Apostles of Transformation

Anthology of Muslim Women Trailblazers in India

by Akhtarul Wasey (Volume editor) Juhi Gupta (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection XX, 314 Pages


«Indian Muslim women are vibrant and have an identity of their own. As a section of humanity and as individuals, they have faced immense struggles, have had varied experiences, have rendered their support to the freedom struggle, have raised their voice for women’s emancipation and have asserted their identity. This book is a very fine documentation of the lives of prominent Indian Muslim women icons who inspired millions of other women to express their voice and bring about social transformation.»
(Mr K Rahman Khan, Former Union Minister of Minority Affairs-GOI, Former Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha.)
This book brings together an impressive collection of meticulously curated articles on the lives and accomplishments of Muslim women icons of India. The present-day India has witnessed Muslim women trailblazers establishing their names in the field of arts, science, politics, social activism and literature. Even medieval and colonial India has its own share of extraordinary Muslim women legends. They have ruled empires, been unbiased chroniclers of history, lent their mind and effort to the Freedom Movement and been unsung heroines of Women’s emancipation. This work coalesces the stories of Muslim women achievers, their contribution to society and highlights their undeniable role in human progress. Diverse, well-researched and inspiring, it is a must-read for all, especially the younger generation. The book is an essential read for understanding Muslim women’s contribution in India.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • About the Volume
  • Illustrious Women of the Muslim University at Aligarh (Faiza Abbasi)
  • Vanguards of Change: Vignettes of Muslim Women Politicians in India (Shah Alam)
  • A Muslim Lady Icon: An Unknown Face (S. Chandani Bi)
  • Indian Muslim Women Scientists as Mentors and Role Models (Mayuri Chaturvedi)
  • Begum Qudsia Aizaz Rasul: The Only Muslim Woman in India’s Constituent Assembly (Tauseef Fatima)
  • Heralds of Social Change: Women of Abdullah Family Paving the Way for Future Generations (Juhi Gupta)
  • Saliha Abid Husain: The Unsung Literary Colossus (Syeda Hameed)
  • Conversations with the Mother: A Hagiographical Reconstruction of Athankarai Nachiyar – Bibi Syed Ali Fathima (V. Bharathi Harishankar)
  • Muslim Women Contributors to the Legacy of Urdu Literature: Ismat Chughtai and Qurratulain Hyder (Sabiha Hussain)
  • Begum Akhtar: The Queen Enthralling the World with Her Silken Voice (Naima Khatoon)
  • Begums of Bhopal: Towards Muslim Women’s Education (Rasheed Kidwai)
  • Surayya Tayyabji: The Resolute Woman (Shahida Murtaza)
  • Anees Kidwai: A Warrior Chronicling the Lives of Women During Partition (Azra Musavi)
  • Razia Sultan: The First Woman Ruler of the Delhi Sultanate (Rekha Pande)
  • Economic and Educational Contribution of Women in Kashmir with Special Reference to Ateeqa Bano (Abida Quansar)
  • Begum Hamida Habibullah: Soul of Lucknow (Madhu Rajput)
  • Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain: The Educationist and the Writer (Ayesha Munira Rasheed)
  • Lala Ded: A Great Mystic Poetess of Kashmir (Bilal Ahmad Wani AND NASEEM AHMAD SHAH)
  • Nurjahan: The Mughal Empress (Sherin Shervani)
  • Articulating Domesticity in Courtly Spaces: Embodiment and Subjectivity in Gulbadan Bano Begum’s Humayun-nama (Shivangini Tandon)
  • Shareefa Hamid Ali: An Icon in the History of India (Ruchika Varma)
  • Importance of Women Opting Law with an Exemplification of Justice Fathima Beevi (Anam Wasey)
  • Attia Hosain: Discovering Home and Self in a Distant Land (Huma Yaqub)
  • Glossary
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

←viii | ix→


Societies need to be reminded from time to time about those of its individuals who excelled and became role models to emulate. The essays collected in this volume are one such effort, a commendable one, to remind readers of a younger generation of some such personalities in recent times. The list is illustrative, not exhaustive. It is also community-specific and focused on the Muslim segment of India’s diverse population.

The reason for being selective is easily understood. Demographic and socio-economic data indicates that a substantial body of our citizens of Muslim faith, the second largest in the world and numbering around 200 million, are educationally and socially amongst the most backward segments of our population. They lag behind in gender equality and gender justice. A High Level Government Committee on the Status of Women in 2015 assessed that ‘through a combination of family, caste, community and religion, among others, patriarchal values and ideas are constantly reinforced and legitimized.’

