This is a selection of articles written about Shamima Shaikh,
some while she was alive and others after her death


Shamima Shaikh 1960-1998 - Sister-Hood

sister-hood magazine. A Fuuse production by Deeyah Khan.


11th July 2019 | by sister-hood staff |  


They claim that Islam gave women the right to equal education and civil and economic rights, but at the end of their analysis they come to the conclusion that a woman’s place is in her husband’s home and that she should be obedient to him and the male elite. How on earth can she enjoy any liberty if she lacks knowledge, is confined to her home and has minimal control over her life? – Shamima Shaikh

Shamima Shaikh was South Africa’s most well-known Muslim women’s rights activist. She was a newspaper editor, a radio producer, and an activist against apartheid who ultimately identified herself as an Islamic feminist. Her legacy lies in promoting  egalitarianism within Islam in South Africa.

Shamima was born in Louis Trachardt, in what was to become the Limpopo province. She spent most of her life in Polokwane (then called Pietersberg). Her father was a teacher and a committed Muslim, who had travelled to Saudi Arabia in order to study Arabic. Shamima supported her mother and took care of her younger siblings. Her sister Fatemah described her as ‘like sparkling, shimmering shards of light that danced around all of us – optimistic, energetic, and always smiling.’

Shamima attended Taxila primary and secondary schools, before attending the University of Durban-Westville, an establishment created under the apartheid system to cater to the Indian population. Here, she developed the beginnings of a political consciousness, joining a movement committed to Black liberation following the ideals of Steve Biko, subsequently  promoting consumer boycotts of companies that abused their workforce. It was during this campaigning work she met her future husband Na’eem Jeenah. Their relationship began when were arrested together whilst distributing pamphlets. They were held in the CR Swart Square police station in Durban and interrogated. Shamima boldly refused to answer any questions. 

Their first child, Minhaj, was born in 1988. Shamima ended her career as a teacher in order to become a full time mother and social activist. With Shamima’s support, Na’eem became the general secretary of the Muslim Youth Movement and the editor of the progressive Muslim monthly magazine Al-Qalam. Later in life she would go on to take  on the role of chief editor herself. 

She was also a member of the National Executive Committee of the Muslim Youth Movement, and chair of the Muslim Community Broadcasting Trust. She also spent time visiting Muslim women in impoverished townships, talking with them about Islam, women’s lives, and women’s rights.

She campaigned for Muslim women’s right to access to their own places of worship, calling for equivalent access to mosques as men – an irony in a country deep in debate about the prejudice and separatism. In 1994, she led a rebellion of Muslim women at the 23rd Street Mosque in Fietas. She and other women had been offering Ramadan prayers upstairs in the mosque, but on the 27th day of Ramadan – the holy night of Laylat al-Qadr – they found that their space had been commandeered by men, and that they had been relegated to a tent outside the mosque. The women reclaimed their space and Shamima recited the taraweeh prayer herself. 

Her main mission was campaigning for Muslim women’s rights within their own community. The new South African constitution granted legitimacy to Muslim marriages, which while welcome to the Muslim community, raised the issue of patriarchal interpretations of shari’a which would disadvantage women. She refused to accept any reliance on male interpretations of Islam, or men speaking on women’s behalf. She focussed upon finding support for feminist ideals in Islamic texts and history instead.

In a radio interview in 1995, Shamima criticised the proposed Muslim Personal Law Bill which was being proposed, expressing concerns about men’s ability to unilaterally divorce their wives. For this, she received a stern caution from the United Ulama Council of South Africa, informing her that she was ‘in gross violation of Islamic principles’. She responded by outlining her vision of an Islam adapted to the needs of the modern world, stating: ‘We were never meant to impose those laws on our context, rather, we are meant to apply the eternal, universal and Divine Qur’an to our context.’ 

She was rudely rebuffed by the Ulama, which accused her of ‘gross ignorance and an arrogant refusal to accept the truth.’ Unabashed, she continued to agitate for a more egalitarian vision of Islam. 

