Five of the most inspiring TED Talks by Muslim women

Five of the most inspiring TED Talks by Muslim women
Sami Rahman lists the Muslim women from around the world clocking up millions of views for their TED talks addressing rights, religion and rebellion and more.
5 min read
07 March, 2018
(L-R) Motivational Muslim women Alaa Murabit, Amal Kassir and Mariah Idrissi [Getty]
Oppressed. Hidden. Silenced. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe Muslim women, even more so in the past few years when Islam and Muslims have been under more media scrutiny than ever before.The mainstream media continue reporting on the "oppression" and "lost voice" of Muslim women, yet so many are being heard by millions online.

Muslim women are being invited to talk about their experiences on huge platforms such as the TED Talk conferences, attracting hundreds of thousands of views, shares and likes.

Ten years ago a university degree may have been the biggest accolade sitting proudly on a CV. Fast forward to 2018, and titles such as ‘TED Talk speaker’ have quickly become sought-after.

TED Talk speakers are usually high-achieving, inspirational characters who have something important and useful to tell the world. This isn’t an honour given to just anyone - you have to either be invited or nominated to speak at their conferences, and with average video views hitting nearly one million, it can be a springboard to bigger and better things.

The revolutionary non-profit company is known for its cutting edge talks and ground-breaking speakers, who hail from all over the world. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) was founded as a conference in 1984, and has now diversified to more than 100 languages and 1,400 (and counting) motivational stories.

Most recently, 23-year-old writer Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan was invited to share her thoughts on Muslim women in media. Her talk, labelled ‘I’m bored of talking about Muslim women’ attracted thousands of views, shares and likes and discussed the sensationalisation of hijab and Muslim women.

If you needed any further proof that Muslim women have a voice, here are five of the most inspiring TED Talks by Muslim women:

1. Noor Tagouri - Calling on the 10,000

"I'm usually the elephant in the room," says Tagouri as she opens her TED talk, which takes us through her journey from growing up as the only Arab-Muslim in her school, to realising her dream of becoming the first hijabi news anchor in America. “I believe in rebellion as a form of authenticity,” she says. “To me our most authentic self is a form of rebellion.”

Twenty-four year old journalist Tagouri was first thrust onto the spotlight when a picture of her sitting on the news desk of ABC News went viral on Facebook. She has since been (controversially) interviewed for Playboy magazine and her TED talk has already reached more than 100,000 views worldwide. Speaking about the importance of Muslim women being heard, Tagouri says: “I am the voice that explains my religion, that clarifies the context of cultural nuances, and that makes sure when we’re reporting news stories regarding terrorist groups like ISIS, we are reporting it in a way that doesn’t generalise the Muslim population.”

2. Dalia Mogahed - What do you think when you look at me?

Egyptian-born scholar Mogahed took the TED Talk stage to talk about her experiences as a Muslim woman living in America during and after the 9/11 attacks. In her moving talk she describes how she had to fight to defy media stereotypes: "Somebody else’s actions had turned me from a citizen to a suspect. For the first time in my life I was afraid for anyone to know I was a Muslim."

She continues to discuss the concept of 'collective guilt' that Muslims in America constantly feel for the actions of a few, evil individuals and urges the audience to "pick courage and compassion over panic and prejudice".

3. Amal Kassir - The Muslim on the Airplane

Syrian-American Amal Kassir’s spell-binding TED Talk tackles the topic of Islamophobia in America. The spoken-word artist discusses the need for people to cross the threshold and simply ask for a person’s name, disregarding their appearance or faith.  

According to Kassir, "the greatest distance you can travel in the shortest amount of time is by asking someone their name" and "when we don't ask someone for their name" and generalise according to their appearance, "we’re not asking for their story".

4. Alaa Murabit - What Islam really says about women

Libyan-American activist Alaa Murabit took to the TED Talk stage to talk about how she launched a campaign to fight for women’s rights by using the verses from the Quran. "I can’t overlook the damage that has been done in the name of religion," she says. "The misinterpretation, misuse and manipulation of religious scripture has influenced our social and cultural norms, laws and daily lives."

She continues to discuss her own childhood as one of eleven children and the importance of participation and 'being at the table' when something happened in the home. At the age of 15, her family moved back to Libya, where she quickly realised that her religion (like most others) was dominated by men, who controlled the messaging and the policies created in their likeness.

5. Mariah Idrissi - Changing the face of fashion

When Mariah Idrissi appeared in an H&M ad campaign she changed people’s perception of the hijab and in her inspiring TED talk she discusses the need to break those stereotypes created by the media. "Hijab is not a representation of oppression," she explains. "The fact that we are seeing it in mainstream media makes people understand that there is another side to Islam."

But her talk isn’t just about the hijab and its status as a fashion symbol. Idrissi addresses a deeper issue in the fashion and beauty industry, arguing that Muslim women don't need to conform to be successful. "We're still conforming and sexualising ourselves in a way to appeal and get somewhere in life," she explains. "We feel it's compulsory to do makeup and hijab tutorials... without people even knowing what's on the inside - just to get our message out." She ends her talk by vocalising the importance of not needing society's acceptance: "We feel we need to be acknowledged by other people but this is totally untrue. We don't need consent or validation from social media to validate that we are doing something great."

Sami Rahman is a freelance writer based in London. 

Follow her on Twitter: @bysamirahman