Muslim Women Leadership Status in the Connective Era

By Lawrence Hahn

As Lucia and Christy had mentioned, one of the key points that individuals and organizations should understand about leadership in the Connective Era is the willingness to change. The Connective Era requires different behaviors and mind sets. We understand that it is very hard to accomplish a change in the behavior and mindset of people but it is a necessity to be successful in the Connective Era.

Religion is one of the areas that I want to explore more because of its nature. Any religion does not like to change. It can take hundreds of years in all religions including Islam to change. Islam is one of the world major religions that I am very familiar with. Currently, Islam has negative connotations because of their ‘negative behaviors,’ such as its ‘permissive behaviors toward terrorism.’ People have strong arguments against or for the behaviors. The Muslim world denies it and the western world for it. In this blog, I want the readers understand some of the reasons why Muslims behave in certain ways, especially toward women. I focus on Muslim women because of the western’s views toward them.

The leadership role of women in the Muslim world is questionable. Most westerners would argue that it does not exist. Yet, the Muslim world claims that women play an important role. This short blog examines the status of women’s leadership in the Muslim world in the Connective Era. The blog is based on my experiences growing up as an Indonesian Muslim. Generally Indonesian Muslims have a relax attitude toward Islam. This essay shall show the dilemmas and the opportunities for Muslim women in general to be a leader in the Connective Era. It shall also show how individuals influence the advancement of Muslim women in the Connective Era and what strategies that organizations can do in the development of Muslim women leadership in the 21st century.

..The Afghanistan Illustration

Safia Ana Jan was killed on September 25, 2006. She served as chief of the Woman Affairs department in the Kandahar province Afghanistan for five years. According to Taliban leader Mullah Hayat Kha anyone who works for the current Afghanistan government including women will be killed (Afghan, 2006). I think she was targeted to be killed because of her gender and her work. There are many men who work for the current Afghanistan government and the Taliban does not go after them. If they are really going after those men, we would have heard about it.

The Taliban lost control of power in Afghanistan when U.S. troops invaded the country. They can no longer influence any outcome of the Afghanistan government activities. This increases the uncertainty of the role the Taliban play in Afghanistan society. Because of this the Taliban gets anxious therefore the leaders are willing to do anything to reduce the anxiety level of the organization. Terror is one of the means. At the political level, the Taliban is no longer able to use their interpretation of Islamic laws in the daily life of the Afghani. The Taliban, for example cannot tell the Afghanis that they cannot educate their daughters and whip them for disobeying the order. Afghani women have started asking for their rights. They voted in the election. All of these are too much and too soon for the Taliban. They want the status quo.

The Taliban also lost another important factor when they lost power. As an organization, the Taliban lost most of the control over available resources. Without enough resources, they cannot run the organization effectively.

..The Western Point of View

From westerners’ point of view, Muslim women have almost no rights whatsoever. By western standard especially the U.S standard, Muslim women live in a Stone Age era. Nevertheless, if we examine carefully, the rights that women have in the U.S., we find that they are relatively new. For example, in the U.S. women began to vote nationally after the 19th amendment was signed into law in 1920 after a long struggle since 1807 when New Jersey granted women the right to vote in its constitution. The U.S. never has had a female president while Benazir Bhuto was a female Pakistan Prime Minister. Indonesia with the largest Muslim population in the world had Megawati Sukarnoputri as their female president. The Taliban or other Muslim leaderships would point out the same facts if they are asked about the unfair treatments of Muslim women.

..Women Leadership Role in Islam

What I would argue to the Taliban or other Muslim leaderships is the fact that there is a possibility of change in women’s rights in the U.S. There is a separation between the state and the church. Therefore the religious belief system should not interfere with the activities of the government, as Christian right wing fundamentalists would love everybody to believe. Human rights in general and especially women’s rights in western society keep changing for the better.

