Munira Qubeysi is the head of the largest women-only Islamic movement in the world. It offers Islamic education exclusively to girls and women.
Birth: 1 January 1933 (Age: 89)
Source of Influence: Preachers & Spiritual Guides, Scholarly
Influence: Spiritual leader of more than 75,000 students in Damascus alone
School of Thought: Sunni, Traditional Sunni
Status: Featured in current year
Munira Qubeysi is the head of the largest women-only Islamic movement in the world. It offers Islamic education exclusively to girls and women. Qubeysi commands around 80 schools in Damascus alone, teaching more than 75,000 students. She is one of the most significant Islamic scholars in the world; her movement focuses on learning the Qur’an and six Hadith collections by heart. Qubeysi is arguably the most influential Muslim woman in the world, albeit in great discretion.
Background and Growth: Munira Qubeysi is the daughter of a merchant from the Hauran region in Syria. She was born in 1933 and grew up in al-Muhajirin district in Damascus. She attended government schools as a child, eventually entering the Faculty of Science at the University of Damascus. After graduation, she worked as a teacher. At that time, she attended lessons of Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro, who later became the Grand Mufti of Syria. However, after some differences, she continued her studies under Sheikh Abdul Karim al-Rifai. She entered the Faculty of Islamic Sciences at the University of Damascus, studying under Sheikh Mustafa al-Siba’i, who was leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and Professor Issam al-Attar, who succeeded al-Siba’i. Although she studied under several teachers, she carved her own path while maintaining good relations with the various Muslim intellectual communities in Damascus. After the Ba’athist coup in Syria, Sheikha Qubeysi focused all her efforts on women’s religious education—even to the point of refusing to marry—establishing what is now generally known as the “Qubeysiat”.
Female Muslim Order: At a time when meetings of Islamic organisations are proscribed in Syria, Sheikha Qubeysi’s network, the Qubeysiat, has legally been permitted to host classes and meetings in mosques since 2006—although they had been operating as a secret society long before that time. Members of the Qubeysiat are provided a unique role within Arab society as scholars and teachers exclusively catering to the needs of Muslim women, providing a forum to address religious questions and discuss religious issues. Due to some of her followers coming from wealthy and influential families, Qubeysi’s movement has been able to spread globally as well as affect changes in Syria. Under Bashar Al-Assad, restrictions around wearing hijab were relaxed. During the Syrian Civil War the Qubeysiat have grown extensively and enjoy good relations with the regime. Among their new responsibilities conferred by President Assad is near exclusive control over the country’s youth Qur’anic memorisation program conducted in every mosque.
Milestones in Islamic Education: Qubeysi is influential as the leader of an incredibly successful educational movement. The religious education of women had previously been neglected so the emergence of a female-specific educational initiative has become very popular, making the Qubeysiat, in numbers, the leading Islamic movement in Syria. Qubeysi’s students are also at the forefront of a significant achievement in Islamic history in regards to education—no less than 70 Qubeysiat have memorised nine canonical books of Hadith with extensive chains of narration.
Over 50 years teaching Islamic studies to women
37 thousand female students in Syria study in Qubeysiat circles