How Leaders Can Better Support Muslim Women at Work

Summary.   Religion is often an uncomfortable topic to broach, but faith is an integral part of identity — avoiding or denying it prevents people from bringing their authentic selves to work. Many Muslims struggle to belong, often hiding facets of their identity related to their appearance, affiliation, association, and advocacy. Muslim women are more likely to be economically disadvantaged than other social groups in the UK, are three times as likely to be unemployed and looking for a job as non-Muslim women, and often experience twice the career impediments. It’s time for companies to include faith in their DEI efforts. The author presents five strategies for leaders to support Muslim women at work.

Although diversity, equity, and inclusion has become a priority for companies over the last several years, faith affiliation is often left out of the wider conversation. Muslims, in particular, face a plethora of challenges at work given their unique faith-related needs that make it difficult to adapt to the values and orientation of the dominant work culture.

Religion is often an uncomfortable topic to broach, but faith is an integral part of identity — avoiding or denying it prevents people from bringing their authentic selves to work. Many Muslims struggle to belong, often hiding facets of their identity related to their appearance, affiliation, association, and advocacy. Muslim women are more likely to be economically disadvantaged than other social groups in the UK, are three times as likely to be unemployed and looking for a job as non-Muslim women in the west, and often experience greater career impediments.

In my career, I often encounter people who find it surprising to see me own my space and often refer to my faith when talking about my achievements, as if my merits are an exception to my religious identity. It’s time for companies to include faith in their DEI efforts. Here are five strategies for leaders to support Muslim women at work.

Avoid faith stereotyping.

The media plays a massive role in shaping societal expectations and promoting images of Muslim women that perpetuate unrealistic, stereotypical, and limiting perceptions. These naïve and clichéd narratives are frustrating for professional Muslim women who continuously feel the need to defend their faith.


There is no one Islamic interpretation on ethics of abortion, but the belief in God’s mercy and compassion is a crucial part of any consideration

As a scholar of Islamic ethics, I’m often asked, “What does Islam say about abortion?” – a question that has become even more salient since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed 50 years of constitutional protection for the right to get an abortion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling on June 24, 2022.

This question really needs to be reframed, because it implies a singular view. Islam isn’t monolithic, and there is no single Islamic attitude about abortion. The answer to the question depends on what kinds of Islamic sources, scriptural, legal or ethical, are applied to this contemporary issue by people of varying levels of authority, expertise or religious observance.

Muslims have had a long-standing, rich relationship with science, and specifically, the practice of medicine. This has yielded multiple interpretations of right and wrong when it comes to the body, including ideas about and practices surrounding pregnancy.

Islamic frameworks for thinking about abortion

The typical framing of the question of whether abortion ought to be legal hinges upon American Christian debates about when life begins. Muslims who get abortions don’t always ask “when does life begin?” to ascertain Islamic positions on the matter. Rather, as my research in the Abortion and Religion project and forthcoming book “Women as Humans” has found, Muslims who get abortions generally consider under what circumstances abortion would be permitted in the Islamic tradition.


How different British Muslim women are celebrating Eid-ul-Adha this year

“The beautiful thing about Eid is that no matter where you are in the world, on Eid day fellow Muslims will always welcome you like family.”

Eid-ul-Adha is a festival celebrated by Muslims around the world, and one of the most notable dates in the Islamic calendar. It falls on the tenth day in the final month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, following the completion of the annual Pilgrimage of Hajj.

The celebration of Eid-ul-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) is to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s devotion to God. The day usually begins with an Eid prayer at the mosque, followed by celebrations with loved ones, delicious meals and exchanging of gifts and Eidi money. It is also marked by the sharing of meat and other food amongst loved ones and the less fortunate, ensuring everyone is able to eat on the blessed day.

This year, I asked women in the UK how they would be spending the day and what their celebrations looked like, as well as the food they were most excited for and their must-have Eid beauty products!

Sidra Imtiaz, 26, Bradford/London, British Pakistani

PR Senior Executive, Freelance Journalist

EidulAdha How Muslim Women Are Celebrating

“My Eid actually looks very different this year! I usually celebrate with my family in Yorkshire, where my mother and sister-in-law host us for the day. For as long as I can remember, my Eid day begins with the smells of their delicious cooking wafting through the house – my favourite of the traditional Pakistani foods is definitely a lamb and rice dish. I feel I’ll never be able to cook as well as they do! However, this year I am visiting California with my American husband so will be spending the day with his close friends in the Bay Area. I will definitely have major FOMO over what our family in the UK are doing, but I’m excited to experience a stateside Eid. We will be visiting the local mosque for the morning Eid prayer and then have lunch at one of the halal restaurants in the area. Even though we don’t have huge plans, I will definitely still be dressing in my Pakistani shalwar-kameez, and as for glam … I want that California glow I am seeing on everyone here! I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to achieve it naturally, so I’ll be relying on Charlotte Tilbury Flawless Filter to give my complexion a boost! The beautiful thing about Eid is that no matter where you are in the world, on Eid day fellow Muslims will always welcome you like family and that sense of community and belonging is what makes it so special.”