I do not think that the Taliban and its leaders would agree with me in the idea that women with the same rights as men are good for the society. They would say “Because it is against the Quran or it is against the Hadith and it is against God” (It sounds familiar doesn’t it?). The Quran is source of the highest laws in Islam followed by the Haditth. Quran is from God and Hadith is from the Prophet Muhammad. In Islam, women are expected to follow orders from their husbands, the eldest male or a male in the family if they want to go to heaven. Without the male blessings, the women are going to hell. The women eternal destiny is in the hand of the males. The males own them. When they are single, they belong to the father or their eldest brother. After marriage, they belong to their husband. The women should never argue with their father or their eldest brother if she wants to go to heaven. Blessings from Muslim men to the women are considered God’s blessings. The women can ‘discuss’ a matter with the males but should never argue against them let alone lead the males.

..Muslims and Islamic Rules

A Muslim (it means a good Islamic person) must obey the rules imposed by the religion. If you are just a follower, you are not allowed to interpret any of the rules. You can think about the rules but you cannot interpret it. Only the religious leaders have the authority to interpret some of the rules. Since in most Islamic countries religious leaders are also the state leaders, there is no separation between religion and state. This by it very nature opens the religion up to abuse by the leadership regardless whether they become a state leader or not. They interpret the rules to fit their agenda. This is a fertile ground for toxic leaders to grow including the Taliban. In the Islamic world there is no single leader such as the Pope that governs the entire Muslim world. One toxic leader can cause great damage because of their gross interpretation of the rules. Multiply the number by hundreds or thousands or even millions of leaders, and you have chaos. The levels of gross interpretation are rampant. Every leader can just focus on their organization goals and creating their own followers. The only common grounds that hold these leaders together are rules that are not open to interpretation, the rest is fluid. Rules governing women are among the rules that can be interpreted differently by different leaders.

Some Islamic leaders interpret the rules using cultural context references and some do not. They interpret the rules according to their agenda. The Islamic leaders who interpret the rules using cultural context reference are better in my opinion than the ones who do not. The cultural context reference can be appearance, customs, culture etc.

Appearance for example, men must not reveal to the opposite sex anything above their knees to their belly button. Therefore, technically, it would be OK for a man to go to a mosque to pray or to go anywhere without wearing anything but a piece of textile that covers his belly button to his knees. I have never seen this ever in my life except during hajj. It would be socially unacceptable for an Indonesian man to go to a mosque to pray or to go anywhere without wearing anything to cover his upper torso. I never heard any hot debate about the male proper attire.

The hot debate is always about the women’s proper attire. Women must not reveal to the opposite sex who are not their immediate family member any part of their body with the exception of their palm. They also cannot reveal any silhouette of their body. If a woman reveals any part of their body and it causes a man to be aroused, it is the woman fault and she deserves to be punished.

According to the Muslim leaders, all rules governing the women’s appearances are for the women’s interest. Some Islamic leaders claim that she must cover everything but her palm period. Some leaders argue that she is allowed to show her eyes but not her face and some argue the entire face is OK. The debate is endless.

In my opinion, weather is the main reason that I think Indonesian Muslim women should not wear the head-to-toe burqa style attire. By definition a burqa is “a loose garment (usually with veiled holes for the eyes) worn by Muslim women especially in India and Pakistan and only left some opening in the face” (World Net Search, 2006). The attire is originated in Saudi Arabia with hot and dry climate. According to my Muslim female friends, a burqa style attire is not comfortable for an Indonesian woman because of the hot and humid climate. The minimum long term physical problem with this style of attire is dandruff.

Some of the Indonesian Islamic leaders think that if the women want to go to heaven, she has to wear a black (or any other color) burqa style attire. In my mind, to be fair, those Indonesian Islamic leaders who argue that Indonesian Muslim women must wear burqa style attire should have worn the same attire that the Saudi Arabia men wear with the same exact fabrics. Furthermore, some of these leaders think that the closest you mimic the Prophet Muhammad behaviors blindly without the regard of the cultural context reference, the closer you are to heaven. They never ask the women what they want to wear.

