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What is a Muslima?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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A Muslima is a Muslim woman. Not all Muslim women refer to themselves as Muslimas; those who do tend to be younger, and sometimes more socially aware. The use of the term “Muslima” is akin to the use of words like “Latina,” which is used to describe a woman of Latin origin. Ultimately, the decision to refer to oneself as a Muslima is a personal choice; more conservative Muslims tend not to use it.

By describing herself as a Muslima, a Muslim woman rejects the all-encompassing “Muslim,” distinguishing herself as a separate and distinctively female entity. In a sense, using “Muslima” is empowering, reminding people of the role of women in Islam and stressing the idea that women can be independent, powerful people with their own thoughts, ideas, and goals which may be separate from those of Muslim men.

There are many misconceptions about the role of women in Islam, especially in the West. Most of these misconceptions are the result of poor education or a lack of understanding about the Muslim world, and many Muslimas in the West work hard to undo the stereotypes about Muslim culture, society, and attitudes towards women. By adopting the term “Muslima,” they stress that Islam is for women as well as men.

Using “Muslima” as opposed to “Muslim” is akin to rejecting the use of “he” as a generic pronoun in English. Women in the West have fought very hard for the use of gender neutral pronouns or the more inclusive “he or she” to remind people that women are not faceless objects which can be bundled in under a generic male pronoun. Many Muslimas feel the same way, using this word to remind people that women have a role in Islam, and that they are not necessarily subordinate to men.

You may also see “Muslima” spelled as “Muslimah,” depending on regional preference. Many Muslim women's magazines and other publications now use the term to appeal to a younger demographic, as do some Muslim dating agencies. The use of “Muslima” to describe Muslim women is growing, and as a result it is much more socially acceptable. However, it is still a good idea to listen carefully to the language women use to describe themselves; if a woman says that she identifies as a Muslim, it is a good idea to use “Muslim,” rather than “Muslima,” out of respect to her personal preference.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon231134 — On Nov 22, 2011

No, actually the Quran explicitly states that Muslim women have the same rights as men. Women have the right to vote. Women have a right to a prenuptial agreement - this is considered a contract and if this contract is not met by the man then consequences will be made.

A Muslima is allowed to have her husband help her in the home if need be. She is allowed her own money, and if she has her own money via work or her parents the husband doesn't have a right to touch it. A Muslima is given the hijab so that she is protected from those who are lustful. By covering, it gives the muslim, muslim woman liberation over those material and "looks" that occur in society today. She is then valued for her mind and her personality.

By candyquilt — On Mar 24, 2011

@ysmina-- I think the term is more important for Muslim women who live in Non-Muslim countries.

I agree that when I look at Muslims and Muslim culture from a non-Muslim perspective, it does appear that Muslim women are sort of in the background. Many of the Muslim women I see don't work and spend most of their time taking care of children and their families. Whereas I see Muslim men doing business and working in many different fields. I can't help but think that Muslim women have been forced to subordination. But again, I don't know any of them personally and I have never discussed with a Muslim woman what they think on this subject.

I would like to hear a Muslim woman's views on this personally. But I think that the use of "muslima" is kind of a response to this as well. Maybe Muslim women are trying to tell us that they don't feel pressured or forced to live the way that they do. Maybe it's their choice and they are happy with it.

By ysmina — On Mar 23, 2011

I had never heard of this word before. Honestly, it doesn't make too much sense to me. As far as I know, "muslim" means "one who believes." I always thought of it as a word which encompasses all believers, without distinction of male or female. Is there really a need for the world "muslima?"

I know that men and women are equals in Islam but aren't Muslim women also required to be subordinate to men?

I think that the concept of female subordination is in the Bible too. Women are supposed to listen to and respect the wishes of their husband. This doesn't mean that they cannot have a mind of their own or that they cannot differ from their husbands. They have the freedom to think and act as they wish as long as it's within the boundaries mentioned in the Bible.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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