One of my goals in raising Muslim kids is to give them pride in their identity. It’s hard being a Muslim child these days, as the messages Muslim kids receive from mainstream society about their identity are not positive ones. Therefore, I wanted to shine a light on some incredible Muslim role models from around the world, both contemporary and historical. Each of these Muslim heroes is people who have accomplished great things and provide all kids, no matter what their faith, positive role models to inspire them.
Dr. Hawa Abdi
Dr. Hawa Abdi is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Somali doctor, and human rights, activist. Mama Hawa, as she is lovingly called, was the first female gynecologist in Somalia. After receiving her medical degree in Ukraine, she returned to Somalia and opened a free medical clinic to serve rural women on her family’s own land. When war broke out in Somalia in the nineties, most of her family fled but she stayed behind to serve the people.
The small, free medical clinic expanded into a 400-bed hospital, which is still free and many of the surgeries, from C-sections to removing bullet fragments, she performs unassisted.
Refugees from other parts of Somalia began arriving after they were displaced from their homes by violence. She allowed them to stay on her land, eventually growing into a community for 90,000 Somalis on her 1,300 acres. She founded the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation which developed into not solely a hospital and shelter but also a school and nutritional center.
In 2010, militant gunmen stormed her compound, destroying much of her hospital equipment and demanded she close, admonishing her for being old and a woman. “I told the gunmen, ‘I’m not leaving my hospital,’” Dr. Abdi said. “I told them, ‘If I die, I will die with my people and my dignity.’ I yelled at them, ‘You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?’”
Since the early 1980s, she has served over two million people. In 2010, Glamour magazine named Dr. Abdi and her two daughters, also doctors, “Women of the Year,” dubbing them the “Saints of Somalia.”
Malala Yousafzai became an activist at the age of 12 and was the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Because of her activism for girls’ education, she was targeted by the Taliban, a militant Islamic group. The Taliban had been closing girls’ schools after they invaded her region of Pakistan and Yousafzai and her father were vocal against this. When she was only 15, the Taliban shot Yousafzai in the head as she was on her way home from school one day.
Yousafzai survived the assassination attempt and became an even more fierce advocate for girls’ education. She went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and establish the Malala Fund, which supports girls’ education worldwide.
Mohammed Ali is a humanitarian, activist, and the greatest boxer of all time. He is an Olympic gold medalist and the first fighter to capture the heavyweight title three times. Ali was outspoken on issues of race, religion, and politics, generating a lot of controversy over his lifetime. He refused to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and as a result was stripped of his boxing titles and prohibited from boxing for four years during his prime.
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Ali lived by the following six beliefs: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality. He was a humanitarian who supported children in need both at home and abroad. He delivered food and medical supplies to a children’s hospital in Jakarta, street children of Morocco, and an orphanage in the Ivory Coast. In the U.S. he frequently visited soup kitchens and hospitals among other charitable organizations.
Mohamed Salah is an Egyptian-born and raised football (soccer) player who currently plays for Liverpool in the UK. He has broken records for his high number of goals thanks to his fanciful footwork. His fans adore him so much, they have invented a chant celebrating Islam: “Mo Sa-la-la-la-lah, Mo Sa-la-la-la-lah, if he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me, if he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too.”
As the son of a salesman, Salah’s father was unable to afford college, which led Salah to pursue his dream of playing football professionally instead. He commuted over two hours every day, taking five different buses, from his village Nagrig to El Mokawloon football club in Cairo, where he began his football career.
Salah has used the money he earned from football to help others. He provides support to poor families in Egypt, particularly widows and divorced mothers. Additionally, he has financed a new football field in his home village as well as a youth center, hospital, and school.
The Sultanate (Kingdom) of Delhi reigned over large parts of the Indian subcontinent for over 300 years and Razia Sultan was the only female, the Muslim ruler of the Sultanate. She ruled from 1236 and 1240 after her father passed away and appointed her instead of her brothers because of her talent.
Sultan was a revolutionary and impressive leader. She questioned tradition, refusing to take the title of Sultana and preferring Sultan, typically used for a man. She felt Sultana meant “wife or mistress of a Sultan (ruler).” Sultan also defied tradition by removing her veil and sporting traditional men’s clothing.
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Along with being trained in politics and administration, Razia Sultan was a brave warrior who fought directly on the battlefield. A huge supporter of education, she created schools, research institutes, and libraries during her reign, while also preserving indigenous Hindu culture. She was a visionary and inspiring leader, challenging the norms of her time.
She was killed after her kingdom was defeated in 1240 by a rival group who—among other things—were strongly opposed to being led by a woman.