In this context, those few who excelled and charted a bold new path need to be recognized. The essays do that in good measure but lead us to two other questions: did they become trend-setters? Do we find them making conscious effort to induce others (including those across class barriers) to emulate?

Everything else apart, an answer would seem to lie in access to education and to opportunities that emanate from social reforms. Field studies have shown that the three critical areas are education, social mobility and workforce participation and in each of these, Muslim women in India lag behind others in the larger community. Each of the examples before us tests positive on these three counts and gives us a clue to the road to success.

Desegregation of data is revealing. Less than 10 % of Muslim women have completed schooling. Only 29 % of Muslim women participate in the workforce compared to 70 % of others, and social mobility is ←ix | x→severely constrained on grounds of tradition and patriarchy. The equality and justice bestowed on them by faith is denied by tradition and practice.

The selected few who managed to overcome it are before us. They need to be propagated and emulated.

M. Hamid Ansari
19 July 2021

←x | xi→


Human history is an account of things done and lives lived. In its ambit, it includes accounts of individual achievement and genius. It bears witness to moments and acts of extraordinary courage, perseverance and achievements of the ages long gone. By recording them as a part of history, the contribution of those individuals to the progress of society is eternally acknowledged. It also renders legitimacy to their identity, struggles and experiences. Yet, in the patriarchal world we live in, women, their contribution and action, feats and struggle remain, for the most part, out of the pages of history. By being denied witness to their lives lived, women are rendered invisible. This is more so in the case of Indian Muslim women, who have been pushed behind and obscured by the doubly thick veil of cultural patriarchy and social inequality, despite their struggles, accomplishments and contributions to society. This has led to the perception of Indian Muslim women as silent, passive onlookers of history and life itself. This is only so because history has largely been an account of men, by men.

In reality, Indian Muslim women, in the past and the present, have exerted their freedom, identity and agency. One way or the other, they have found ways to create, contribute, act and participate in various fields and ascended to prominence. Be it art, science, nation-building or politics, there have been hordes and hordes of Indian Muslim women pioneering, participating and contributing to development in the specific field.

Literature is one such arena where Indian Muslim women have made an indelible mark by enriching Urdu, English and Indian literature. Their writings have spanned across numerous genres from Sci-Fi to epic Urdu novels and critique of patriarchy, application of women’s agency, sexuality, national struggle, on experiences and effect of Partition. Muslim women were one of the worst victims of partition, and women writers have been instrumental in rendering the haunting experiences of kidnapping, rape, killings and brutal attacks of women visible through their writings. ←xi | xii→Nation-building and women’s education are important fields where Indian Muslim women have contributed immensely. They have joined Gandhiji’s independence movement in thousands, courted arrest and participated in civil-disobedience. They have also established schools for girls, socially disadvantaged and under-privileged.

Yet, the enormous contributions and achievements of Indian Muslim women remain invisible. This book is an attempt to remedy that. From ISRO scientists such as Gaiti Hasan, Qudsia Tahseen, and Khushboo Mirza to women of Abdullah family who were fiercely dedicated to upliftment of Muslim women, this book highlights illustrious lives of eminent Muslim women individuals. Begums of Bhopal are another collective of women who have contributed to women’s education and development generation after generation. Ismat Chughtai, Anees Kidwai, Rokeya Shekawat Hussain, Attia Hossain and Qurratulain Hyder are feminist writers whose writings have spanned class conflict, social unrest, subaltern life, female sexuality and femininity. The story of Begum Akhtar, the gazal Queen of India, is one of extraordinary courage, talent and perseverance.

Indian Muslim women have also been part of political progress. Shareefa Ali was one such political reformer who has been part of United Nations Women and worked for women’s rights at national and global level. This work is an attempt to coalesce the her-stories of extraordinary Indian Muslim women and their legacies. The book also highlights the lives of powerful historical figures such as Nurjahan and Razia sultan. By bringing to the fore these eminent stories, this book seeks to provide role-models for the young generation of Indian women to follow, emulate and draw inspiration from.

