Visionary Leadership Awardee Spotlight

Karla Nicole Kovacik

Green Bay, Wisconsin

Karla N. Kovacik graduated with her M.A. from The University of Georgia Department of Religion with a concentration in Islamic Studies and a minor in Arabic. She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Hickory, North Carolina. She completed her Bachelor’s in Anthropology, specializing in the Anthropology of Islam and Contact Period Archaeology in the Southeastern U.S. at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and her Associate’s in English, specializing in Creative Writing at Western Piedmont Community College.

As part of her M.A. thesis research, Karla conducted the study Feeling Muslim: An Intimate Portrait of Identity Cultivation among American Female Converts to Islam, which explores the identity formation and cultivation process of American women of all races and classes who have converted to Islam.

Karla’s research centers on the process through which American female converts to Islam cultivate their identity as Muslim women, asking, “For you, is there a difference between being/becoming Muslim by taking the shahada and feeling Muslim,” and “What makes you feel Muslim.” Her research amplifies the voices and experiences of Muslim women by providing a safe place for Muslim women, in their own voices, to articulate what their identities are apart from the images of oppression of women in Islam. Karla hopes her research will promote a shift in the dialogue surrounding American women converts to Islam.

She was previously an instructor of Religion at The University of Georgia as well as a member of the Steering Committee for the Religious Conversion Group of the American Academy of Religion. She has presented her research at universities, seminaries, and mosques as well as at both regional and national conferences for the American Academy of Religion and has published her research online as well as in print. In 2020, some of Karla’s research on American women converts to Islam was published as a special foreword in the book Project Lina: Bringing Our Whole Selves to Islam by Dr. Tamara Gray and Najiyah Diana Maxfield. On August 8th, 2021, Karla received the Center for Ethical and Effective Organizational Leadership (CEEOL) Visionary Leadership Award sponsored by The Islamic Seminary of America and Rabata. 

Karla converted to Islam on the 27th night of Ramadan in 2005. She is the chapter lead for Rabata Green Bay and is continuing her traditional Islamic Studies through Ribaat Academic Institute where she is enrolled in the Ribaat Teacher certification program as well as the Ribaat Religious Scholar certification program.

“I would like to thank TISA & Rabata for organizing the Visionary Leadership Workshop. It was an amazing experience, and I am hopeful there will be similar opportunities available in the future. The TISA & Rabata Visionary Leadership Award helps by providing me with the tools, space, time, mentorship, and funding to analyze and further disseminate the findings of my research on American female converts to Islam. I am indebted to Dr. Jones, Dr. McGee, and Anse Dr. Tamara Gray for their continuing encouragement and support of this project, and for believing in this work.” Karla N. Kovacik