It’s Time to Stop Stereotyping Muslim Women

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Just the other day I was a part of a live discussion in a Muslim Spaces on Twitter. The topic of discussion was “Stereotyping of Muslim women by comedians: Islamophobia or Prejudice”? Many credible and competent speakers discussed and gave their opinions on the ongoing issue of stereotyping Muslim women. A good deal of reliable points were put forward and discussed.

I too wanted to share my viewpoint but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to talk. Therefore I decided to mention all the points here in this article.

Muslim women are often perceived as illiterate, oppressed and self-segregated (which is rubbish & you will come to know why, in a while). The topic of stereotyping gained its hype when a popular comedian was criticised as Islamophobic after playing the role of a Muslim woman.

I want the readers reading this to understand that all comedians perform a certain role for fame and money. Have you ever wondered how do they earn that? It’s through us, the audience.

Don’t think that I’m speaking in favour of any comedian. Of course, what they do is beyond wrong. But I want you to understand that criticizing them will not create change but will lead to conflicts and controversies in future.

Views of Begum Sultan Jahan of Bhopal on Women Heading the Government

I personally feel that we as Muslims of India should make a smart move and divert our attention on those audience(s) who are almost nil about the strong Indian Muslim women who were the building block of India.

Common Muslim women in India know two languages Urdu and Arabic. Arabic being one of the six languages recognised by the United Nations is spoken in numerous countries. Urdu is a National language of Pakistan.

So the people telling us illiterate are actually uneducated themselves. They are much in need of literacy. Do they really know who Sania Mirza really is?! Let me tell you that Sania Mirza, a former world No. 1 in women’s tennis doubles, is an Indian Muslim.

Begum Hijab Imtiaz Ali: The First Indian Muslim Pilot

Muslim women in India were and are in every sector you think of, Politics, music, film, medicine, sports, education etc. They have been a public figure since time immemorial. The Indian cinema has witnessed many incredible Muslim females in the industry. Fatma Begum was the first female to launch her own production house, Fatma Films in India. She directed Bulbul-e-Paristan in 1936. She too was the first female director of Indian cinema.

Muslim women and Indian cinema

In 1931, Zubeida Begum acted in the first Indian talkie, Alam Ara. The first female music composer of Indian cinema was Ishrat Sultana who composed the music for Adal-e-jahangir in 1934. Gauhar Jaan was one of the first performers to record music on 78 rpm records in India. Qudsia Zaidi started the first professional theatre in post-Independence India, Hindustan Theatre.

Begum of Bhopal at the women’s conference, Delhi.
Begum of Bhopal at the women’s conference, Delhi.

Muslim women and Sports

The Indian Muslim females, from the very beginning, have shown the true spirit of sportsmanship. Sania Mirza, a professional tennis player, has been a pride for the Indian nation.

Saima Syed of Rajasthan became the country’s first professional horse rider. In 1951 Sayeeda Sultana won the world table tennis championship at the age of 14.

Razia Sheikh is an Indian former track and field athlete, who competed in javelin throw. She was the first Indian woman to cross the barrier of 50 metres, which she did at the 1987 South Asian Games.

Sayeed Sultana: Wonder Girl From Hyderabad Who Stunned the World of Table Tennis

Muslim women have also represented India in Cricket Fowzieh Khalili, Nuzhat Parween, Gouher Sultana, Nooshin Al Khadeer, and Rasanara Parwin. Razia Shabnam, one of the first women boxing coaches in India, sought freedom from the stereotype that boxing did not belong to women, least of all to those from the Muslim community.

Fatima Bano is a female wrestling coach from Bhopal. Hamida Bano is the first Indian female wrestler. Qudsiya Aizaz has served as the president of the Indian Women’s Hockey Federation for almost two decades. She was also the president of the Asian Women’s Hockey.

Ghulam Fatima, an Indian female chess master who won the British Women’s Chess Championship at Hastings in 1933. Nikhat Zareen is an Indian amateur woman boxer. This is not it. There are plenty of others in various fields as well.

Muhammadi Begum: The First Woman Editor of a Magazine in India

Muslim Women and Politics

The Indian Muslim females have actively participated in numerous political roles for the upliftment and betterment of society. Naima Khatoon Haider was the chairman of the Bihar Legislative Council from 12 – 15 May 1952. She was the first female to hold this position.

For over a century (1819 – 1926), four brave women ruled over the princely state of Bhopal – Kudsia Begum, Sikander Begum, Shah Jahan Begum and Sulatan Jahan Begum. These four Begums had 107 years of golden reign. Lady Anis Imam was MLA of Patna in 1937. Shareefa Hamid Ali was the president of the All India Women’s Conference in 1935. She was the founding members of the United Nations Commission on the status of women in 1947.

