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10 Women From Arab History You May Not Know

These ten women from Arab history are powerful, intelligent, and inspiring. They made a difference in their communities and even changed the world!

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1. The Queen

By Vardkes Sureniants (1860 - 1921) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons / Via

Shammuramat was the first woman to rule as Queen without having a man rule beside her. Queen of Assyria during the 9th- and 8th- centuries BCE, Shammuramat ruled the empire alone and inspired the legend of Semiramis.

2. The Warrior

Herbert Schmalz, via Wikimedia Commons / Via

Zenobia, a Queen in third century Syria, led her army to conquer parts of the Roman Empire and expanded her own Palmyrene Empire. The Romans decided they didn’t care for this, and fought back. It is unknown what happened to her after her capture, but you can watch one of the operas about her for some ideas.

3. The Mystic

Unknown / Via

Rābi'a al-'Adawīyya, or Rabia Basri, was an 8th century Sufi mystic who professed loving God for God's sake, not out of fear of punishment. Her writing and teachings inspired many stories, and helped to found the Sufi school of Divine Love. She was the first female Saint in Islam.

4. The Intellectual

Jose Munoz / Via

Lubna of Cordoba, of Arab and Spanish descent, rose the ranks from slave to palace intellectual in 10th century Cordoba. In addition to being the palace secretary, she managed the Cordoba library and was considered the local authority on all things grammar, poetry, translation, and math.

5. The Pilot

Egypt Government, via Wikimedia Commons / Via

Lotfia El Nadi received her pilot’s license in 1933, the first Arab woman to do so. This was at the young age of 26! Google celebrated her last year with a doodle on what would have been her 107th birthday.

6. The Activist

archives of Assafir Newspaper / Via

Djamila Bouhired is an Algerian woman known for her activism, which she began as a student during the Algerian Independence Movement in the 1950s. Bouhired was captured during protests by French colonial authorities and tortured before being released. Algeria gained independence from France in 1962.

7. The Musician

By Unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons / Via

Umm Kulthum, the "Star of the East," was an Egyptian singer and actress who remains one of the most lauded and famous Arabic performers. She was known for her spontaneity and improvisation, making each performance a unique experience.

8. The Scholar

The Muslim Times / Via

Laleh Bakhtiar is a contemporary American scholar and writer, most well known for her translations of the Qur'an, as The Sublime Quran, and other Islamic religious texts. She challenged tradition with her translations, and received both praise and criticism for her work.

9. The Feminist

By Boberger (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons / Via

Nawal El-Saadawi is a renaissance woman. Shortly after becoming a doctor in 1950s Egypt, she realized the link between culture and health, particularly as it affected women. She became an outspoken feminist, writing and speaking about women's health and Islam. During this time, she continued to write novels, plays, and short stories to much acclaim.

10. The Rebel

Tzenko Stoyanov, courtesy of Marjoun LLC

Marjoun is an Arab American teenage girl. Like all of us, she lives in a place and time where multiple sources tell her who she should be: her family, her high school peers, the media. Marjoun embarks on a brave journey to discover who she truly is.

You haven't heard about her yet, because we need help to give her a voice. Click here to learn more about Marjoun and how you can help.

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