Islam, democracy, and women empowerment

THIS year’s commemoration of Eid’l Fitr or Feast of Ramadan coincided with World Press Freedom Day on May 3. Muslims worldwide observe this religious holiday to mark the end of Ramadan’s month-long, dawn-to-sunset fasting. It became a national holiday in the Philippines starting 2002.

On the other hand, World Press Freedom Day acts as a reminder to governments about the need to respect their commitment to one of democracy’s pillars — freedom of the press. It was the United Nations General Assembly that declared on May 3, 1993 and every year thereafter that the right to freedom of expression must be upheld in keeping with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The convergence of these religious and secular concepts may be found in the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), established in 2002 amid the global and domestic challenges confronting Filipino Muslims. At that time, the US and its allies were waging a “war on terror” — with the Philippines being tagged as the next front after Afghanistan. This new front was centered naturally in Mindanao mainly because of the Abu Sayyaf, a renegade band of fighters with alleged ties to al-Qaeda.

As a result, the “war on terror” fanned a growing global debate that Islam is incompatible with democracy, which threatened to undermine the democratic space in Muslim societies. This debate accompanied the rise in radical movements among Islamist organizations, culminating in the fatal attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Thus, the PCID was founded by three Filipino Muslim intellectuals who saw the need to articulate the voice of the Bangsamoro: Amina Rasul, who served in the Cabinet of President Fidel Ramos; Abrahan Iribani, previously the spokesperson of the Moro National Liberation Front; and Nasser Marohomsalic, a former Human Rights commissioner. Its members consist of prominent leaders and thinkers from government, business, academe, military, and other sectors, with representation from Mindanao’s major tribes.

Believing that democracy is enshrined in Islam, they recognized that the current elements of the continuing struggle for genuine self-determination are hallmarks of a functioning democracy for Filipino Muslims. These elements include just peace, human rights, credible elections, capable autonomous governance, and equitable development.

PCID treasurer and board of convenors member Yusuf Ledesma said the organization has been focusing recently on empowering women in war zones through a podcast series titled “She Talks Peace” hosted by Ms. Rasul. In partnership with Women and Gender Institute, PCID capacitates female participants on governance, economic empowerment, political participation, peace-building, and rights-based approaches to community development.


A new test looks at the way Muslim women are portrayed onscreen

There are not a lot of Muslim women in American television shows or movies. For many people in the U.S., the first Muslim woman character that comes to mind is probably Princess Jasmine from the animated Disney film, Aladdin. And that’s a bit of a problem.

“I see Jasmine as the Muslim version of the woman who needs saving, who’s constantly the victim or the runaway,” says actor and founder of Muslim Casting Serena Rasoul. “We see these particular stereotypes and tropes being used over and over and over when it comes to Muslim women…and then it still persists in media today.”

“It does present itself to be a negative view and negative messaging that we’re giving to young girls. Not just Muslim girls, but…brown girls in general.”

Rasoul wanted to do something about this, so she worked with Pillars Fund and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to develop the Muslim Women On-Screen Test, which assesses onscreen representation of Muslim women. She spoke with NPR’s Juana Summers about the test, how it works and how she hopes it will change the way Muslim women are represented in the United States.


Submission, Freedom and Resistance: How Muslims View Hijab

Much is being written by serious commentators about the ongoing Hijab controversy. Insightful articles have highlighted various important intersections related to the issue, such as that between constitutional ideals and the law, and between minority rights and equity. Useful observations have been made about the intensifying marginalization of India’s Muslims, and relentless drive to construct and consolidate a gullible, excitable majority, all set against a larger backdrop of growing widespread disempowerment.

Instead of elaborating further on these important issues, as a Muslim and an advanced student of Islam I will instead try to shed some light for the curious readers on three of the most important, yet neglected, ways in which Muslims themselves relate to Hijab.

At the outset, a clarification about the term “Hijab” is in order. It’s an Arabic word that means “covering” or “barrier”. It is not, as some have come to believe, the name of a specific item of clothing, even though this word may sometimes be used in this way. In Muslim culture, “Hijab” is often used to refer to the body of inter-related Islamic teachings that encourage all humans to cover their bodies in modesty, albeit in different ways that are tuned to the differences between genders and cultures. To practice Hijab is to follow these teachings.

With the establishment of the modern-traditional binary following the European Enlightenment, and in the context of modernity’s own prescriptions about women’s clothing and behaviour, Hijab teachings, for women, in particular, have occasionally become a topic of debate, and in some cases, controversy too. Viewed through the coloured lens of modernity, a woman’s practice of hijab is at best a benign sign of quaint traditionalism, and at worst, an existential threat to humanity. Consequently, this article too will focus primarily on the hijab for women.


Ohio Muslims Celebrate Passage of Bill Allowing Hijab in Sports

Around the world, Muslim women are defying cultural barriers and stereotypes to compete and excel at the highest levels of sports — in football, fencing, weightlifting, basketball, ice hockey and more.