Beside some rules that should have been interpreted using cultural references, the leadership role of Muslim women in any organizations is weakened by the religious rules that are not open to an interpretation. The rules that govern a group prayer are among the rules which are not open to interpretation.

A woman can only lead other women. She never leads a man. If there is a teenage male among them, he must lead the prayer regardless the age of the women or the position of the women in a society. She could be a queen, but when praying in a group, the teenage male is the leader. He must stay in front of all women and lead the prayer. A male leads a transvestite and a transvestite must lead women in a group prayer. That is the right order.

..Muslim Women in the 21st Century Connective Era

I think the control over women’s appearance should be used as the symbol of struggle that Muslim women have in Islam. If they cannot control the simplest thing in a civilized world such as their own appearance, we cannot expect Muslim women to be a leader in the 21st century.

Nevertheless, I think the Taliban would love to point out the influence that women had in Islamic history. The good old days when a female named queen Bilquis ruled an Islamic kingdom. They may also point out the influence of the Prophet Muhammad wives over him etc. Those arguments use repeatedly by Islamic male leaders when talking about the role of women in Islamic society in general and particularly in leadership. The problem is that the current situation for women in general in the Islamic organizations or countries is far from the historical spirit of the religion. Currently, Muslim women traditionally play supporting roles in the most optimistic situation outside the U.S. If there is a male in an organization among females, he, by virtue of his gender, must lead the organization.

I do not think this is entirely bad in the Connective Era. Since Jean Lipman-Blumen wrote that “The Connective Era poses challenges not only to leaders but to followers as well: to transform themselves into active and responsible constituents who can endorse, and more importantly engage in, a radically different leadership dynamic.” (1996, p. 16). The key here is to make sure that those women become effective followers. This fits with an analogy from My Fat Greek Weeding movie. I would like to paraphrase the statement of the mother of the main female character when she said “A man is the head of a family and a woman is the neck. She can turn the head to the direction she wants it.” The neck support the head and it can turn the head any where the neck wants it, assuming that ‘the neck’ can have wants.

..Individual Solutions

The key success for Muslim women to become a leader in the Connective Era is to be actively involved and committed in shaping their own destiny. They have to become an effective follower. The Taliban killing of Safia Ana Jan should not deter the Afghani women and Muslim women in general to get involved and start demanding their rights. It would not be easy and death could be the end result of the demands for those individuals.

Educating Islamic women should be the priority of the western civilization. The main goal of the education should make these women understand that they have important role to play. Give them opportunity to learn and practice leadership skills. The western civilization should not wait for the change to happen from inside the Islamic world. Showing the men that women can make a difference in life should help the transition.

Nevertheless, most male in Islamic countries would argue that educating women is a waste. A Muslim woman has to stay at home, cooking, taking care of the kids, cleaning the house and serve their husband without any reservations. It is their destiny in life. Those men would also argue that giving them education would only empower the women and it is not good for the society. It would throw the order of the society into a tail spin, especially if the women are in leadership positions.

Those men would say that women should have no role in Islamic leadership. If this is true, the leadership of Muslim men is doomed in the Connective Era. This is just the opposite of what Jean Lipman-Blumen wrote about the Connective Era. She wrote that “Leaders in the Connective Era have to emphasize both mutuality (a focus on common interests and values) and inclusiveness (the willingness to include even those very different from the rest without requiring their homogenization)” (1996, p.12). The common interest between Islamic male and female are the fight over resources. A good Muslim leader should recognize this. By having their female counterpart on their side with them, the chance to gain more resources is greater. Moreover, the common values between them are the religion. They should emphasize the part of the religion that requires them to work collaboratively, such as raising children. The Muslim men should let the women to lead in raising their children by making their opinions matter. By accepting the fact that Muslim women is important for the Muslim world and work together as a team between Muslim men and women, I believe the human civilization in general is going to the right direction.