In 1997, she started a radio station on behalf of the Muslim Youth Movement, which broadcast her message across Johannesburg. In the same year, she performed hajj with her husband, co-writing a book about their experiences of the pilgrimage.

Shameema had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. Despite an arduous regime of chemotherapy, it spread to her bones. Her final public engagement was delivering a speech on women and Islam at the 21st Islamic Tarbiyyah Programme, organised by the Muslim Youth Movement just a few weeks before her death. At her request, in a final defiance of patriarchal traditions, her funeral prayers were read by a woman, Farhana Ismail, and her funeral procession involved both women and men. 

Shamima Shaikh was a pioneer and an inspiration to Islamic feminists, through her project of interpreting Islam through feminist hermeneutics. She embodied a passion for justice which was expressed through her strong Muslim identity, said to be based in her belief that she was only accountable to God himself.


Further reading:

The legacy of Shamima Shaikh for the Muslims of South Africa


By Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente, Muslim Views, May 2017

THE ninth of Ramadaan will be 20 years of the death of Shamima Shaikh.

She is currently known worldwide for being the most prominent human rights activist and Muslim feminist in South Africa. Twenty years after her death, what is the major lesson that her short but fruitful life left to us Muslims?

Allah in the Holy Quran commands every Muslim to embrace an active commitment to what is fair and good, and says in Surah An-Nisa:135: ‘O you who have imaan, stand firm in establishing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives.’

If Islam is peace then Islam is justice because one can’t exist without the other. It is no coincidence that this mandate appears in the surah of women. Allah speaks there about us and to us.
Women, thanks to Quran, are the beneficiaries of justice and equality of the revelation and, at the same time, we are called to be active promoters and builders of social justice.

As a Muslim woman and activist for gender justice, in the conviction that Islam contains a message of equality and compassion for all human beings, the most important legacy that Shamima’s life left is the fearless commitment to live for standing up for justice, even if this has negative consequences for us.

Shamima Shaikh was a Muslim who firmly stood up for justice, defying the religious status quo of her time.

As a believer, she did not hesitate to make visible the inequality that affects women in our communities, as widely spread and contrary to the divine word of Allah.

She said: ‘Despite the overwhelming and strong position of Muslims that Islam liberated women 1 400 years ago, you still find there’s a problem.

‘Some thought and practice within Muslim society does not reflect this conviction, giving rise to the accusation that Islam oppresses women, to which the Muslim community reacts emotionally with denial and animosity, without reflecting inwardly and addressing the existing problems.’

Shamima was a pioneer in the promotion of inclusive mosques, introducing the campaign ‘Women in the Mosque’.

She firmly believed that our presence in these spaces was necessary and indispensable, as she stated: ‘It is important for women to be at mosques because they are the most important centres of Islam. Decisions are taken, direction is given. It is where people meet to pray together and it promotes consultation.’

She embodied the commitment for justice that must inspire every Muslim in our daily lives but her own community punished her for this.

She was alienated, mistreated and labelled as mad for following the divine guidance revealed by Allah so that humanity could live in justice, ensuring equal dignity for all people.

According to the testimony of relatives, an Islamic authority that proudly claimed to be Muslim publicly celebrated that Shamima suffered from cancer, saying that it was a punishment from God for her advocacy for gender justice in the framework of Islam.

Shamima’s legacy is much more relevant nowadays, in a time when humans’ lives seem to matter less, making it much more necessary for men and women of faith to show a real, proactive and unconditional commitment to work for the restoration of the dignity of every human being.

How many of us, today, say we are believers in the Quran and are willing to raise our voices to denounce injustice if it involves receiving disapproval?

Are we ready to claim back dignity for those in pain when it demands more than the ‘minimum necessary’?

Are we standing up for justice beyond pretty statements? Are we ready, as Muslims, to be called crazy, mad or troublemakers for reporting abuse?

