UK Muslim 'teddy-bear' woman wins top honors

Baroness named UK’s most powerful Muslim woman


A woman who became famous for rescuing a British teacher jailed in Sudan for calling a teddy bear ‘Muhammad’ was named Britain’s most powerful Muslim woman on Wednesday.

"I'm extremely proud to be named as the most powerful British Muslim woman and I'm sure my Pakistani origins, my strong faith and my Yorkshire upbringing has played a huge part," said Sayeeda Warsi, the 38-year-old Baroness and member of the House of Lords.

"I personally come from a family of all girls and was brought up to believe that anything was possible and being a Muslim woman should in no way be seen as a barrier but as an asset to achievement," Warsi said.

The Muslim Women Power List, which included 13 women, was an initiative to celebrate and build a network of successful Muslim women in British society.

A panel of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, headed by Trevor Phillips, chose Warsi from among a group that included BBC News presenter Mishal Hussain, Grange Park Opera chief executive Wasfi Kani and Farmida Bi, a banking partner for law firm Norton Rose LLP.

"Our list of female Muslim high achievers challenges many stereotypes, celebrating some truly impressive individuals," said Phillips.

In 2007, Warsi helped save Gillian Gibbons, 54, who was arrested and sentenced to 15 days in prison for insulting religion by allowing children at the English school in Sudan to name a teddy bear ‘Muhammad.

Our list of female Muslim high achievers challenges many stereotypes, celebrating some truly impressive individuals

Trevor Phillips, chair of Equality Commission

Shattering stereotypes

A survey done by the commission prior to selecting the Most Powerful Muslim Women List found Muslim women were ambitious, with one-third of the women surveyed seeing themselves as future CEOs or leaders of the organizations they worked for. Two out of three Muslim women saw no difference between the career aspirations of Muslim and non-Muslim women.

77 percent of all working Muslim women said it is likely that a Muslim woman will be a Member of Parliament in the next 10 years.

The survey’s findings challenged mainstream assumptions that minority groups are not motivated and that Muslim women don’t have the same aspirations as their non-Muslim and western counterparts.

"I can’t think of a group more stereotyped and less understood in wider society than Muslim women. This research shows they have the same hopes, concerns and ambitions as anyone else when it comes to work,” press reports quoted Phillips as saying.

Phillips said the findings shored up assumptions that minority groups are somehow “different” and “not like us” and have no plans like mainstream society but choose to remain at home.

Phillips said the list and the survey are the first steps of a project to create a network of professional women whose achievements are highlighted by their faith and background.