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26 Muslim women featured in the BBC’s 100 Women List

25th Dec 2020
26 Muslim women featured in the BBC’s 100 Women List

India’s ‘protest leader’ Bilkis Dadi, 82, led protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act
(Credit: Amarjeet Singh/Anadolu Agency)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Twenty-six Muslim women from 20 countries are featured in the BBC’s 100 Women List of the most inspiring and influential women from around the world.

This year’s list includes Hollywood actress and climate activist Jane Fonda and Sanna Marin, who leads Finland’s all-female coalition government. The first space on its list, titled Unsung Hero, is left vacant in memory of ‘those who have lost their lives while making a difference.’

Among the Muslim women recognised is an award-winning film-maker, a robotics team leader, a geneticist, a poet, several women’s rights and peace activists as well as a chair of a space agency.

One of several African women to make the list is Nigerian civil rights activist and co-convener of #BringBackOurGirls movement, Aisha Yesufu. Yesufu has also been at the forefront of the #EndSARS movement, a campaign that gained traction on social media globally against the excesses of a deadly police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

Numerous policymakers have also been acknowledged; among them the UAE’s Minister for Advanced Technologies and current chair of the country’s Space Agency Sarah Al-Amiri. She was previously science lead and deputy project manager for the Emirates Mars Mission, which is set to be the first interplanetary venture of any Arab nation. The orbiter, known as Hope (or Amal in Arabic), is expected to land on the red planet in February 2021 and collect data on, for example, its climate and weather.

At 82, India’s Bilkis Bano is the oldest woman on the list. The protest leader was part of a group of women who peacefully protested against a controversial citizenship law, which discriminates against Muslims. She became the face of a long-running protest at the capital’s Shaheen Bagh, the Muslim area where the protests were held. Indian journalist and author Rana Ayyub described her as “the voice of the marginalised.”

Bilkis is quoted as saying: “Women should feel empowered to step out of their homes and raise their voice, especially against injustice. If they don’t leave their homes, how will they showcase their strength?” Her fight against the Citizenship Amendment Act had already led to her being included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in September.

In contrast, 17-year-old environmental campaigner, Salsabila Khairunnisa, is the youngest woman on the prestigious list. The Indonesian student from Jakarta is recognised for leading a school strike every Friday against deforestation in front of the office of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Khairunnisa is not the only teenager to score inclusion; she is joined by 18-year-old Somaya Faruqi who made headlines earlier this year when she led an all-female Afghan robotics team in designing low-cost ventilators to treat coronavirus patients.

The seven-woman “Afghan Dreamers” team took four months to finalise the design of the ventilator, which is partially based on an MIT design, and they received guidance from experts at Harvard University. The device is easy to carry and can run on battery power for 10 hours and costs $700 to produce, compared with the $20,000 price of a traditional ventilator, and the team’s design could provide much-needed and affordable support to medical professionals.

The arts and media world is also represented in the list in the form of Syrian film-maker, activist and journalist Waad al-Kateab. The award-winning film-maker has received numerous accolades, including an Emmy for her news reports in Aleppo. This year her first feature documentary, For Sama, bagged a Bafta win and an Oscar nomination.

Other Muslim women featured

Afghanistan: Women rights activist Laleh Osmany was unhappy with the omission of women’s names from official documents in Afghanistan. Osmany started the WhereIsMyName campaign. After a three-year fight, in 2020 the Afghan government agreed to allow mothers to have their names printed on their children’s national identity cards.

Bangladesh: Women rights activist Rina Akter and her team of helpers have served around 400 meals a week to sex workers in Dhaka who have found themselves without clients and are thus struggling to feed themselves.
Bangladesh: Teacher Rima Sultana is a member of Young Women Leaders for Peace in Cox’s Bazar. This programme, part of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, aims to empower young women from conflict-affected countries to be leaders and agents of peace.

Egypt: Campaigner Nadeen Ashraf is a philosophy student who believes in social media as a tool for change. She is passionate about spreading knowledge in a way that’s accessible to the general population.

Exiled Uyghur from Ghulja: Writer Muyesser Abdul’ehed Hendan began making a name for herself as a poet and essayist while studying medicine. By the time she completed her master’s degree in public health, she had resolved to focus on writing.
France: Writer/illustrator Nadine Kaadan is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator from Syria. She has published in several countries and languages. Her mission is to champion empowered and inclusive representation in children’s books so that every child can see themselves in a story.

Indonesia: Activist Febfi Setyawati is the founder of, an organisation that helps vulnerable people – especially ill people with financial difficulties and those affected by Covid-19.

Iran: Computational geneticist Pardis Sabeti is a professor at Harvard University, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She has contributed to human and microbial genomics, information theory, and rural infectious disease surveillance and education efforts in West Africa.

Iran: Human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh is a lawyer advocating for the rule of law and the rights of political prisoners, opposition activists, women and children in Iran. She is on temporary-leave from a lengthy prison sentence for standing up against the country’s justice system.

Iraq/UK: Public health expert Nisreen Alwan is a public health doctor and academic in the UK who researches the health and wellbeing of women and children, focusing on pregnancy.

Kyrgyzstan: Disability activist Gulnaz Zhuzbaeva, founder of the Kyrgyz Federation of the Blind has been working tirelessly to make many important government documents available in Braille and improve access to those with visual impairment.

Lebanon: Activist Hayat Mirshad is co-founder of Fe-Male, a pioneer feminist collective. Unapologetic and uncompromising, her mission is to ensure girls and women have access to justice, information, protection and human rights.

Morocco: Rapper Houda Abouz known for her unique style and lyrical songs. She stands up for women’s rights and gender equality in a male-dominated industry; she considers her music a tool for change.

Pakistan: Actor Mahira Khan is outspoken against sexual violence, refuses to endorse skin-lightening creams and supports the fight against racism. She wants to tackle social issues in her native Pakistan by changing the narrative in films and on TV.

Pakistan: Global health leader Dr Sania Nishtar is a leader in global health and sustainable development. Since 2018, she has been spearheading the transformative Ehsaas Poverty Alleviation programme, which has improved the livelihoods of millions by providing mobile banking and savings accounts, and other basic resources.

Somalia: Peace activist Ilwad Elman is a young female leader at the forefront of the Somali peace process and a global authority on ending the conflict.

Somaliland: Educator Ubah Ali is a co-founder of Solace for Somaliland Girls, a foundation committed to eradicating all forms of female genital mutilation across communities in Somaliland, through education and empowerment.

Syria: Plant virologist Dr Safaa Kumari looks for solutions to epidemics that destroy crops. After discovering seeds that could safeguard food security in Syria, she risked her life to rescue them from Aleppo.

Turkey: Social justice activist Gülsüm Kav is a doctor, academic and co-founder of We Will Stop Femicide. Over the past year, high femicide rates and parliamentary debates over whether to repeal the Istanbul Convention (a legal framework designed to protect victims of domestic violence) have drawn widespread criticism in Turkey.

Yemen: Microgrid manager Iman Ghaleb Al-Hamli manages a group of 10 women who set up a solar microgrid, offering clean and low-impact energy, just 20 miles from the front line of the devastating Yemeni civil war.


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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

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