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Faith and Finance: Muslim Women in the Business World


Muslim women are making their mark, despite high illiteracy rates and sexual bias in the education system.

A muslim woman in Beijing

Via oceanaris, flickr

By: Sarah L. Taylor, Staff Writer

Nahed Taher cannot legally drive a car, get a divorce or own property, but is the founder and CEO of a top Saudi Arabian investment bank. A doctor of economics, she is one of the biggest financial players in the gulf region and Forbes Magazine nominated as one of the most powerful women in the Arab world. Strict Islamic law has never hindered Taher, whose balance of work and religion has proved a recipe for success.

This is not unusual. Female entrepreneurs are common throughout the Muslim world, and command a great deal of respect. From every corner of the business world, Muslim women are making their mark, despite high illiteracy rates and sexual bias in the education system.

Take Raja Al-Gurg, for example. Currently the managing director of Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, the UAE native is now in charge of 26 companies. Appointed to the Chambers of Commerce, Al-Gurg is also the reigning president of Dubai women’s council.

Ingie Chalhoub, also of the UAE, is commander-in-chief of Etoile group, a designer fashion chain featuring Chanel and Valentino. Chalhoub runs over 50 retail outlets and was 2008’s Emirates Business Woman of the Year.

The list goes on. In Saudi Arabia alone, there are an estimated 23,000 women in business. The US based Muslim Women’s Fund is actively offering grants in Egypt and Pakistan for aspiring entrepreneurs, and has nearly 2000 members in its Facebook group since its launch in 2009. Women now outnumber men in colleges in Iran. So, why are so many unaware of these powerhouses?

…business women in the Arab world who wear head coverings are more likely to receive a promotion, secure a loan or impress potential investors 

Muslim women are commonly portrayed in mainstream media as submissive, shy and uneducated.  Ignored are the entrepreneurs, CEOs and finance gurus. From politics to pop stars, Muslim women are a strong presence in the business world, despite patriarchal laws and gender based discrimination.

Female graduate numbers are rising and in Iran, women currently outnumber men in colleges. Experts suggest technology is playing a role. In the Middle East and North Africa, where the majority population is Muslim, nearly 30 million are Facebook users. Online groups for women, including business, financial and entrepreneurial are growing daily and allowing users to connect and gain support.

Although males in the Middle East don’t always take well to women in authority, those adhering to religious guidelines have a step up. Studies show that business women in the Arab world who wear head coverings are more likely to receive a promotion, secure a loan or impress potential investors. Muslim women are using their religion to network, advertise, and provide customers with a business ethics from an Islamic approach.

Islam dictates a married woman’s wealth is her own, and the business savvy are making smart investments. The political climates of Islamic nations may not be favourable to women, but the business world provides a fairly equal ground as Muslim scripture actually encourages female financial independence. Even the Prophet Mohammad first wife Khadija was a virtuous and wealthy businesswoman.

For these women, religion is a catalyst, not a hindrance, and drives them to succeed. Beneath the veils are clever and innovative women, who are breaking the glass ceiling and seeing slow and steady change.

It just takes a little faith.

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