←xii | xiii→

About the Volume

The first chapter by Dr Faiza Abbasi is titled ‘Illustrious Women of the Muslim University at Aligarh’. The chapter is a compilation of prominent individuals who created a mark for themselves as alumni of AMU. It highlights the achievements of these individuals in their respective fields and traces their origins to the specific department/area of study/specialization at AMU. It establishes that AMU is a prestigious centre of learning given that it has shaped the thinking and careers of so many illustrious individuals of the nation.

The second chapter by Dr Shah Alam is titled ‘Vanguards of Change: Vignettes of Muslim Women Politicians in India’. The chapter documents the contribution of Muslim women to the Indian political structure. It also stresses the transformation in their representation in the mainstream political milieu in the pre- and post-independent India. Acknowledging the distinctive roles of Muslim women political leaders, the chapter also provides the bio-sketches and the contributions of some selected leaders. It establishes that there is a long list of prominent Muslim women who have shared the feminist platform provided by the Indian Women’s Movement to promote the cause of Indian women in general and Muslim women in particular despite facing numerous challenges because of the patricentric environment.

The third chapter by Dr S. Chandni Bi is titled ‘A Muslim Lady Icon: An Unknown Face’. The chapter is about the life and contribution of a remarkable woman who lived a very ordinary life in the service of people in her locality. She overcame many personal challenges and deployed family values much ahead of her time. While helping the society around her, she never compromised on the education and value systems of her own family and gave them all a decent life to live. The author makes the point that such ordinary people with extraordinary contributions should be recognized and celebrated.←xiii | xiv→

The fourth chapter by Dr Mayuri Chaturvedi is titled as ‘Indian Muslim Women Scientists as Mentors and Role Models’. The chapter highlights the contribution of Muslim women to the field of science. It traces the success of prominent Muslim women who have contributed significantly as scientists, a profession that has traditionally been the bastion of men. The contributions of prominent Muslim women scientists like Qamar Rahman, Gaiti Hasan, Qudsia Tahseen, Farah Ishtiaq and Khushboo Mirza have been highlighted in this chapter.

The fifth chapter by Dr Tauseef Fatima is titled ‘Begum Qudsia Aizaz Rasul: The Only Muslim Woman in India’s Constituent Assembly’. The chapter is about the life of a luminary called Begum Qudsia Aizaz Rasul. She was one of the few women famously known as architects of the Republic of India. She was the only Muslim woman who was a member of the Constituent Assembly, and the Constituent Assembly debates bore testimony to her intelligence, wit and analytical skills. The chapter brings alive the person that she was and also highlights various aspects of her work either in politics or social work.

The sixth chapter by Dr Juhi Gupta is titled ‘Heralds of Social Change: Women of Abdullah Family Paving the Way for Future Generations’. Philosopher, reformist, academician, and a pioneer of women’s education, Shaikh Abdullah was a legendary personality whose ferocious efforts resulted in the emancipation of countless neglected women. He was accompanied by his wife and daughters in fulfilling his life’s mission of empowering Muslim women and children of early nineteenth-century India. These bold women played pivotal roles in influencing their surroundings in their own unique ways. Mumtaz Jahan, wife of Shaikh Abdullah, is hugely commemorated for her path-breaking role in popularizing education among young Muslim women in Uttar Pradesh. Women in Shaikh Abdullah’s family set a benchmark of success in diversity. Despite stiff opposition from clergy and orthodox Muslim families, they thrived in establishing a space for other Islamic women to survive and emerge victoriously. Their strong voices significantly impacted nineteenth-century Islamic society. The chapter aims to pay honour to the legendary lives of the wife and daughters of Shaikh Abdullah who modelled a path for generations to ←xiv | xv→come. Their awe-inspiring examples serve as an an epitome for those who seek empowerment, especially women and young girls, who constantly live under the pressure of orthodox patriarchal structures.

The seventh chapter by Dr Syeda Hameed is titled ‘Saliha Abid Husain: The Unsung Literary Colossus’. The chapter is a moving tribute to the life and service of a literary giant and a reformer, Saliha Abid Husain. She is considered to be one of the very rare gems of India’s literary stalwarts. The chapter describes her in both her personal and professional spheres. She was a kind, accommodative and a completely family person. She was extremely well read and took to reading at a very early age. She mastered the art of story-telling and poetry. She was awarded the country’s prestigious civilian award and stands out as an icon amongst Muslim women.

