Posted on Dec 20, 2018
Editorial Note: We have made some edits to one of sections below to better reflect Siwatu-Salama Ra’s activism work.
Muslim women have been taking the world by storm for awhile now, and 2018 was no exception! From getting elected to Congress to fighting for social justice to becoming the first hijabi on-air reporter on a U.S. news program, there was no shortage of strong, intelligent, forward-thinking Muslim women to feature! As with any list, we know some great Muslim women have been left off, so please add your favorite notable women in the comments below!
Without further ado, here are 10 women you should know from 2018!
This was a banner year for Ilhan Omar, who was elected as the first Somali-American (and hijab-wearing!) Congresswoman in the U.S. She is one of the first two Muslim women in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ilhan’s family left Somalia during wartime, lived in Kenya as refugees and later settled in Minnesota when she was 12-years-old. In an interview in TIME, she said her household focused on raising women as equals. Ilhan is a Democrat and represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district. Her goals are to push for women’s and refugee rights; create out-of-the-box-thinking policies, such as automatically registering all 18-year-olds to vote; ending Congressional funding of wars; increasing refugee rights; opening borders and abolishing ICE. Prior to her bid to join Congress, she was the first Somali-American in the Minnesota legislature. She is redefining race, gender and politics in 2018 and beyond!
Rashida Tlaib is a Palestinian-American Congresswoman who represents the 13th congressional district of Michigan and is also one of the first two Muslim women (see Ilhan Omar above) elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Tlaib was also the first Muslim elected into the Michigan state legislator in 2008. Tlaib is the oldest of 14 children and a self-described strong woman who is out to challenge racism and oppressive government. Among other things, she is known for heckling President Donald Trump during a rally in Detroit two years ago and later being kicked out. Her work includes tackling anti-Black and anti-Muslim bigotry.
This year Tahera Rahman became the first hijab-wearing on-air reporter in U.S. local television media. A former producer-turned-reporter, Rahman works for channel 4 in the Quad Cities regions in Iowa and Illinois. She was often discouraged in her career from wearing hijab in order to land her on-air dream job, however she kept pushing forward with her decision to wear it. Rahman told Today that she received an outpouring of support from people all over the world. She encourages Muslim women to follow their dreams and not let hijab become a barrier to pursue them.
Zahra Billoo is the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area (CAIR). An attorney by profession, Billoo has been serving in this role for several years. She works to educate Muslims about their rights as Americans, gives “Know Your Rights” presentations and represents immigrants and Muslims with civil rights issues. Billoo was also a speaker for the Women’s March and a co-chair of the “No Muslim Ban” campaign. This year Billoo was given an award by People Acting in Community Together (PACT), which was later rescinded due to her support for Palestine and mounting pressure from Jewish funders. After an outpouring of support from 40 groups, the award was reinstated and presented to Billoo. She also has participated in prominent faith initiatives and protests in support of asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Siwatu-Salama Ra, co-director of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, member of the Sierra club and a well-known environmental activist, has worked on environmental justice education, youth development and community partnerships throughout her young life. She has been an important part of national and international environment justice communities, attending conferences like COP21 in Paris. Earlier in 2018, a woman had attempted to hit Ra and her mother with her car while Ra’s two-year-old played inside her home. Ra, who was pregnant at the time, had a licensed gun for which she had a concealed carry weapon permit and waved it at the woman for her and her family’s protection. She did not shoot at the woman, which was why her wrongful imprisonment came as a shock. In a “stand-your-ground” state like Michigan, her imprisonment, which was unjust, became a rallying cry among Black Lives Matter, environmental and Muslim organizations. While in prison, Ra gave birth and watched news reports about separation of families and children at the border and listened to Secretary for Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen use her case to justify the Trump administration’s policy of separating mothers and children at our southern border. “We do every day in every part of the country. … In the United States, we call that law enforcement,” Nielsen told a congressional committee. Ra, who has since been released and is awaiting a hearing on her appeal, is using her skills as a longtime environmental activist to tackle family separation issues within the prison system as well as advocating for maternal justice issues (including “safe and secure settings and breastfeeding protocols for lactating mothers”). She is a revolutionary activist through and through. (Image source: Vox.com)
Joohi Tahir is the Executive Director of Muslims Helping and Understand Special Education Needs (Muhsen), a nonprofit organization created for Muslim Americans with disabilities and their families. Joohi has a daughter with autism and after her family went for umrah, she was inspired to help others with disabilities make the same trip. In late 2017, the group organized its first Muhsen Umrah, a specially-tailored umrah for 58 adults and children with disabilities. Families were paired with a Muhsen volunteer to assist them through preparations as well as every step of performing umrah. Part of the accommodations also included utilizing space for wheelchairs and strollers. The organization is taking its second group for a Muhsen Umrah this month! Under Joohi and her team’s careful guidance, Muhsen continues to train people to give back to the Muslim community by working with people of disabilities. They have issued “Muhsen certification” to 31 mosques that have completed a list of requirements to make their building disability-accessible as well as create ongoing inclusive programming.