As I said before, terror is a method that some of the current Muslim leaders use to fight with to gain control over resources. These leaders fail to recognize the importance of women to win the fight. The role of individuals such Safia Ana Jan should have been praised by the Taliban and they should have not killed her. She worked to make the Afghani women life better. The country would have been better in years to come when Afghani men and women can work together.

..Organization Solutions

There are many ways that Muslim men and women and the U.S. or western civilization in general can do to work together in Connective Era. Working together for common goals and fostering the spirit of understanding of each others attributes should be the frame work that bridges the Islamic world and western civilization in the Connective Era. This would eliminate some potential conflicts in the Connective Era.

Western civilization should support Muslim women’s organizations in the U.S. We should educate them and work with them. This should help women play an increasing role in the Islamic world. The U.S. should give support to these women to become leaders in their community. Help these women recognize that we are in a different era of leadership. The U.S. should also have a different approach toward the U.S. Muslim leadership. Treat them as equal partner without any prejudice. We need a different mind set to be able to govern effectively in the Connective Era.

The western organization leaders should take advantage of the fluidity of the Islamic religion. This opens up opportunity to influence them by showing them the advantages of working together as fellow human beings. If everybody really cares about the good of human civilization, the leaders must work together in the Connective Era.

For the Muslim men leaders, including the Taliban, the fluidity nature of the religion should be used to their advantages. There would be no steady enemies and no steady friends and no steady groups in Connective Era. In this era, Jean Lipman-Blumen predicted that organization would form:
…short term coalitions, changing kaleidoscopically, will replace long-term political and business alliances… flexible, fast moving organizations, extremely sensitive to change in their environments... connections among organizations and networks will take on new importance as major discontinuities sever the links to our own tradition” (1996, p.10).
It would to their own advantages that Muslim organizations and its leaderships start changing their strategy and abandoning terror as their tactics.

The change of behavior has to start somewhere. It would be an ideal situation if both the Muslim world and western world change its behavior toward each other simultaneously. The world would be a better place for everybody. However, I do not see anything wrong with Muslim organizations and their leaders taking a higher ground by reaching out to the west and working with them collaboratively. ‘The pie’ of resources would be bigger if both sides could work together. The pie could be enlarged easily, if each side works together side by side finding each other strengths. I think it is just plain selfish if one side want to grab all the resources that has been provided by God. Yet, people use God’s name to justify their selfishness.

Finally, the struggle over resources will escalate in the future and we as a nation will have to endure terror threats for eternity if we do not help Muslim woman gain more respect and make them fit leaders for the 21st century. The Islamic world should resurrect their past spirit when they were in leadership position of world civilization. Those days were the days that Muslims used ijtihad which is the analysis of problems that are not precisely covered by the Quran and Hadith. Meaning that in those days, critical thinking and independent thinking were thriving and Muslims used them to enlighten the world including western civilization. In the Connective Era, it should be western civilization’s duty to reciprocate the Islamic world by reminding them the value of ijtihad and the value of women in leadership positions. It would benefit the entire human civilization.

The United States as the current leader in western civilization should recognize and value the different approaches in leadership including the Muslim’s style of leadership. There should be a constant dialogue between the Islamic world and the western world. I do not believe that the west should force its leadership style on other cultures. It would be even worse, if the west does not treat other cultures with dignity. The result could be having to endure an eternity of terrorism. It could become the downfall of western civilization in the Connective Era. The relationship between cultures is not supposed to be a zero sum game.


Afghan Woman Activist Shot Dead. Retrieved September 26, 2006 from

Lipman-Blumen, J., (1996). Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing Word. New York: Oxford University Press

World Net Search. Retrieved September 26, 2006 from

Picture Credit:

  • Introduction
  • Table of Contents
  • Methodology
  • Elements of Effective Leadership
  • Strategies for Individuals
  • Muslim Women Leadership Status in the Connective Era>
  • Connective Leadership in the Global Environment
  • Conclusion