When people think of Muslim leaders they rarely envision women; however, many women are have made their mark as religious leaders in Islam. Veiled Voices presents the lives of three such women, allowing them to tell their own stories filled with struggle, triumph, and irony.
The film centers on Ghina Hammoud from Lebanon, Huda Al-Habash from Syria, and Dr. Su’ad Saleh from Egypt. Each woman is making waves in her country as she carves out milestones in faith and society. These women are teachers who get their messages of Islam and women’s strength across through lectures, television appearances, one-on-one lessons, and living their lives as examples to others.
The film begins with the women telling about their past, how they become religious leaders, and what they believe makes them who they are. Next, we get to see them in action as they talk to students and speak on television. The film concludes by looking at the next generation, the daughters of the women.
The interviews with the women's daughters and husbands were important because it shows how equality within the home is very valuable. All of the women demand the men in their lives support their passion and refuse to settle for anything less. This is evident in Ghina’s standing up to family and societal pressure to divorce an abusive husband. The decision and its outcomes weren't easy, but it is apparent that this was the right decision for her.
The film shows how institutional sexism prevents speedy social evolution. One example in the film is when Sheikh Tantawi, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, says it would be fine for a woman to be appointed as a mufti, a Muslim scholar trained to interpret Islamic law, so long as she is qualified through education and practice. However, it is revealed that when Dr. Su’as Saleh submitted an application, she only received one vote from an all-male panel. It is wonderful to celebrate these strong women making a difference in the Islamic world, but there is much progress to be made and it is important that the film highlighted the outright sexism these women face.
There wasn’t much discussion in the film about these women's thoughts on oppression and violence done to women in the name of Islam and based on misogynist interpretations of Sharia. Many people see this as a human rights abuse, and I would have liked to hear what these women think about these interpretations and the outcries to stop these violent acts. The personal stories of these Muslim women are inspiring, and their determination to be positive role models is clear. Veiled Voices is a good start to a conversation by and about women in Islam to change misconceptions held about the role of women in the religion.