IN MEMORIAM: Sharifa Alkhateeb 1946-2004

In Remembrance of our sister Sharifa Alkhateeb

by Azizah al-Hibri

The sunshine smile and the face bubbling with optimism and determination are now gone. But her memory will remain with us for a very long time. Our sister Sharifa Alkhateeb has now gone to a better place, a place where she can find some rest and peace after a lifetime of hard work in the service of the disadvantaged and the vulnerable in our community.

Sharifa dedicated her life to working against domestic violence, and to helping families heal. She valiantly fought for womens rights from within the Muslim community and struggled for a greater Muslim role in the wider political debate. 

Sharifa was an activist, speaker, writer, and organizer. Her contributions to the American Muslim community were phenomenal. Sharifa was the President of the North American Council for Muslim Women. She was also the President of the Muslim Educational Council, a Mid-Atlantic non-profit organization educating public school staff and administrators about Middle Eastern Culture, Muslims, and Islam. She had an M.A. in Comparative Religion, edited the Marmaduke Pickthall Translation of the QurҒan, co-authored the Arab World Notebook used in public school history classrooms nationwide. From 1993-1997, Sharifa produced, wrote, and hosted a monthly television program for Virginias Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) called ғMiddle Eastern Parenting, and was a diversity trainer for FCPS for five years. She was the creator and Director of the Peaceful Families Project Ԗ a nationwide survey of domestic violence within the Muslim community, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, VAWO Office. She was a member of the Muslim womens delegation to the Beijing conference on women.

Dedication like that takes its toll, and it did on Sharifa. Despite the challenges that Muslim organizations face, especially women organizations, she never hesitated to move forward. Until recently, she was planning a womenҒs conference to discuss issues dear to her heart. She had to cancel the conference for health reasons. The letter she sent was heart-wrenching, explaining her difficulties. We waited for the recovery, but it was not to happen.
I spoke to Sharifa a couple of times before she passed away. I always thought that this too will pass, that she will soon be back on her feet serving her community. I never expected to not see her dear face again. She had a twinkle in her eyes, even as the going got rough. She had ways of expressing her views that commanded attention and respect. If Sharifa was in the room, you would know it for sure. She was a natural self-made leader.

Several years ago, at the American Assembly on Religion in Public Life, her comments were not only incredibly valuable, but they were also humorous and served to humanize the Muslim participants in that exclusive gathering. She was the star of her group. As co-chair of that assembly, I was quite relieved and proud to have her there. Her contributions made an enormous difference.

KARAMAH women had talked to her recently asking for her resume for an upcoming summit to which she was invited. She said that she would provide an updated resume which would include all her recent activities, but that was one promise her health did not allow her to keep.

We already miss our sister Sharifa, as a friend, as an outstanding Muslim woman leader, and as a valuable member of our board of advisers. May God rest her soul in peace and reward her for all her service to our community. May God give her family the strength to bear the loss and follow in her footsteps.

Azizah al-Hibri
President and Founder