Tayyibah Taylor didn’t believe it when she learned that she was named as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims.
“It was a complete surprise, and it wasn’t anything I applied for,” said Taylor. She is the publisher of Azizah, a Muslim women’s magazine based in Atlanta.
Taylor was one of 72 U.S. Muslims listed in the new book, “The 500 Most Influential Muslims – 2009.″ The book was funded by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, a think tank in Amman, Jordan, and co-edited by Georgetown University professors John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin.
“This is the first report of its kind that has been done. They didn’t notify me, there was no awards ceremony, no monetary prize, but of course being a part of such a great list is worth so much more,” Taylor said.
The report identifies 500 prominent Muslims in 15 fields, such as scholarship, politics, philanthropy, development, science and technology, arts and culture, and media.
Esposito, director of Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, said undertaking the project was important because it introduced people to Muslim leaders around the world. “There are more than the Muslims famous because they are heads of countries or are wealthy, but there are also Muslim writers, Nobel laureates, philanthropists,” he said.
Taylor said the report is a testament to the great contributions of Muslims, especially American Muslims. “Some people still have horrible images of Muslims,” she said, “but this is definitely a way to transform the stereotypical image.”
But Taylor also said that being recognized was a reflection of the magazine and the strength of Muslim women everywhere.
The perception in the Muslim world is that all Muslims in America experience discrimination, said Taylor. In the Western world, she said, people think all Muslim women are “oppressed and have no freedom.”
Azizah magazine is undoing these misconceptions.
“For centuries,” Taylor said, “the stereotype was that Muslim women were defined by Muslim men or a non-Muslim, but Azizah magazine gives the opportunity for the Muslim woman to define herself.”
Founded in 1999, with a current international circulation of 40,000, Azizah magazine was inspired by an international Muslim women’s conference Taylor attended in Chicago in 1992.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fantastic to encapsulate all of this power, experience in a magazine … a vehicle for our voices?’ People don’t know about the intellectual, spiritual and social contributions we have. I wanted to share this with the world,” she said.
The magazine’s content reflects the diverse experiences and strengths of Muslim women. “It isn’t just ‘how to find a husband,’” Taylor asserted.
Azizah magazine was the recipient of the 2009 New America Media ethnic media award for best reporting on environmental issues. The series, entitled “Color Me Green,” highlights environmental consciousness in Islam and environmental leadership by Muslim women.
According to Esposito, the report on influential Muslims will be released each year and include committees of researchers to ensure that key Muslim leaders from around the world are recognized for their work.