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Muslim Women Through Time
Lesson Snapshot

Learning objectives
Students will learn that monolithic cultures and accurate stereotypes of Muslim women do not exist. A combination of factors affects the role of Muslim women as a group and individually over time.

Grade level



NCSS standards

Time estimate
Approximately 90 minutes

What you'll need (see Resources for links)

  • Computer(s) with Internet access and/or library resources

Lesson Plan

No country, culture, or group stays the same indefinitely. Consider that it wasn't until 1920 that women in the United States were allowed to vote. National origin, family background, economic levels, and historical context all help determine opportunities people have in life. Muslim women are subject to these factors as well. In this lesson, students will learn how and why the role of women in Islamic cultures has evolved.

  • Examine and discuss the factors that can affect any woman's life and accomplishments:

    • The context of her culture at the time (e.g., legal interpretations, educational opportunities, and behavioral expectations)

    • The dictates of her religion and her family background (including level of education, wealth, and status)

    • Her individual talents and personal sense of ambition

  • Offer the example of Walladah bint Mustakfi as a case study of how a number of factors influence a woman's choices.

      Walladah bint Mustakfi (c. 1001-1080 C.E.) Walladah was the daughter of the caliph of Cordoba in Islamic Spain. Cordoba was a tolerant, multicultural society, famous for its many libraries and sophisticated literary life, in which women were often scholars. After her father's death, Walladah inherited enough wealth to guarantee her independence. She was well known as a poet and hosted literary gatherings for both men and women. She had several famous love affairs, including one with the prominent poet Ibn Zaydun, but never married. Her surviving poetry reflects her free spirit. She was known to have designed robes that had embroidered sleeves. On one robe was embroidered,
      "I am fit for high positions, by God, and go on my way with pride."

      On another was embroidered,
      "I allow my lover to touch my cheek, and bestow my kiss on him who craves it."

  • Use this example to help students understand that Walladah bint Mustakfi lived in a tolerant time that permitted significant personal freedoms. In addition, the wealth and position of her family provided economic independence and access to other opportunities.

  • Working alone or in small groups, students will then choose a famous Muslim woman. Some suggestions are included here.



    Time Period



    Khadija, wife of Muhammad

    c. 564-619

    present-day Saudi Arabia

    Aisha bint Abu Bakr, wife of Muhammad


    present-day Saudi Arabia

    Fatima, daughter of Muhammad

    c. 606-32

    present-day Saudi Arabia

    Rabia al-Adawiyya, the first Sufi

    c. 712-801


    Walladah bint Mustakfi

    c. 1001-1080

    Cordoba, Spain

    Queen Arwa



    Razia Sultana

    d. 1240


    Shajarat al-Durr

    d. 1259


    Roxelana, Hurrem Sultan

    16th century

    Ottoman Empire

    Queen Amina


    Zaria, Africa

    Nur Jahan



    Zaynab al-Ghazali



    Nawal El Saadawi



    Fatima Mernissi



    Khaleda Zia



    Tansu Ciller



    Sheikh Hasina Wajed



    Queen Noor



    Benazir Bhutto



    Laila Ali


    United States

  • Students will use the Internet and print resources to research the woman chosen and record as much of the following information as possible:

    • Name of woman

    • Birth and death dates

    • Country of origin/where she lived

    • How did she reflect the culture of her time?

    • How did she rise above it?

    • Family background/social status/wealth

    • Level of education

  • If time permits, students may present their research to the class. Through chronologically organized presentations, students will learn how the roles of Muslim women have evolved.

  • Lead a discussion focusing on the common denominators in the lives of exceptional women in Islamic and Middle Eastern history. Some discussion questions may include the following:

    • How and why did the roles of Muslim women evolve?

    • What factors allowed these women to go beyond the norm?

    • What common obstacles did they face?

    • How are their stories similar to those of famous women in other cultures?

    • Does the role of women and the rights afforded them always improve? Are there examples in the Middle East and in other regions in the world where women have lost freedoms?


  • How well can the student give examples of factors that influence the role of a woman in her culture?

  • Has the student completed the chart completely and accurately?


Internet Resources:

Related Activities:

Extension activities

Ask students to research two Muslim women from different points in history; compare or contrast the role of women through time.

Have students choose a notable Muslim woman and a notable American woman from the same time period. In an essay or presentation, ask students to compare or contrast the cultural, political, and religious context for different women in the same point in time.

NCSS standards


  • Apply an understanding of culture as an integrated whole that explains the functions and interactions of language, literature, the arts, traditions, beliefs and values, and behavior patterns.

Time, continuity, and change

  • Apply key concepts such as time, chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity.

Individuals, groups, and institutions

  • Apply concepts such as role, status, and social class in describing the connections and interactions of individuals, groups, and institutions in society.

Global connections

  • Illustrate how individual behaviors and decisions connect with global systems.

For more information, see the National Standards for Social Studies Teachers, Volume I.

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