In 2018, Verona Collection co-founder Lisa Vogl became the first Muslim woman to have a modest fashion clothing line in a major U.S. department store -- Macy’s. While other stores sell hijabs, Bustle reports that this is the first collection made by Muslim women for Muslim women. The collection features cardigans, scarves and modest wear. Vogl’s collaboration with Macy’s was part of Macy’s "The Workshop," which aims to bring diverse businesses on board. Vogl, who is a convert to Islam, says her business is about giving back to the Muslim community and providing options for modest and fashion-forward Muslim women. The clothing line is available in stores and online. (Image source: Bustle.com)
Amanda Saab, who became well-known due to stint on Masterchef with Gordon Ramsay in 2015, has now taken her culinary arts on the road. In 2018 she traveled and filmed throughout Asia to find the best halal eats for her show, “Chef in Hijab,” which will air on the Lifetime cable network. A social worker by profession, she uses baking as her, “me time” and to give back to programs such as Zaman International, which helps women learn culinary arts. Her passion for baking also led her to open the Butter Bear Shop in Livonia, MI, creating gourmet treats and eats using East-West food fusion.
Halima Aden is not only a UNICEF ambassador but the first hijabi to walk on international catwalks. Her journey started in 2016 when she took part in the Miss Minnesota Scholarship Pageant sporting her hijab and modest full-coverage swimwear. She was then signed by IMG modeling agency and walked in Kanye West’s Yeezy (Season 5) show during New York Fashion Week. This year she was hailed as a “Change Agent” in an Elle feature, while modeling none other than Haute Hijabs ;) She aims to take on the stereotypes of beauty as a Black Somalian Muslim woman. Read more on her Elle feature (including the HH's she graced) on our blog here. (Image source: Elle)
Author Huda Fahmy’s debut graphic book, Yes I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab, was published in December. Fahmy uses illustrations and quirky stories to dispel myths about hijabi Muslim women by hilariously capturing what many hijabis may be thinking in a variety of everyday situations when asked about why they wear hijab or how the world perceives them. Although she isn’t a “big name” in 2018 -- yet (we think her star will be even brighter in 2019) -- we included her in this list for her unique visual and comedic approach to a hijab-wearing woman's life. Previews of her comics can be found on her Instagram handle @yesimhotinthis, which have became an international sensation on the web. Check out our own Haute Hijab book review to learn more about Fahmy and her new book!
Who are we missing? Who would you add to this list? Comment below!
Nargis Hakim Rahman is a Bangladeshi American Muslim writer and a mother of three kids. Nargis graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, and a psychology minor. Nargis is passionate about community journalism in the Greater Detroit area. She hopes to give American Muslims and minorities a voice in the press. Nargis is a fellow for the Feet in 2 Worlds Fellowship/WDET 101.9 FM. She writes for The Muslim Observer, Brown Girl Magazine and Metro Detroit Mommy. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.