May her unbreakable faith inspire us to be of those believers that no structure can subject because we are an earthquake; freedom fighters that no fire can burn because we are the fire; Muslims who the oppressor could not silence because we are the thunder; crazy enough, blissfully and proudly crazy to stand up for justice, even against ourselves.

This 9th of Ramadaan, Saturday, June 3, at 3:00 p.m. in Women Zone Artscape, we will remember Shamima Shaikh.

We will celebrate her life, her legacy and her courage with the respect, love and compassion she deserves.

May her name remain in our memory and her life be a light that guides us in establishing the justice and peace of Islam.

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente, a Chilean Muslim, is a social-educator and communication specialist, journalist and research consultant. She is also an-independent scholar on Women’s Studies, Religion and Politics.

The (South) African Queen: Remembering Shamima Shaikh

By Safiyyah Surtee, 4 June 2009

Shamima and Na'eem at a "beach defiance" protest, 1989

Muslimahs who work hard in shaping the depiction of themselves and their sisters in the media, and who are engaged in Islamic feminist discourse to dispel cultural and literalist concepts unjustly attributed to them, are often left flattened under the heavy heap of misrepresentations and stereotypes by both Muslim and non-Muslim agencies.

I would like to dedicate my post for the week to one such South African woman, who fought against all types of oppression, especially against the oppression of Apartheid, Zionism and misogyny.

Shamima Shaikh (1960-1998) was a journalist, media activist and Islamic feminist. Both her life and her death were symbols of struggle for the rights of Muslim women. I found it very difficult to articulate the magnanimity of Shamima’s life, so I turned to her husband, Na’eem Jeenah, for insight:

Shamima’s mission in life was to struggle for justice; whether against white racists propping up apartheid or Muslim misogynists who wanted to ‘keep women in their place’.

Recalling the Courage of Shamima Shaikh

If this be Madness

By Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Shamima Shaikh’s name may be unfamiliar for you and many who are not deeply informed about Islam and gender issues in South Africa or who tend to identify Muslim women and/or activism for women’s rights in Islam with the Arab region. Why should you know about her? Because Shamima Shaikh was one of the most notable Muslim anti-apartheid activists and advocates for the rights of Muslim women in her country—a prominent feminist, journalist, radio producer, movement builder, trailblazer, and fearless activist.

This year—2017—marks the 20th anniversary of her death, and I think it’s a special occasion to recall her brave legacy, not only because twenty is a special number. In the context of violence against women in South Africa and worldwide—in particular the violence against and exclusion of Muslim women in Syria, Palestine, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia—as well as the gendered Islamophobia that targets our sisters in Europe, claiming the courage and spirit of resistance of Shamima Shaikh as part of our ethos as women living in a patriarchal world that hates us is absolutely necessary.

Shamima Shaikh was an activist who made her way from and towards the grass roots; apartheid, poverty, inequality, and discrimination against women were some of the issues that mattered to her. During the difficult years of racial segregation in South Africa, she got involved in the Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO), denouncing racism and oppression in university environments. According to her husband, Na’een Jeenah:

Shamima’s mission in life was to struggle for justice; whether against white racists propping up apartheid or Muslim misogynists who wanted to keep women in their place.

Shamima took her activism to the heart of the Islamic community. Courageously advocating for the right of Muslim women to have a voice and to participate on equal terms with men in community life, she became the first National Coordinator of the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM) Gender Desk, where she organised workshops, seminars, and campaigns. She was a pioneer of her time in promoting inclusive mosques; she firmly advocated that our presence in these spaces was indispensable, as she said:

Mosques are the most important centres of Islam. Decisions are taken, direction is given. It is where people meet to pray together and it promotes consultation.

She did believe that Islam holds a message of equality and social justice, aimed especially at women, so the inequality that affects us through society was one of her major concerns. She even had the “audacity” to be vocal on controversial issues that are absent from the scope of Muslim feminists nowadays, albeit they are part of the painful reality of many Muslim women along the world, like criminalized abortion and the sexual exploitation of women through prostitution.

