Leading with your identity: An MBA combines faith & business to effect change
Balancing a full-time job at Google and her academic responsibilities, Bushra Amiwala ’24 Evening & Weekend MBA still finds time to serve her community while sharing aspects of her identity through the work that she does. As a member of the Skokie District 73.5 school board, Amiwala is the youngest Muslim elected official in the United States. Learn more about how her faith is intertwined with her Kellogg education and leadership and what the month of Ramadan means to her.
Business and religion are often seen as mutually exclusive. What role has your faith played in your life, particularly in your career and your experience as a Kellogg student?
Faith has been a guiding principle for me. What started as a sole admiration of giving 2.5 percent of your wealth annually called Zakaat, one of the pillars of Islam, has now manifested into a long history of activism, civic engagement and institutional change that impacts beyond just the financial aspect of giving charity.
My faith drives me to be an inclusive leader at Kellogg. Oftentimes in DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) conversations, having check-box-esque examples of impact such as diversity is easy, but the deepest work comes from inclusion. My faith is almost a constant reminder that there are other voices at the table that are not being represented or considered in the conversation, as I am hyper-aware my faith happens to be at the grunt of not being considered either. That being said, I know as a Kellogg leader, I will be equipped with the tools to expand access.
Why is it important for you to share your faith with the Kellogg community, especially during the month of Ramadan?
The month of Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic Calendar which centers around the lunar calendar, and it is observed by 1.9 billion Muslims around the globe. Observing this month can showcase itself in many ways; however, one of the most universal shared ways is to fast from dawn to dusk every day of the month (of course with exceptions for health reasons, travel, etc.).
At a young age, I quickly realized I would be the first Muslim person a lot of people would meet in their lives. After all, Muslims only make up of 1.1 percent of the national population – therefore I always think to myself, if not me, then who?
The month of Ramadan is one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time to build relationships with God, self, and community. A strong community is what makes Ramadan a shared lived experience, and being able to share that with people who may not identify with the religion helps me be seen, but conversely, helps equip future Kellogg Leaders with exposure to the global world.
You’re also involved with Muslims @ Kellogg serving as the club’s co-president. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience as a student leader and the connections you’ve made through a faith-based group at Kellogg?
Through my leadership on campus, I find that a lot of people from other underrepresented backgrounds are drawn to me. Whether we share different racial, ethnic or even geographic backgrounds, people at Kellogg have the appetite to learn and connect from those who are different, and I have felt empowered to share my authentic self.
How would you suggest organizations be more inclusive when it comes to religion?
Religion is a chosen lifestyle — not an unwanted punishment. The foundation of being inclusive when it comes to religion is rooted in being mindful of the way people linguistically react to the dedication someone might have to their faith. For example, being told “Wow, that must suck,” in response to sharing that Muslims can’t even drink water during their fast, is not a display of allyship and inclusivity. This response can be replaced with a phrase such as “I admire your dedication to your faith.”
Amiwala recently hosted an iftar, a dinner that breaks the day’s Ramadan fast for Muslims, welcoming more than 250 community members including top officials; among them was Gov. Pritzker. Speaking on the importance of the religious event, she shared “As a woman of faith who constantly is representative of what a religious background looks like, it is very important for me to control the narrative and to really lead with my identity. I think there was a time where I put it in a box and ignored it but now I integrate and showcase it and I am super proud of my roots.” Read more about the event via the Chicago Tribune.
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