The eighth chapter by Dr V. Bharathi Harishankar is titled ‘Conversations with the Mother: A Hagiographical Reconstruction of Athankarai Nachiyar – Bibi Syed Ali Fathima’. The presence of women saints is a recurring feature in the Sufi tradition and India is no exception to this trend. One such saint, who has been revered over centuries and whose resting place, known as the Athankarai Pallivasal, witnesses a confluence of devotees from different faiths, is Bibi Syed Ali Fathima, also known as the Athankarai Nachiyar. This chapter seeks to reconstruct life, religious ideals as well as cultural practices embodying the saint. In doing so, the author contends that hagiography not only provides a framework to study the lives of saints but also highlights the socio-religious and cultural factors that contribute to the construction and preservation of the memories of the lives of saints.

The ninth chapter by Professor Sabiha Hussain is titled ‘Muslim Women Contributors to the Legacy of Urdu Literature: Ismat Chughtai and Qurratulain Hyder’. The chapter looks at the contributions of Muslim women at the beginning of the rise of feminism and the women’s movement in India. It especially aims at targeting the legacy of Muslim feminist writers of India who stood at the front line of bringing feminist thoughts in Indian literature. As much as it is enthralling to celebrate the wavelength of feminism in present-day India, it is essential to celebrate the heritage of unyielding Indian women on whose shoulders the modern feminism ←xv | xvi→shines bright. This chapter highlights the writings of the post-independence authors like Ismat Chughtai and Qurratulain Hyder etc and their contributions to feminist thoughts and movements. Affectionately called Ismat Aapa in the literary circle, Ismat Chughtai is a bold voice in the face of Indian feminism. Her legacy is commemorated by some and critiqued by others. Padma Shri Ismat Chughtai was outspoken and unapologetic about writing taboo themes. Qurratulain Hyder was an editor, scholar and translator. She is one of the most outstanding literary names in the Urdu literature. Qurratulain Hyder started modern and experimental writing long before most other Indian writers explored that road. Hyder was a pioneer of philosophical perspectives, cultural mores, customs and traditions in Urdu language. The present write-up is to commemorate these brave women who refused to budge before conservatives. Chughtai and Hyder’s writings spoke loudly about female sexuality and femininity, middle-class gentility and class conflict. Although their works were initially resisted, by society, they fiercely stood their ground and kept rising again, charming her readers with her thought-provoking stories.

The tenth chapter by Professor Naima Khatoon is titled ‘Begum Akhtar: The Queen Enthralling the World with Her Silken Voice’. Begum Akhtar, a singer of great repute, loved for her masterful rendition of ‘ghazals’, ‘thumri’ and ‘dadra’, fondly known as the ‘ghazal Queen of India’ lived through a turbulent time in Indian history, both in terms of gender politics and religious divide. Although her glorious career masks the hardships she had to suffer to achieve this recognition, her life is an exemplar of breaking through the barriers of another tough life that simmered silently under the surface. The chapter is about celebrating Akhtar as a bold Muslim woman who redefined Lucknow’s high culture not only in her music and poetry but also in her mannerism and conduct. Her legendary personality and her determination to stand out are evident in every anecdote about her, just as it is loud and clear in every recording of her performing live.

The eleventh chapter by Mr Rasheed Kidwai is titled ‘Begums of Bhopal: Towards Muslim Women’s Education’. The chapter is the extraordinary story of the Begums of Bhopal and their contribution to women’s education, upliftment and development. Through successive generations, ←xvi | xvii→the women of this dynasty treaded a path that was free from dogmas and biases. They led by example and showed to their community and their subjects that women are capable in many areas including administration.


XX, 314
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XX, 314 pp.

Biographical notes

Akhtarul Wasey (Volume editor) Juhi Gupta (Volume editor)

Akhtarul Wasey is a professor and social activist. He completed his education from Aligarh Muslim University and later moved to Jamia Millia Islamia as faculty. Wasey was conferred Padma Shri in 2013. He has worked as Commissioner Linguistic Minorities of India, a constitutional authority under article 350 B. He has 37 books to his credit as author, editor and translator. Wasey is currently working as President (Vice Chancellor) of Maulana Azad University, Jodhpur, Rajasthan.   Juhi Gupta has been teaching Women’s Studies at Aligarh Muslim University for the past eleven years. She is an Honorary Fellow at the Edward Cadbury Centre, University of Birmingham, UK. She completed her PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia on the influence of Fatwas and feminist consciousness among Muslim Women. She has been associated with a number of committees and programmes for women’s empowerment. She has published in national and international journals and has authored many books.


Title: Apostles of Transformation
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337 pages