The struggle against patriarchy was parallel with the fight against cancer. In 1994, already diagnosed with the disease, she was appointed editor of the newspaper Al-Qalam, which became the communication channel of progressive Muslims in South Africa. On December 22, 1997, Shaikh completed her final public engagement with the presentation of the lecture: “Women and Islam: The Ideological Struggle”. Seventeen days later, she returned to God.

Claiming Back her Legacy for All

It is possible to find online some magazine articles written during the last decade that refer to different aspects of Shamima Shaikh‘s life. Since 2014, memorial lectures have been held in different cities of South Africa to honor her memory: Kecia Ali, Sadiyya Shaikh, and Fatima Seedat have addressed the figure and activism of Shamima Shaikh in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively.

Inspired by these efforts, several months ago I proposed to feminist comrade Shehnaz Haqqani from the United States, a collaboration with me in crafting a book on Shamima Shaikh. Na’eem Jeenah, from South Africa, who was married with Shamima, joined us later.

The book we are working on, which will be launched this year, is an anthology of essays to mark the 20th anniversary of her passing. It will celebrate her legacy, life, and courage and highlight the struggles and issues that she believed were important for leading humankind towards more inclusive and compassionate societies. Contributors from South Africa and all over the world include those who shared their life with Shamima, activists inspired by her struggles, and scholars interested in highlighting the central tenets of her political thinking on women’s rights and social justice.

As the coordinator of this anthology, let me say that we are humbled by our contributors’ generosity in adding their voices to this book. We are pleased with the diversity gathered around Shamima’s memory: Remarkable scholars like Margot Badran and Kecia Ali, together with Fatima Shaikh (Shamima’s sister), activist Sirin Adlbi Sibai from Syria, or an emergent voice in Islamic Feminism such as Lailatul Fitriyah from Indonesia, are some of those who have embraced our vision of this work as a primordial act of love, gratitude, and sisterhood towards her.

We are guided by the deep conviction that Shamima Shaikh was a woman whose life is a testimony for all times and for all struggles for social justice. She was anti-apartheid; she devoted a big part of her life to making sure there will be room for everyone in her society. This is an ethics worthy to learn and practice. Her legacy deserves to be known, embraced, and owned by all, beyond the limits of our religious, ethnic, and national identities. She was a Muslim, Indian, and South African feminist, but her legacy is not property of Indians South Africans Muslims  Feminists. Any claim on exclusivity in this regard dishonors the very memory of Shamima and expresses an egoism that is alien to the basic values of feminism. What a sister did, does, or will do for our liberation is an inheritance for all women.

We celebrate the interest that her life has aroused. Along with our book, there is a biography in process to be released, maybe this year too, by a South African journalist.

As Thandile Kona, president of Muslim Youth Movement, which hosts the annual Shamima Shaikh Memorial Lecture,  said:

In celebrating and memorialising Shamima Shaikh, we also remind ourselves that the struggle for an egalitarian society has not ended, it continues, and needs each one of us to put our shoulder to the wheel of justice as it trudges along the path of history.

Her life is proof that Islam contains a message of equality for all people and is a path and a perspective useful to reclaim and restore justice wherever it is necessary. The courage of a woman who passionately and fearlessly challenged the patriarchy of her time should be known everywhere a woman rises today to claim her dignity; as long as misogyny preys upon us, we will always need examples to inspire us.

Vanessa Rivera de la FuenteVanessa Rivera de la Fuente works in community development, gender equality, and communication for social change. She has led initiatives for women’s empowerment in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Morocco, and South Africa. As a Gender Justice advocate with a broad scope of interests, she is a social and digital entrepreneur committed to the strengthening of grass roots organizations and the development of an independent pathway of thinking, research, and academic writing around Gender, Politics, and Religion. Loyal lover of books, cats and spicy chai.

