Sharifa Alkhateeb, 58, who founded advocacy groups for Muslim women and
explained the ways of Islam to America and the world as a scholar, journalist
and educator, died Oct. 21 of pancreatic cancer at her home in Ashburn.
Mrs. Alkhateeb embraced both American and Islamic ways in her lifelong effort
to bridge gaps between the two cultures. Often quoted in news reports about
Muslim matters, particularly pertaining to women, she also advised schools,
police departments, corporate directors, governmental agencies and textbook
publishers on the nature of Islamic life.
As founder of the North American Council for Muslim Women, she focused
attention on domestic violence and other problems of women in the Islamic
world. She edited an English translation of the Koran, chaired the Muslim
caucus at the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and
helped get Arabic introduced as a subject in Northern Virginia public
In many ways, Mrs. Alkhateeb lived a conventional Muslim life. She was the
mother of three daughters, faithfully prayed five times a day and observed
her religion's dietary practices and other customs. Although she wore western
dresses and slacks, she had covered her hair with a scarf since she was 16.
Yet within the bounds of her faith, Mrs. Alkhateeb sought -- and usually
found -- a way to forge a strong, independent voice for herself and for other
'Muslim women are quite capable of speaking up for ourselves,' she told the
New York Times in 1993. 'We're not waiting for Western women to pour their
loveliness into our heads.'
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mrs. Alkhateeb was 'in constant fear
that someone would attack her,' according to her daughter Maha Buthayna
Alkhateeb. But she pinned a U.S. flag to her blouse and took a leading role
in the Community Resilience Project of Northern Virginia, a counseling and
education effort sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She
also helped organize an interfaith consortium of synagogues, churches and
mosques to educate people across religious and cultural lines.
'She always felt extremely spiritual,' her daughter said. 'She always felt
she was doing what she was meant to do.'
Sharifa Ahmad Alkhateeb was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of a Yemeni
father and a Czech mother. Hers was the only Muslim family in a Christian and
After entering the University of Pennsylvania at 16, she joined the Muslim
Student Association and began to wear the scarf. But she did not renounce
American ways or the growing feminist movement of the 1960s.
'She's encountered people who wanted her to stop speaking out ever since the
beginning,' her daughter said. 'She believed in taking the best of both
worlds. She didn't see it as a clash of civilizations at all.'
After graduating from Penn, Mrs. Alkhateeb received a master's degree in
comparative religion from Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., then edited
the Marmaduke Pickthall translation of the Koran, published in 1977.
From 1978 to 1987, she lived in Saudi Arabia, where her husband, an
Iraqi-born U.S. citizen, was working. She taught in private schools and at a
Saudi university and worked as a journalist for the English-language Saudi
Gazette, sometimes receiving warnings for reporting on women and other
After moving to Northern Virginia in 1988, Mrs. Alkhateeb became a diversity
trainer with the Fairfax County public schools, was president of the Muslim
Education Council and produced, from 1993 to 1997, a monthly television
program for the Fairfax school system, 'Middle Eastern Parenting.'
She was co-author of the Arab World Notebook, which is used in public schools
nationwide, and was managing editor of the American Journal of Islamic Social
Sciences. She founded the Peaceful Families Project, a nationwide program
sponsored by the Department of Justice to examine violence in the Muslim
community. Her study found that 10 percent to 12 percent of Muslim families
in the United States had episodes of domestic violence.
'She was an educator and activist in the fullest sense of the term,' said
John L. Esposito, a professor at Georgetown University and an authority on
Islamic culture. 'Bright, religiously centered and motivated, she balanced a
kind, considerate, warm nature with an ability to stand firm for the
principles she believed in.'
Last month, she was the first woman to receive the Community Service Award
from the Islamic Society of North America.
Survivors include her husband of 35 years, Mejdi Alkhateeb of Ashburn; three
daughters, Layla Alkhateeb of Arlington, Maha Alkhateeb of Potomac Falls and
Nasreen Emaan Alkhateeb of New York; a brother; three sisters; and a
'I raised my daughters to question everything -- to weigh all opinions,' Mrs.
Alkhateeb once said, 'including mine.'