Addressing the Unique Needs of American Converts to Islam
Shaykh Isa Husayn Johansson is a traditionally trained Muslim theologian hailing from the Kingdom of Sweden. He lectures at the theological seminary Madina Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, and continues to travel the globe delivering sermons and seminars.
Raised in what he describes as a culturally Lutheran household, his interest in religion started while still in his teens, when his father gifted him a bible. Thus started his spiritual voyage, which brought him through phases of Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and ultimately Islam.
Shaykh Johansson has undertaken formal Christian seminary studies, Talmudic studies, and further spent a decade immersed in traditional Islamic studies at the hands of some of the foremost scholars of the era. He began his Islamic and Arabic Studies in Damascus, Syria, where he studied for a period at the Abu Nour Institute. During his stay, he also sat at the feet of a number of senior scholars in the city's many traditional circles of learning. He has since completed the traditional curriculum of the Indian subcontinent, known as Dars Nizami, and spent a decade under the tutelage of the polymath Shaykh Dr. Muhammad al-Ninowy, from whom he received academic license (ijaza ῾ilmiyya) to teach and transmit the Islamic sciences. Having well over a hundred teachers, he has received further licenses (ijazah) from a plethora of traditional Islamic scholars, particularly in the fields of hadith, law, and various Sufi orders.
Among the languages he has studied, aside from his native Swedish, are English, Arabic, Hebrew, Koine Greek, Yiddish, and Spanish, all at varying levels of proficiency. As an avid reader and researcher, Sh. Johansson’s areas of expertise are primarily scholastic theology, hadith, comparative religion, and Islamic law, having undertaken formal training in issuing legal edicts (fatwa).
Karla Kovacik embraced Islam in April 2006 when she met Shaykh Muhammad bin Yahya al-Husayni al-Ninowy at a lecture on Aqidah at-Tahawiyyah in Charlotte, North Carolina. At that meeting, Karla requested permission to move to Atlanta, Georgia to continue studying with the Shaykh as an official student, which he gave. In August 2006, Karla moved to Atlanta to continue her studies and training with Shaykh Muhammad bin Yahya al-Ninowy and continues to seek his advice and guidance for spiritual counseling and self-development over a decade later.
Karla graduated from The University of Georgia - Athens in 2015 with an M.A. in Religion and a concentration in Islamic Studies. She completed her B.A. in Anthropology in 2005, specializing in the Anthropology of Islam and Contact Period Archaeology in the Southeastern U.S. at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As part of her Master's thesis research at the University of Georgia, 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 empowers 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 female converts to Islam and effect change in American Muslim communities. Before moving to Wisconsin in 2016, she was an instructor of Western Religious Traditions at The University of Georgia from 2011-2016 and is currently a member of the faculty of Islamic Studies at Madina Institute. Her research interests are focused on Kalam (Islamic theology), Tasawwuf (Sufism), religious conversion as a process, American Converts to Islam, Women’s Studies, and Islam in America. Karla currently serves on the American Academy of Religions Religious Conversion Group Steering Committee and her article As American as Apple Pie: U.S. Female Converts to Islam was recently named as the U.S. Studies Online (British Association of American Studies) most popular article of 2015.
the feeling Muslim team
Barbara Flaherty has a background of over 25 years as a counselor working with diverse populations, and trainer of behavioral health clinicians. She has taught at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, Union Institute, Vermont, and DePaul University, Chicago, IL. Barbara's background also includes chaplaincy (hospital, university, and prison settings).
For twenty years she worked with Alaskan Native elders and healers facilitating village healing intensives combining western counseling practices with indigenous healing methods for adult trauma survivors.
She co-designed an intensive curriculum for teens which incorporated emotional intelligence, life skill development, sacred stories, elder/youth mentoring and service to others.
She is also a published poet and essayist, winner of the Drogheda Amergin Poetry Award, Ireland in 2005 and the author of two books: Holy Madness (Chanting Press 2006) and Doing It Another Way (Chanting Press 2008).
Shaykh Didmar Faja was born on 30 October 1980 in the city of Shkodër, Albania where he completed his Islamic full time school Haxhi Sheh Shamia before studying in Istanbul, Türkiye, where he completed his high school of Imam and lecturer (khaṭīb). He moved from Istanbul to the USA in 1999, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies.
