Aisha Bewley: the Muslim Woman of the Year 2023
An independent institution, The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISSC) has again released the 500 most influential Muslims in the world in 2023. This annual book, published since 2009, evaluates the achievements of figures in the Muslim community across the globe in several specific fields and the magnitude of their influence. But the interesting fact is that Aisha Bewley has been named Muslim Woman of the Year 2023, replacing the President of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan, last year.
Who is Aisha Bewley? Currently, she is the world's most productive Muslim woman in the work of translating a vast range of Islamic classics into English, including Quran, Quranic sciences, Hadith, Fiqh, Tafsir, Mysticism (Tassawuf) and the science of logic (IlmulKalaam). Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley was born in 1948 in the United States. She holds a BA in French and MA in Near Eastern Languages from the University of California, Berkeley.
Her family was a strong Christian one, but eventually, she felt there was something missing in Christianity, which led her to become involved in Zen Buddhism for several years. At the same time, she used to read a lot of Philosophy, starting with Nietzsche and moving on to Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel, and so forth, in an attempt to seek the significance of human existence. One thing that always stuck with her was Nietzsche's positive way of suggesting Islam while proceeding to demolish the edifice that passes for Christianity today. But she concluded her thought that he might actually rail against Christianity for 'robbing' us of Islam.
Reading Islamic texts paved the way for her to embrace Islam in 1968. After realizing that Dunya is not as real or permanent as it seems and dismantling a structuralist approach to existence, she left behind her Christianity and Zen Buddhism and dedicated her time to introducing Islamic traditions to the global English-speaking Muslim Community.
After she graduated from Foothill High School in 1966, she did her BA in French and MA in Near Eastern Languages from the University of California, Berkeley. She spent a year with a fellowship at the American University in Cairo, and at the same time, she attended a seminar on Sufism and Islamic philosophy at Dar al- 'Ulum. She also studied Ibn' Arabi with the late Sayed Fudul al-Hurawi in Fes, Morocco. She started her traditional Islamic learning following the teachings of Sheikh Muhammed ibn al-Habib of Meknes in 1972.
The translation of "The Tawasin of Mansur Al- Hallaj" (Book of Purity of the Glory One) is her beginning in the expedition of Islamic realm. It's one of the complicated books of Hallaj on Sufism, in which he used line diagrams and symbols to help him convey mystical experiences that he could not express in words. Most of her publications are usually printed under Diwan Press, established in 1975, which publishes classical and contemporary books on Islam and Sufism.
In the early seventies, she met Sheikh Dr Abdalqadir as-Sufi al-Murabit and became the murid of him. Sheikh Abdalqadir as-Sufi was the leader of the Darqawi-Shadhili-Qadiri Tariqa, founder of the Murabitun World Movement and author of numerous books on Islam, Sufism and political theory.
Hajjah Bewley joins the Habibiyya branch of the Shadhili Darqawi tariqa; under its inspiration, she has translated some books related to Darqawi. One of which is the translation of Rasa' il Mawlay al- 'Arabi ad-Darqawi in 1979, which comprehend the letters from one of the greatest shaykhs of Sufism to his pupils, are a constant source of renewal and inspiration to the wayfarer. This work is used in the circles of the Darqawi way not only in Morocco but across North Africa, as well as at Darqawi zawiyyas in England, the United States, Argentina, Spain, Malaysia and Makkah. It serves as a very vivid and clear introduction to the great masterwork of Sufi science; The Meaning of Man. Sayyed Ali al-Jamal's teachings are exhibited in these letters, compiled by al-`Arabi al-Darqawi himself.
As she adopted the Maliki Jurisprudence and the Ash'ari school of thought, she has translated some of Maliki Scholar's texts. Among them, the most renowned is the translation of" Al Muwaṭṭa", the earliest collection of hadith texts comprising the subjects of Islamic law and a complete record of the legal and social parameters of the original Muslim community in Madinah, compiled by Imam Malik ibn Anas, (joint with Ya'qub Johnson, published in 1982). Another one is Qadi Iyad's Al-Shifa bi Ta'rif Huquq al-Mustafa generally known as" Al-Shifa" in the title Muhammed Messenger of Allah in 1991. This work was so highly admired throughout the Muslim world that it soon acquired a sanctity of its own.
Between 1980 and 1997, more than dozens of books were translated by her for Dar al-Taqwa, a London publishing house, including Uthman dan Fodio's "Handbook on Islam, Iman, Ihsan", Ibn al-Qayyim's "The Soul's Journey After Death" and Ibn Sirin's "The Interpretation of Dreams".
Her other well-known publications are the translation of "Tabaqat ibn Sa'd" series of books, "Mu' awiya: Restorer of the Muslim Faith" in 2002; Tafsir al-Jalalayn: Complete English Translation (Jalalu'd-Din al-Mahalli, Jalalud-Din as-Suyuti) in 2008; "The Islamic Will-A Practical guide for being prepared for death and writing your will according to the Shar'ia of Islamic and English Law" in 2012; translation of "Tafsir al-Qurtubi", the publication of this volume represents a significant landmark in the history of Islamic literature in English. There has until now been a dearth of translations of classical tafsir literature into English.
The "Glossary of Islamic Terms", published in 1988, confirms the soundness of Aisha not only in the Arabic language but in the nature of teachings and history of Islam which she gained through practical experience during her stay learning among the Arabs in Morocco. The main features of this book include its unique indices that provide the reader with detail of the key text, author and people. The book is a unique and easy reference for researchers in the field of Islamic terminology.
She is married to Hajji Abdalhaqq Bewley, the sheikh of Darqawi tariqa and the Rector of the Muslim Federation. In collaboration with him, she has published some works; including a translation of the Qur'an in English, 'The Noble Qur'an' published in 1999, which is a new rendering of its meanings in English. Mukhtashar al-Akhdari (2019), Syrat Sufism Ibn' Ajibah (2021) and many more. Some others are only published through websites, such as Sahih Bukhari.
She also wrote her own works (non-translated), such as The Subatomic World in the Qur'an (1995), Islam: The Empowering of Women (1999), Muslim Women: A Biographical Dictionary (2004), and Democratic Tyranny and the Islamic Paradigm (2018). Typically, there is also many unpublished books of her comprising Tafsir of ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi (Kitab at-Tas-hil li' Ulum at-Tanzil), Bustan al- 'Arifin by Imam an-Nawawi, The Chess Game of the Gnostics by Muhammad ibn al-Hashim at-Tilmansani, Futuhat al-Makkiyya of Ibn' Arabi (All of volume 1 and part of 2 of the 4-volume edition), Dala'il al-Khayrat of al-Jazuli, The Hikam of Ibn' Ata'llah and so on.
Altogether, according to The WorldCat union catalogue, her entire works, both translations and self-written, amount to 73 works in 172 publications and 855 libraries in 3 languages.
As the mother of three children, Hajjah Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley dedicated her time of more than five decades to translating classic Islamic texts with the most voluminous, fluent and smooth to introduce Islamic treasures to the global realm. To the same extent, as a Muslimah, she chooses not to lead a life of subjugation but lives as an intellectual ray and a charismatic personality to the Ummah by grabbing the title of "Woman of the Year 2023".
Hanna Sherin Kavungal , Master's student in Islamic Thought and Civilization in International Islamic University Malaysia. Focuses on Reviving the truth in this disguising world. Part-time Online Tutor for students from different countries. Interests in Journaling Quran and Sunnah. Graduate student of Grace Valley Islamic and Arts College in Islamic Studies (Wafiyya) and English literature (Calicut University).
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily mirror Islamonweb’s editorial stance.