Rokeya Sakhawat Hosain
Rokeya Sakhawat Hosain

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was a Bengali who is widely regarded as a pioneer of women’s liberation in South Asia. Sayeda Anwara Taimur was the first female chief minister of Assam. Begum Hazrat Mahal was a prominent figure during the 1857 rebellion. One of the most iconic face of Indian womanhood in post-independence India was Hamida Habibullah. She was a tourism minister from 1971-74.

Begum Habiullah
Begum Habiullah

It should not be shocking that when it comes to academics and writing, Muslim females were no less. Tyeba Khedive Jung was the first Muslim Woman in India to have received a university degree in 1894. She was from a Nawab’s family in Hyderabad.

In 1848, the first school for girls was set up by the joint efforts of Fatima Sheikh and Savitri Bai Phule. The school was opened in Fatima’s home.

The first female Urdu novelist was Rashid un Nisa while Syeda Muhammadi Begum was the first woman in the Indian sub-continent to be an editor of a weekly magazine, “Tehzeeb-e- Niswaan”. The first edition of this magazine was published on July 1, 1889.

Abadi Bano Begum: The Forgotten Mother India

Indian Muslimah have also made their way to space research. A young Muslim woman, Kushboo Mirza from Amroh, Uttar Prades, works as an electronic engineer at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

From 1920 until her death, Sultan Jahan remained the founding Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. She is the only woman to have served as Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. The current Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia are Women, Najma Heptulla and Najma Akhtar respectively.

Begum Aziza Rasul
Begum Aziza Rasul

Begum Hijab Imtiyaz Ali was the first Muslim female to become a pilot in 1936, in British India. Mumtaz M. Kazi is an Indian train engineer who is also regarded as the first Indian woman to drive a diesel-engine train. In fact, she is also Asia’s first woman locomotive driver.

Indian Muslim Women in various role

Saeeda Bano was an Indian news broadcaster who joined All India Radio in 1947 and became the first professional female news broadcaster in India, reading the news in Urdu.

Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz was one of the two women representatives and one of the three women representatives at the first and second round table conferences respectively. In 1935 when the committee was set up for the formation of the Government of India Act, Jahanara was the one and only female member in it. It was solely due to her efforts that the Indian women got their voting rights.

The Muslim female former judge of the Supreme Court of India was M. Fathima Beevi. She was appointed to the apex court in 1989. She became the first female judge to be a part of the Supreme Court of India and the first Muslim woman to be appointed to any of the higher judiciaries in the country.

Noor Inayat Khan, a spy during the Second World War was a descendant of ruler Tipu Sultan. She became the 1st Indian-origin woman to be honoured with the Blue Plaque in the UK.

Amjadi Bano Begum, Wife of Mohammed Ali Jauhar
Amjadi Bano Begum, Wife of Mohammed Ali Jauhar

Muslim women and the Indian freedom movement

Indian female Muslims have significant contributions in the Indian freedom movement. They were playing their part in the later nineteenth century but their voice became louder during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Amjadi Begum and her family aided Gandhi for travelling all around India. She raised funds to finance him and gave speeches and made Gandhi popular especially among the women.

On April 21, 1932, Begum Mahboob Fatima was jailed by the British in Delhi while commemorating the Jallianwala Bagh day. Four females – Lady Hassan Imam, Miss Sami of Patna, Begum Shah Zubair of Munger and Begum Zubeida Daudi played a major role to encourage the Muslim women to participate in the Non Cooperation movement.

To support Gandhi, Lady Wazir Hassan, from Bhopal gave away all her French chiffon sarI’s and started wearing khadi and weaving charkha, during the civil disobedience movement. Sakinatul Fatima, another female, during the civil disobeidience movement brought a charkha for daily use and wore only Khadi’s.

Lady Wazir Sakina-t-ul Fatima Hasan
Lady Wazir Sakina-t-ul Fatima Hasan

These are just few examples. The list goes on and never ends. By now it might be clear to you all as to why the people prejudicing us are making a fool of themselves. No comedian can change our well-built and powerful past and can never stop us from being what we truly are!

A short message for you all – do not make a mistake by judging us with our outfits. Know that Delhi’s Roshni Misbah, a ‘Hijabi biker’ has broken the stereotype. On the other hand, a Patna-based kabaddi player, Shama Perveen plays the game in shorts.

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Dr. Zareen Fatima

Dr Zareen is an ambitious general dentist working and residing in UAE. She is able to handle multiple tasks on a daily basis. Alongside her busy work schedule, she is a vivid reader, researcher, writer editor and is currently pursuing Masters in Public Health. In her leisure she brings out the forgotten history in the field of medicine and associated disciplines.