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12 Amazing Arab American Women You Need to Know About

posted on: May 29, 2019

By: Emily Becker/Arab America Contributing Writer

Little is known about the true lives of Arab American women in the United States and around the world.  Unfortunately, many of their accomplishments and contributions to society are overshadowed by stereotypes arising from the media.  As evidenced by the following women, there is a drive in the Arab American community to change those preconceptions through a variety of unique outlets.  Here are just a few of the incredible women embarking on this path and speaking out for what they believe in.

1. Susan Abulhawa

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American writer and activist. As the founder of an NGO called “Playgrounds for Palestine,” her books have been translated into more than 15 languages.  Through written works, speeches, and her roles in different organizations, Abulhawa aims to promote the rights of Palestinians around the world.

2. Saddeka Arebi

Book by Saddeka Arebi on women in Saudi Arabia

Saddeka Arebi was a Libyan-American social anthropologist who studied the presence of women in Saudi Arabian culture, religion, and history. Besides publishing influential written works, she was an active member of the Muslim World League and a lecturer who taught about women and Islam in the Arab world.

3. Rosemary Barkett

As the daughter of Syrian immigrants to Mexico, Rosemary Barkett is the first female Arab American judge on the Florida Supreme Court. After her appointment, she was elected the first woman Chief Justice by her colleagues.

4. Doris Bittar

Work of art by Doris Bittar

Doris Bittar is an interdisciplinary artist with pieces exhibited all over the world.  Besides weaving American and Arab culture into what she calls “cultural DNA,” Bittar enjoys expressing her Arab identity using art.  Her decision to incorporate such elements arose out of escalating tensions and conflict in the Middle East.  While she still uses artwork as a form of activism, Bittar is also a professor in California and a writer.

5. Rima Fakih

Rima Fakih is a Lebanese-American actress, model, professional wrestler, and beauty pageant title-holder.  In 2010, she was awarded Miss USA where she represented her home state of Michigan. She then became the National Director of Miss Lebanon in 2018.

6. Deana Haggag

Egyptian-American Deana Haggag founded United States Artists in 2017; an organization in which she is now CEO.  Formerly the Executive Director of an art museum called “The Contemporary,” Haggag is now credited with turning the museum into one of the most vital cultural institutions in Baltimore, Maryland.

7. Linda Sarsour

Linda Sarsour is an American political activist of Palestinian descent who speaks out for a variety of individuals, including immigrants, Muslims, women, black victims of police violence, and Standing Rock Native Americans. She is also the former Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York and co-chair of the Women’s March.

8. Salma Hayek

With family originating from Lebanon, Salma Hayek is a Mexican-American actress who has succeeded in both the American and Mexican TV and filming industry.  She has received many nominations and awards for her acting and is also a prominent advocate for domestic abuse victims.

9. Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb is an Egyptian-American journalist and Today show co-anchor.  She also plays a role in its entertainment segment and was formerly a correspondent for Dateline.

10. Maysoon Zayid

Maysoon Zayid is an American actress and comedian with a Palestinian descent.  Besides her recognition as the first female Muslim comedian in America, Zayid is also the first to perform stand-up in Palestine and Jordan. Her TED talk, titled, I got 99 problems … palsy is just one, became one of the most watched TED talks of all time.  She enjoys helping other female comedians within the field, as well as supporting Palestinian children.

11. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician and professor whose research exposed the Flint Water Crisis.  Specifically, she found that children were being exposed to high levels of lead through the water supply.  In 2018, her book, What Eyes Don’t See, was named one of the 100 Most Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times.

12. Rashida Tlaib

Rashida Tlaib became one of first Palestinian Arab Muslim Congresswomen in 2018.  She serves as an American politician and lawyer representing Michigan’s 13th District.  She advocates strongly for fair housing, clean air, health issues, rights of immigrants, and for Palestine.

Ultimately, these few women among many others, have worked hard to get to where they are now.  Amidst misunderstandings about the Arab world, such accomplishments are inspirational and crucial to the promotion of a positive image of Arab Americans and the Arab World.  We must begin recognizing and following in the footsteps of such individuals, especially when it comes to speaking out for what is right.  Maybe then we will see a change in the perception of the Arab American community here in the United States.