Following years of campaigning, Muslim students in Ohio have celebrated the passage of a new bill requiring high schools to accommodate religious needs, specifically regarding clothing and head coverings during sports competitions.

Senate Bill 181, which was also backed by Christian and Muslim groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, had unanimous support in the state legislature, passing in the House 89-0 and the in Senate 33-0.

📚 Read Also: Disqualified for Donning Hijab, Muslim Teen Becomes Change Maker

“To see the acceptance and growth that we have in 2022. It’s amazing, because my school is so accepting,” Nasreen Shakur, a member of the rowing team at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, told Cleveland 19.

The new legislation aims at ending discrimination against religious expression for student-athletes and was passed in the state Senate earlier this month.


Amid debate, Women lift their voices with Muslim sacred text

CAIRO (AP) — The young woman could hear her heart pounding so hard that she worried the microphone placed in front of her would pick up its sound. Seated around her were officials from Islamic nations, including her country’s president. Cameras clicked.

She closed her eyes.

Al-Zahraa Layek Helmee’s voice filled the spacious, columned hall with a melodic recitation of the Quran, a role customarily held by men in her country, Egypt. For the 18-year-old, the high-profile recitation of Muslim holy text at a Cairo conference of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was a personal milestone — one that she also hopes would send a message to women and girls: That can be you.

“I wanted to prove that women have a great role to play when it comes to Quran recitation,” she said.

Across cultures and Muslim communities, the boundaries of such a role can be subject to debate. Attitudes vary toward women publicly reciting the Quran within earshot of nonrelated men — in person, online or in other media. While the most skilled female reciters may attain celebrity-like status in some countries, others are largely confined to private spaces or all-women audiences.

Youtube video thumbnail

(AP Video)

Campaigns have been springing up online to amplify the voices, and widen the reach, of female Quran reciters across the world, with many posting their recitations and encouraging others to follow suit. It’s part of a larger effort by some Muslim women who say they want to build on the historical examples of other women in their faith to expand their spiritual leadership roles in Islamic spaces.


Women Seek Diverse Paths to Leadership in Islamic Spaces


Shortly after Kholoud al-Faqeeh was appointed judge in an Islamic religious court in the Palestinian territories, a woman walked in, laid eyes on her and turned around and walked out, murmuring that she didn’t want a woman to rule in her case.

Al-Faqeeh was saddened, but not surprised — people have long been accustomed to seeing turbaned men in her place. It was only in 2009 that she became one of the first two women appointed in the West Bank as Islamic religious court judges. But she sees her presence on the court as all the more important since it rules on personal status matters ranging from divorce and alimony to custody and inheritance.

“What was even more provoking is that these religious courts are in charge of women’s cases,” al-Faqeeh said. “A woman’s whole life cycle is before these courts.”

FILE - Islamic court judge Kholoud al-Faqeeh poses for a portrait during a break at the court in Ramallah, West Bank, March 29, 2016.
FILE – Islamic court judge Kholoud al-Faqeeh poses for a portrait during a break at the court in Ramallah, West Bank, March 29, 2016.

Women like al-Faqeeh are increasingly carving out space for themselves in the Islamic sphere, and in doing so, paving the way for others to follow in their footsteps. Around the world, women are teaching in Islamic schools and universities, leading Quran study circles, preaching and otherwise providing religious guidance to the faithful.

This story is part of a series by The Associated Press and Religion News Service on women’s roles in male-led religions.

The formal ranks of Islamic leadership remain largely filled with men, but while women don’t lead mixed-gender congregational prayers in traditional Muslim settings, many say they see plenty of other paths to leadership.


The Courtesy of Covering Up

Mask wearing during the pandemic has cast modest Muslim style in a new light.

By Alia Khan

Ms. Khan is the founder and chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council.Dec. 7, 2021

This personal reflection is part of a series called Turning Points, in which writers explore what critical moments from this year might mean for the year ahead. You can read more by visiting the Turning Points series page.

Turning Point: Masking restrictions around the world began to loosen as more people were vaccinated against Covid-19.

These past two years saw most people’s lives turned upside down by Covid-19, and our lives at home and work are still undergoing one of the most radical shifts we’ve seen in generations. How we dress — and how our dress both reflects our values and affects the economy — has also begun to change, as we continue to mask up and tend toward a more protected lifestyle.

Interestingly, this metamorphosis sparked by a pandemic was always the norm for those who live an Islamic lifestyle, sometimes referred to as the “modest lifestyle.” Muslims, who have a collective spending power of about $2 trillion, are taught to embrace modesty with elegance as a form of dignified living. Now that covering for protection has become standard practice for many people, I believe it highlights the benefits that Islamic fashion has always offered, while helping to destigmatize and eliminate it as an excuse to judge those of us who wear it. I also believe this overlap will push Islamic fashion to become a bigger global player in defining style for years to come.