Oral History Interview with Nafeesa Mahdi on July 16, 2020


Oral History Interview with Nafeesa Mahdi on July 16, 2020



Mahdi, Nafeesa


Zaynah Hasan; Perkins, Dr. Alisa (Research Director)


Oral history interview with Nafeesa Mahdi, conducted by Zaynah Hasan on July 16, 2020. Interview written by Dr. Alisa Perkins and Zaynah Hasan. Nafeesa Mahdi was born in New York City and raised in Georgia. She grew up in a Christian family, attending Sunday school at the Baptist Training Union. In 1977, Mahdi married native Michigander Rafiq Mahdi, and the couple settled in Michigan. After residing in Inkster, Michigan for more than a decade, Madhi and her family moved to Detroit. Mahdi and her husband both reverted to Islam soon after moving to Michigan, becoming active members of several Detroit Muslim institutions, including Masjid Jase Bell Joshua in Inkster, Historic Masjid Wali Muhammad, the Al-Ikhlas Islamic Center, and the Muslim Center Mosque and Community Center. Since the early 1990s, Mahdi has served as a teacher and administrator at Al-Ikhlas Training Academy (ATA), an Islamic parochial school in Detroit. For several years, she served as the school’s middle and high school principal. Before starting her career at ATA, she was a teacher at Detroit’s Clara Muhammad School and a substitute teacher with Insker Public Schools. Aside from serving the community through her teaching, Mahdi is also one of the original members of Neighborly Needs, a Muslim-led neighborhood revitalization organization. In the interview, Mahdi discusses the significance of organizations such as Neighborly Needs for building up west Detroit neighborhoods with significant historical ties to the African American Muslim communities and institutions. Mahdi also details her experiences serving as a teacher and administrator for Al-Ikhlas Training Academy, and describes the growth and changes she has witnessed in the school over many years. She also recounts the factors that motivated her to enroll each of her seven children at ATA and the benefits they received from the school. From her multiple perspective as a teacher, administrator, and parent, Mahdi emphasizes the special way that Al-Ikhlas Training Academy nurtures its students, and stresses the importance of including Islam in every aspect of a young Muslim’s education.

Date of Interview


Location of Interview

Detroit, MI (Interview conducted over Zoom)


African-American history, African-American Muslims, Imam Nadir Ahmad, Al-Ikhlas Islamic Center, Al-Ikhlas Training Academy, Arabic language education, Baptist Christianity, Baptist Training Union, Community building, Community service, Conversion to Islam, Culture Day, Detroit, Discipline, Dream of Detroit, Future leaders, Georgia, Halal food in school, Historic Masjid Wali Muhammad, Immigrant communities, Indus Community Action Network (ICAN), Inkster, Intergenerational learning, Islam, Islam in America, Islamic parochial school, Islamic studies, Masjid Jase Bell Joshua, Michigan, Model community, Motherhood, Muslim Americans, Muslim Center Mosque and Community Center, Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST), Muslims, Nation of Islam, Neighborly Needs, New York, New York City, Prayer in school, Prophet Muhammad, Qur'an, Retirement, Reversion to Islam, Role model, School administration, School board of Al-Ikhlas Training Academy, School principal, Secular education, Sister Clara Muhammad Schools, Sunday school, Teaching, Waycross, Work-life balance


African American Studies | Africana Studies | American Studies | Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Civic and Community Engagement | Community-Based Research | Digital Humanities | Ethics in Religion | Inequality and Stratification | Islamic Studies | Nonprofit Administration and Management | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Religion | Urban Studies and Planning


Interview conducted online over Zoom by Zaynah Hasan. Written by Dr. Alisa Perkins (Research Director) and Zaynah Hasan. Facilitated by Dr Alisa Perkins and Ismaeel Dhul-Quarnayn. Video Edited by: Dr. Nathan L.M. Tabor. Transcribed by: Meghana Srinivasa. Transcription edited by: Dr. Alisa Perkins. Metadata by: Melissa Paduk. Metadata edited by Dr. Alisa Perkins and Sophia Wimberley.



Document Type


Rights Statement

Dream of Detroit Interviews were made possible by funding from the Pillars Grant and Whiting Foundation. Content is for educational purposes only and non-reproducible; interviews are not to be duplicated, but may be linked through ScholarWorks with appropriate attribution. Please direct any questions about copyright to scholarworks@wmich.edu.


Pillars Fund and Whiting Foundation


Dream of Detroit

Length of Video


Oral History Interview with Nafeesa Mahdi on July 16, 2020