The mad courage of Shamima Shaikh’s activism for mosque reform

, Thursday, 23rd October 2014, in Aquila Style

How a Muslim woman who fought for gender equality had her sanity questioned in a South African mosque. By Merium Kazmi

Contrary to popular belief, Islamic history is full of stories of extraordinary Muslim women. These women have assumed positions of power and respect by challenging cultural norms of women’s role in society, and contributing to their communities’ wellbeing and development. These range from the heroic contributions of many female members of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) family, to philanthropists like Fatima Al Fihri, who in Fez, Morocco built the University of Qarawiyin, the world’s oldest and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, we also have strong leaders, such as Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo and also the world’s youngest female president.

It is unfortunate that at times we learn of these brave women only after they have passed away. For many of us, Shamima Shaikh is one such individual. A Muslim from South Africa of Indian descent, Shamima was a journalist and activist who strived to relay the Qur’an’s messages of peace, justice and equality to both a burgeoning community of fellow Muslims and the politically charged atmosphere of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. She became known for the strength and tenacity with which she fought for the rights of women – rights she believed the religion of Islam guaranteed her.

Recordando a una Guerrera Feroz y Compasiva

by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

15 June 2016

Cuando hablamos de Feminismos Islámicos y de activismos por los derechos de la mujer en el Islam, hay algunos nombres que tienen un lugar bien ganado en el imaginario colectivo de las feministas: Amina Wadud, Fatima Mernissi, Shirin Ebadi, Asma Lamrabet, Kecia Ali, entre otras.  La mayoría de ellas pertenecen al mundo académico. A través de sus libros, ellas han instalado la causa del Feminismo Musulmán como una lucha legitima y visible, tanto dentro como fuera del Islam.

Why we miss her? - Femina

By Sharon Sorour-Morris

Femina magazine

Shamima Shaikh (37), who died of cancer in recent months, was South Africa’s leading Muslim gender-equality activist, highly respected for her tenacity and bravery in the face of fierce opposition from conservative elements in her community. She led a rebellion of Muslim women worshippers at a mosque in 1994 and started an ‘alternative’ congregation where gender equality and all its implications for lslamic thought and practice were the norm.

Recalling the Legacy of a Fierce and Compassionate Warrior

15 June 2016

by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

When we talk about Islamic Feminisms and activisms for women rights in Islam, there are some names that have a well deserved place in the collective feminist mind: Amina Wadud, Fatima Mernissi, Shirin Ebadi, Asma Lamrabet, Kecia Ali, among others. Most of them belong to the academic world. Through their books, they have installed the cause of Muslim Feminists as a legitimate and visible struggle, both inside and outside of Islam.

Activist Dies - The Post

SHAMIMA Shaikh, acclaimed pioneer for the rights of Muslim women in South Africa and station manager for the Mayfair-based Islamic radio station The Voice, succumbed to cancer on the same day that her final inerview with the media appeared in POST last week.

Mrs Shaikh, 37, started out as a student activist during her days at the University of Durban-Westville, defyind tradition at the time which precluded Muslim women from taking part in male-dominated religious activities by leading a group of women into the Pageview mosque in Johannesburg to pray.

Badass Ladies of History: Shamima Shaikh

“Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, either man or woman. The one of you is of the other.” – Qur’an

Shamima Shaikh was a woman whose life was dedicated to the struggle for justice, as well as continuing the deep commitment she held to upholding what she believed was the true message of the Qur’an: justice, peace and love. She considered herself an Islamic feminist, and worked within Muslim communities for women’s rights as both an activist and a journalist.

She was born in 1960, in what was then known as Louis Trichardt (today known as Limpopo Province) in South Africa. She was the second oldest sibling out of six. Her parents, Salahuddin and Mariam Shaikh, raised her quietly in Pietersburg until she completed her matriculation in 1978. She would head off to the University of Durban-Westville, where she would spend a year, only to return to home for unknown reasons. She later returned to university, where she studied Arabic and Psychology, as well as awakening her desire to become involved in social justice. At the time of her return to university, the political climate of Durban-Westville had been charged, mostly due to the new apartheid reforms that had been passed in South Africa. She became involved in the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), where members had been working towards ending the oppressive environment in the academic environment. She would only stay with AZAPO for two years after completing her time at university and would go on to teach at primary and secondary schools located in Pietersburg, as well as marry her partner Na’eem.

