Gender & Identity, Life, Interviews

9 questions with Aisha al-Adawiya, the revolutionary changing the world for Muslim women

Even as a young girl growing up in the South, Sister Aisha challenged the bigotry around her.

In today’s social climate, it’s important for young girls and women to know that they have role models doing meaningful work in their communities. So, I sat down with one of my favorite lady leaders,  Aisha al-Adawiya to give you a glimpse into her work.

Aisha al-Adawiya, or Sister Aisha, as she’s fondly called by almost everyone who knows her, is a community powerhouse. For years, she has been a pillar of motivation and grace in the human rights movement. She is the founder and chair of Women in Islam Inc., a Muslim women’s human rights organization, based in New York City. She founded Women in Islam in response to the rape atrocities committed against Bosnian women, when she found Muslim women were not given a platform to participate in the discussion. Women in Islam Inc. empowers women spiritually and intellectually to be active members of civil society. Sister Aisha is also on staff at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a New York Public Library in Harlem, New York City.

Sister Aisha sat down with The Tempest to talk about her life, her work, and her motivations.

1- Can you remember the first time you recognized you had a different racial identity than the norm?

I think I felt that as a young girl, maybe entering my teens. I would begin to challenge things around me based on bigotry and felt compelled to speak to that, even as a young girl growing up in the South.

2- In one sentence, can you describe the impact of your work?

Hopefully, the impact of my work – which I hope touches many different aspects of my own life, who I am, and how I choose to navigate in the world – makes a difference, a positive difference, and really encourages, inspires, and even challenges young Muslim women to delve into the religious Islamic sciences so that they can become future leaders grounded in authentic knowledge about Islam.

3- Can you tell us about the necessity of your work?

The necessity of my work is that we need Muslim women – that I’ve just described – to have a platform so that they can carry out the work put before them. We provide a platform so they can do that.

4- What is your favorite song at the moment?

I’ve been listening to Alice Coltrane “Journey in Satchidananda,” which is amazing. I’ve also been listening to a man named Omar Sosa. Those are the two that are kind of resonating with me right now.

5- What about yourself are you most proud of?

Wow! That’s a very hard question, I don’t think I can answer that one because I’m not proud of myself – I like myself – [laughs], and I continue to strive to be the kind of person that I would like to be. But that’s an ongoing process and I don’t think that’s ever complete until the time that we die, so there is a striving always.

6- Where do you get your news? 

Various sources, because of the work that I do. I’m connected to a lot of different networks and I get information through those networks as well as social media. Occasionally, I watch the news on television, which is mostly entertainment, so I’ll go for the comics to see what they have distilled for the day. But basically, I rely on my networks and we discuss emerging challenges that are coming out every day and I tend to rely on that information more than others.

7- What is one book that has been particularly transformative in your lifetime?

Well, certainly the autobiography of Malcolm X. I would also say the Qur’an – I’d probably have to put that at the top of the list because that’s been a guiding force for me.

8- Can you describe yourself in one word?


9- Where are you going next?

Insha’Allah, I am now entering a phase of my life where I’m feeling more and more encouraged to write about my life experiences, my journey. So, that’s where I’m going now. I’m also looking very heavily at the transition to being the kind of leader of my organization to hand over those reins to young women like yourself.

So now I think I’m entering a phase where I’m not only feeling more encouraged to write, but I’m feeling more inclined.

This piece has been edited for length and clarity. Follow Sister Aisha al-Adawiya on Twitter.