Shaykh Didmar is the Imam of the United Islamic Center of Arizona, opened in 2014. He teaches traditional Islam according to the four schools of thought (in particularly the Hanafi madhhab). From 2004-2014, he was the Imam of the Albanian American Islamic Center of Arizona – Greenway Masjid and from 2002-2009, he taught Qur’an and Islamic Studies at the full-time Islamic school, Arizona Cultural Academy.
He assisted and helped found two Islamic Centers in Mexico, Comunidad Musulmana de Sonora and Comunidad Musulmana de Durango. Imam Didmar is also the founder of the yearly Qur'an Competition for the state of Arizona, a member of the Arizona Police Reports, founder and director of "Greenway Academy," which opened in 2009.
Imam Didmar is a religious and spiritual advisor for Naqshbandiyya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE). He holds monthly speeches with the members of this organization where he focuses on spiritual topics.
Imam Didmar is also an instructor at Madina institute USA, located in Atlanta, GA. There he teaches the book of 40 Hadith of Imam Al-Nawawi and the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (usūl al-Fiqh) according to the Hanafī school of thought.
He is the author of the book Shprehi Dhuntitë e Zotit Tënd! (Express the Gifts of You Your Lord!), which contains a collection of lectures in Albanian, which he delivered in Greenway Masjid. The book was published in Tirana, Albania in 2012. He also authored a second book in Albanian, Shpjegimi i Dyzet e Dy Thënieve Profetike (Commentary on the Forty Two Prophetic Statements). In this book he translated and commented in detail on the famous compilation of Imam Nawawi’s Fourty Hadith. Initially, the book was published in the US in 2014 and then in Shkodër, Albania in 2016.
He has written articles on various Islamic topics in Albanian and English, which were published in various magazines and newspapers in the US and Albania.
Qur’an recitation is one of his passions, in which he holds a traditional license (ijāzah). He has trained many students in reciting the Qur'an according to the rules of tajwīd.
Shaykh Didmar gives lectures at events and conferences throughout the U.S. and abroad. He also organizes and attends many interfaith activities and is fluent in Albanian, English, Arabic and Turkish.
In November 2001, Peter Kovacik became Muslim at Masjid al-Qur’an in Milwaukee, WI. He had recently begun to study jazz improvisation at Cardinal Stritch University, but after becoming Muslim, he began to dedicate more time towards learning the foundational Islamic studies with Hafiz M. Shafique at the masjid. After being exposed to traditional Islamic learning, he left his music career for the sake of Allah and traveled to Amman, Jordan for 21 months to study Classical Arabic at Qasid Institute and attend lessons with traditional scholars.
Afterwards, he returned to the United States to study Linguistics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee while continuing to study the Islamic sciences through various online programs such as Qibla (formerly SunniPath) and Toronto Shariah Program. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics in 2009 and completed certificates in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and Teaching Test Preparation in early 2010 before undertaking short trips to Yemen and Turkey where he taught English to non-native speakers.
In 2014, he began to take private online lessons with Mawlana Syed Javed Ali Shah in subjects such as Arabic Grammar consisting of Syntax and Morphology, Grammatical Analysis of the Holy Qur’an, Hadith Methodology, Islamic Legal Theory, and Islamic Jurisprudence.. He continues to study the Darse Nizami curriculum with Mawlana Syed Javed Ali Shah and hopes to begin a Masters of Divinity in Islamic Studies at Madina Institute USA this fall under the direction of Shaykh Muhammad bin Yahya al-Husayni al-Ninowy.
Shaykh Isa Husayn Johansson
Islamic Jurisprudence Educator
Shaykh Didmar Faja, B.A. Islamic Studies
Barbara Flaherty, M.A.
Emotional Intelligence Educator & Interfaith Outreach Coordinator
Peter Kovacik, B.A. Linguisitics, M.A. Candidate in Translation Studies
Co-founder, Classical Arabic Translator & Educator
Karla N. Kovacik, M.A. Islamic Studies, Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology
Founder, Researcher, & Community Consultant