If this be madness... - Farid Esack

By Dr Farid Esack

Published in Women in Action, Phillipines, February 1998

Shamima Shaikh (37), South Africa’s leading Muslim gender equality activist passed away in the early hours of last Thursday at her home in Mayfair, Johannesburg when her physical body succumbed to cancer. Shamima left behind her husband, Na’eem Jeenah and two sons, Minhaj (9) and Shir’a (7).

Shamima was a member of the National Executive of the Muslim Youth Movement and former editor of the progressive Muslim monthly, al-Qalam. More recently, at a time when other co-religionists were denying women the right to be on air, she served as chairperson of the Muslim Community Broadcasting Trust, which runs The Voice, a Johannesburg Muslim community radio station. It was, however, as a gender activist within the Muslim community that she made her mark. She spearheaded the formation and headed the Gender Desk of the Muslim Youth Movement. In this capacity she rapidly became a thorn in the flesh of conservative Muslim clerics on the now defunct Muslim Personal Law Board who were keen to develop and implement a set of Shari’ah laws which would entrench gender inequality.

Obituary: Shamima Shaikh - 1960-1998

Shamima in the Mail & GuardianShamima Shaikh was born on 14 September 1960 in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo Province, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. She was the second of six children born to Salahuddin and Mariam Shaikh. Her first school years were in Louis Trichardt, until the family moved to Pietersburg, just over 100 km south.
After completing school in 1978, Shaikh studied at the University of Durban-Westville, which was reserved, under South Africa's apartheid laws, for students of Indian descent. In 1984 she completed her Bachelor of Arts Degree, majoring in Arabic and Psychology. These were politically charged years at university, and she got involved in the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO) for the next two years.

Shamima Shaikh - Fighter for Women's Rights - Horizon

Horizon Newspaper

Shamima Shaikh (37) Muslim women activist, journalist and campaigner for gender equality, lost her long battle against cancer recently.


Shamima was former editor of Al-Qalam, the Muslim Youth Movement-owned newspaper and one of the founders of the Johannesburg-based Muslim radio station The Voice. She was Chairperson of the community broadcast trust that owns the station. Shamima launched her battle for human rights and gender equality in 1978 as a student activist at the University of Durban-Westville.

Famous Feminists: Ms Shamima Shaikh

By Tina Price-Johnson

Shamima Shaikh was born on 14th September 1960, the second of six children of Salahuddin and Mariam Shaikh. Her family moved from Louis Trichardt (in the Limpopo Province), South Africa to Pietersburg (now called Polokwane), where she graduated from high school. Ms Shaikh then attended the University of Durban-Westville, at that time an institution listed by the apartheid government as reserved for students of Indian ethnicity.

Whilst studying Arabic and Psychology at University Ms Shaikh became involved with the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO), a political group which was inspired by the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) which was founded in the 1960s to fight apartheid in South Africa.

In 1985 Ms Shaikh was elected to the executive committee of her university’s Islamic Society. The society supported a call for a general boycott by the Federation of South African Trade Unions through the Muslim Students Association of South Africa group. On 4th September Ms Shaikh was arrested for distributing pamphlets encouraging a boycott of Durban white-owned businesses. Ms Shaikh was held in a cell with the President of the MSA, Na’een Jeenah, and from this time they development a personal relationship. Neither were charged, and in 1987 they married and eventually had two children.

A letter to Shamima - Tahir Sitoto

By Shaikh Tahir Sitoto

Dear Shamima

The last we saw of you, you were a living mortal – your spirit fighting, refusing to give up. That memory still lingers. We remember the many moments we shared both in times of joy and sadness. The moments of struggle and celebration.

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Journey of Discovery:
A South African Hajj

by Shamima Shaikh and
Na'eem Jeenah


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