5 Muslim Women Who Defy Submissive Stereotypes

The aftermath of Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal has revealed that backwards attitudes about Muslim women are prevalent in the United States. In the midst of wondering why a successful and glamourous woman like Huma Abedin would stay with Weiner, many in the media have settled on one theory: Abedin, as a Muslim woman, is submissive and willing to put up with anything her husband throws her way.

Such nonsense can usually be expected from the more extreme wings of the media, which are currently making a fuss about religion scholar Reza Aslan, who dared to write about Jesus (apparently non-Christian scholars with four PhDs can’t write a well-researched book about Jesus, but Fox News is free to wildly speculate about Islam based on zero credible information). As an example, Rush Limbaugh recently said, "Huma is a Muslim. In that regard, Weiner ought to be able to get away with anything. Muslim women don’t have any power, right? Muslim women are beheaded, stoned, whatever, if they drive, have affairs."

Recently, though, ideas about Abedin's "submissiveness" have been lent credibility by respected journalists such as Maureen Dowd, who wrote, "Huma was raised in Saudi Arabia, where women are treated worse by men than anywhere else on the planet. Comparatively speaking, the pol from Queens probably seems like a prince. Even though he’s a punk." 

Both Limbaugh and Dowd's comments reek of misogyny and Orientalism – look at those poor brown women (I know that not all Muslims are “brown,” but for the bigots, they invariably are), poor and defenseless, programmed to just obey their father and then their husband.

Those poor brown women, however, can and do speak for themselves. They have agency, and in many cases, they have immense power. Below is a list of just five Muslim woman heads of state — there are, of course, more — who have shaken things up in the world.

1. Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh

Prime minister since 2009, Sheikh Hasina has long been part of the Bangladeshi political scene.  

2. Khaleda Zia, former prime minister of Bangladesh

Bangladesh's first female Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, who served from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006, competed against Hasina in 2008. How cool is that, two women running against each other for head of state?

3. Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan

The most famous female Muslim head of state, Benazir Bhutto was also the first female head of state in a Muslim country. She has become the face of democracy in Pakistan, after dying tragically in a bombing during the 2007 elections. 

4. Megawati Sukarnoputri, former president of Indonesia

The first female President of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri was also the country's first head of state born after the colonial era. 

5. Atifete Jahjaga, president of Kosovo

Atifete Jahjaga broke multiple records upon her election. she is Kosovo's first female, first non-partisan, and youngest candidate to be elected into office. She has continued her master's degree studies in international relations during her presidency.

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Sarah Mahmood

Sarah is a senior at Wellesley College studying political science and economics, with a focus on women in politics. In her free time, she enjoys watching 30 Rock episodes and feasting on Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. She hails from New York, but currently lives in Massachusetts.

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