WASHINGTON --- Tahera Ahmad, associate chaplain at Northwestern University, was to be recognized today (March 28) at the White House as a leading Muslim female in the United States. The event commemorated Women's History Month, honoring women who have taken lead roles in everything from business and science to art and social justice activism.
But this wasn't Ahmad's first trip to the White House.
She previously attended a Ramadan dinner hosted by President Barack Obama. And in the last two years she also has visited four cities in Afghanistan and worked with Secretary of State John Kerry on the State Department’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.
“She’s a rock star, what can I say,” University Chaplain Timothy Stevens says of Ahmad, one of the few female Muslim university chaplains in the nation.
Ahmad earned even more attention last year when she became the first woman to recite the Quran at the Islamic Society of North America convention in Washington, D.C., the largest Muslim gathering in the country. Her recitation sparked outrage among some conservatives — women are barred from reciting the Quran in public, in part, Ahmad says, because of a fear that a woman’s voice could fill men with lust.
Ahmad says she accepted the invitation to read from the Muslim scripture not out of ego or self-promotion but rather to meet a sense of spiritual responsibility on an issue of social justice.
“I believe that women’s issues, women’s leadership concerns and the role of Muslim women in the public space is something to be explored in an honest, open and intellectual manner,” Ahmad says. “I want to start asking those questions in a respectful way.”
Ahmad, who grew up in Morton Grove, Ill., taught at the Islamic Foundation School in Villa Park, Ill., after serving as the Muslim chaplain at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She came to Northwestern in 2010.
In addition to her role as adviser to the Muslim-cultural Student Association, Ahmad works with Muslim and non-Muslim students in her pastoral counseling. There are approximately 700 Muslim students, faculty and staff on the Chicago and Evanston campuses, according to rough estimates.
“With an increasing number of Muslim students on campus, we felt it was important to have a chaplain for them,” says President Morton Schapiro. “Tahera has not only been a key person for those students, but also for many other non-Muslim students as well. She has been a wonderful addition to our faith community and the entire University community.”
- This article was adapted from a profile of Tahera Ahmad in Northwestern magazine, winter 2013