete.
Ons, a Tunisian tennis star, made headlines in 2023 for her groundbreaking achievements, including being the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final
. Her success on the international stage has inspired many, exemplifying how talent and determination can transcend cultural and religious boundaries.
Both Ons and Fitriya, who founded the Toronto Muslim Women Summer Basketball League
, have garnered significant attention, not only for their athletic prowess but also for their roles as cultural icons.
Ons, in particular, has been vocal about the perception of female athletes, famously stating
, "I'm not a model. I'm an athlete, and people should focus more on my athleticism rather than my clothes." This statement resonates profoundly in the context of Muslim women in sports, where athletes often face additional scrutiny over their appearance and attire.
Fitriya's emergence in professional basketball has been equally impactful. Her presence on the court challenges the conventional image of a basketball player, offering a new perspective on what Muslim women can achieve in sports.
Together, Ons and Fitriya are not just excelling in their fields; they are pioneers shaping a more inclusive future in sports, encouraging young Muslim women to pursue their athletic dreams while embracing their identity. Their journeys on the footsteps of Muslim women athletic pioneers like Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir
, symbolize a significant shift in how Muslim women athletes are viewed and celebrated in the American sports landscape. (LA)
5. Noura Erakat – Professor of Human Rights and Palestinian Academic
When it comes to the Palestinian narrative, many Palestinian academics have come to the forefront to bring perspective and context to the war and to inform the American public about the long history of the Palestinian struggle. Professor of Human Rights Noura Erakat
is a legal scholar
at Rutgers University, a social justice activist, and a human rights attorney who’s been speaking truth to power.
She’s also the author of the book, “Justice for Some
,” highlighting the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict and the Palestinian struggle for freedom since the early 1900s. Noura is a board of trustee for the Center for Constitutional Rights. She’s also the co-founding editor of the Jadaliyya, the editorial board of the Journal of Palestine Studies and Human Geography. She’s also produced documentaries about Gaza and done numerous interviews about the ongoing conflict
and its implications on U.S. soil. (NR)
6. NPR and ABC correspondents Leila Fadel and Asma Khalid – asking the hard questions.
L-R: Asma Khalid and Leida Fadel; image source: NPR.
When it comes to putting news in perspective and covering national politics, Leila Fadel, Morning Edition anchor and host of news podcast Up First, and Asma Khalid, White House correspondent and co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast as well as a contributor for ABC News have you covered. Leila is a Lebanese-American reporter who has covered race reporting and American Muslim stories and reported in the Middle East as an international correspondent.
Now she’s reporting on the Israel-Hamas war with stories such as the increase of people being detained
, the psychological impacts of dehumanizing Palestinians, and the impacts of women not having access to reproductive healthcare in Gaza.
7. Digital Content-Creator Zainab Jiwa – winner of the U.K. Women in Media award.
Zainab Jiwa; image source: BAFTA awards
8. Rahma and Muna – co-founders of the first ever conference addressing Black Muslim women's hair care needs.
L to R: Rahma and Muna
) and Muna (@coveredncurly
) have become notable figures in the U.K. for their innovative approach to addressing Black Muslim women's unique hair care needs through their "Curls, Coils and Sisters
" one-day conference, which took place last May
. The event was a pioneering platform dedicated to celebrating and educating about the distinctive hair types common among Black Muslim women.
Recognizing the often-overlooked intersection of cultural and religious identity in hair care, the conference aimed to empower attendees with knowledge, techniques, and products tailored to their needs
. Rahma and Muna's commitment to this cause goes beyond mere discussions about hair. They are forging a community where Black Muslim women can openly embrace and care for their natural hair, challenging mainstream beauty standards that often marginalize their unique hair types.
Through the conference, they provided practical hair care solutions and discussed topics like managing the rules of ghusl with textured hair. They fostered a sense of pride and solidarity among Black Muslim women, highlighting the importance of inclusive representation in the beauty industry. Their work exemplifies a broader movement towards embracing diversity and inclusivity in personal care and beauty in Muslim culture. (LA)
9. Nusrat Choudhury – first Muslim woman and Bangladeshi American to serve as a federal judge.
Judge Nusrat Choudhury
Bangladeshi American Nusrat Choudhury became the first Muslim Bangladeshi American to become a federal judge
when she was named federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Court of New York in July of 2023. Nusrat was nominated to her seat by the Biden administration in 2022, a nomination supported by social liberty and Muslim groups.
Prior to her new role, she served as the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Illinois, where she worked on issues such as criminal justice, government surveillance of Muslims, and policing. Nusrat will now serve in one of the largest Muslim and Bangladeshi communities
in the U.S. (NR)
10. Sudanese Muslim women leading humanitarian response in Sudan crisis.
Illustration source: UN Women/Michael Lusaba
It's purpose extends beyond providing immediate aid and relief; it is a concerted effort towards cultivating long-term peace and stability within Sudan. The initiative reflects a deep understanding of the local context and the specific needs of the affected communities, ensuring that the humanitarian response is effective and inclusive.
The involvement of Sudanese Muslim women in conceiving and leading the Peace for Sudan initiative, like those whose stories are shared here
holds profound significance. They represent a powerful challenge to traditional gender roles in a region where women's participation in public and political spheres is often limited. By stepping into leadership roles, these women are changing perceptions and ensuring that humanitarian efforts are attuned to the nuanced needs of all community members, especially women and children, who are often the most vulnerable in conflict situations.
Their role in the Peace for Sudan initiative underscores the importance of including women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes. This approach demonstrates that effective and sustainable solutions to crises are more likely when diverse voices, particularly those of women directly impacted by these crises, are included in the decision-making process. (LA)
Who did we miss? There were so many notable Muslim to highlight. Share with us in the comments below!