In the last few months, I have allowed myself to be consumed by the presidential election and all its negativity to the exclusion of everything else. As a result, I neglected among other things, to post on my blog, despite the numerous great achievements of Muslims women, both in the United States and around the world. But, I am back, and what better way to restart my blog, than to recycle one of my earliest posts on Muslim women head of states.
We just celebrated Presidents’ Day yesterday, and even though we have yet to have our first female president in the United States, the women featured below, give us hope, that it can be done.
During a diversity workshop presentation a few years ago at one of the federal agencies in Washington DC, when I was still with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), I asked the audience my customary question of what comes to their minds when they first see a Muslim woman dressed in an Islamic headscarf. I got the usual answers of, oppression, modesty, beautiful, uneducated, etc. However one answer that stood out for me over the years was from one of the employees who said that he was always surprised when he sees Muslim women driving in the United States, considering that they are not allowed to do so in their home countries.
The perception held by this person was that all Muslims in America were foreign born, and that they all come from countries that have laws which are oppressive; laws that ban women from driving. He did not realize that other than Saudi Arabia, no country in the world prohibit women from driving, and that even in Saudi Arabia, the women have over the years been protesting that law. You can learn more about early American Muslims from my post African American Muslim Women Pioneers: A Reflection on Black History Month
Today, as I was reflecting upon this particular encounter, it got me thinking that on this Presidents’ Day, I should feature some of the women that held the highest offices in the Muslim world. Not only could these women drive cars in their countries, they managed to reach the peak of their political careers, and were charged with the responsibility of driving their countries forward.
The leadership of these women from Asia, Africa and Europe is or was as diverse and as distinct as the countries they lead or led.
Benazir Bhutto, photographed at Chandini Restaurant, Newark, CA by iFaqeer
Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to be elected to lead a Muslim State and was the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan. She served two non-consecutive terms, 1988-1990 and from 1993-1996.
Bangladesh has elected two female Prime Ministers each having served two non-consecutive terms.
Begum Khaleda Zia, former Bangladesh Prime Minister and chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is photographed as she appeared as the chief guest in a book opening ceremony on 1 March, 2010 at the Diploma Engineers Institute, Dhaka.
Begum Khaleda Zia was the first female Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the second woman to be elected to lead a Muslim state after the Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. She too served two terms, from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006.
Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh at the Olympic hunger summit in Downing Street, 12, August 2012 (www.Flickr.com)
Sheikh Hasina, is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She has been elected twice to the office, having served from 1996-2001 and again from 2009 to present.
Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller (left) and the prime minister-designate, Mesut Yilmaz, 1996.
Burhan Ozbilici—AP/Wide World
Tansu Ciller served as the 22 Prime Minister of Turkey from 1993-1995 and is the first female to serve in that capacity.
President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga during the signing of the U.S.-Kosovo Agreement on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Properties, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on December 14, 2011. (www.flickr.com)
Atifete Jahjaga at age 36 she was elected the fourth president of the Republic of Kosovo in 2011. She is the first female president of the republic, the youngest ever to be elected, and the first female head of state in the modern Balkan states.
Prime Minister Cissé Mariam Sidibe Kaïdama of Mali
Cissé Mariam Sidibe Kaïdama held the office of Prime Minister of Mali from 2011-2012, and was the first female in the history of the country to be appointed to that position.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, fifth President of Indonesia 2001
Megawati Sukamoputri was the fifth President of Indonesia and the first female to serve her country in that capacity. She served from 2001-2004.
Boye-Mame-Madior, Prime Minister of Senegal 2001-2002
Mame Madior Boye was appointed to office as the Prime Minister of Senegal and served from 2001 -2002. She was the first female Prime Minister in the history of the country.
Updated: June 5, 2015
Another Muslim Female president has joined this rank of head of states. Read my latest blog below.
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