This semester at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), I took the class “Islam and its Interreligious Context” taught by Dr. Mahjabeen Dhala. One of our final reflection papers was to answer this question, “Present a key historical or contemporary Muslim personality in America. Explain the reasons for your selection. How does this personality inspire you?”
The American Muslim personality I chose is Lila Ibrahim. She came to my attention after she was made President of Coursera in 2013, after she was Chief of Staff at Kleiner Perkins in 2010. Coursera is an American MOOC (massive open online course) provider, founded by Stanford University in 2012. She is currently the Chief Operating Officer for DeepMind. In 2019, Ibrahim was featured on several UK Business Insider’s lists of influential and impactful leaders. Purdue University is her alma mater and she is on their Board of Advisors. Ibrahim is the Co-founder and Chair of Team4Tech, a technical mentoring non-profit for developing countries. She has created computer labs in the orphanage in Lebanon where her father was raised. Ibrahim has a remarkable depth of experience in education, especially online, and as a mentor. I admit that I do not know about Lila Ibrahim’s personal faith but I am writing about her as an inspiring American of Lebanese descent.
In 2014, my daughter Jessica and I started working on a project with Dr. Susan Roger, Duke University Professor of Computer Science. Susan and I had known each other for many years and each of us had developed lists of remarkable technical women. Jessica had the idea to make playing cards and posters from our research to inspire girls and young women. We wanted to include a very broad range of women, socially, demographically, geographically, and by professional area. Susan and I each sorted through decades of our professional contacts to find the 54 honorees, and then we contacted each woman for a picture and to fill in biographical details, or used what we found on Wikipedia. Because she had won an Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award, Lila Ibrahim was one of the women we selected. Since 2014, Notable Women in Tech has distributed thousands of our card decks and posters around the world. Lila Ibrahim is the five of hearts. You can see the 4th Edition list of honorees on my blog.
Lila Ibrahim inspires me not just because she is a remarkably successful professional woman in the highly-patriarchal technical industry but because she has routinely sought out and succeeded in creating educational projects while acting as a mentor for young entrepreneurs. For many senior executives, it is enough to succeed, but Lila Ibrahim has intentionally and consistently carried others along in the wake of her accomplishments. She always pays it forward.
Inspiring American Muslims about whom other students wrote were:
Mahershala Ali (Academy Award winning actor)
Muhammad Ali (Boxer, activist and philanthropist)
Reza Aslan (Author and scholar of Religious Studies)
Soumaya Khalifa (Executive Director, Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta)
Hind Makki (founder and curator of Side Entrance, an award-winning website)
Ilhan Omar (U.S. Representative for Minnesota)
Malcolm X (Muslim minister and human rights activist)
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