13 JANUARY 2019 - on the 1st anniversary of her passing
LONDON – The month of January 2019 started with a great loss for the Muslim community with the death of the British Muslim convert Aisha Lemu, the founder of the Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN). “I have lost my second mother. We belong to God and to Him is our return. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un,” Bashir Mundi, the director of inspire academy in Abuja wrote on Facebook.
Aisha Lemu, who has died aged 78, was born Bridget Aisha Honey in Poole, Dorset and brought up as an Anglican; but she converted to Islam, married a Nigerian sheikh and became a prominent educationist and founder of the Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (Fomwan).
She was born on October 14 1940 and, as she recalled in a speech in 2002 “was brought up in the Church of England but I found I could not believe its teachings. I felt the need for the truth and set out to seek it elsewhere.” From the age of 14 her quest led her to research Buddhism and Hindu philosophy and to study Chinese history, language and culture at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. At the age of 20 she suffered a spiritual crisis, realising “that I had no beliefs and no certainty about anything, even the existence of God.”
It was then that she met some Muslim students, who talked to her about Islam and gave her a translated Koran “to remove some of my misconceptions”. “I knew very little about Islam and had never considered it a possibility because of the negative image it had – ‘something like Christianity, but worse’,” she recalled.
But as soon as she began reading she “sensed that this was the real thing... This was not a book addressed just to desert tribesmen 1400 years ago. It was also addressed to me – a 20th century doubter, a religious sceptic, living in an age of science.”
A few weeks later she went to the Regents Park Mosque and converted to Islam. She subsequently helped to found the Islamic Society at SOAS, becoming its first secretary, and was instrumental in the formation of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies.
After graduating from SOAS, she qualified to teach English as a foreign language and while doing so, met her future husband, Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, who had also studied at SOAS.
In 1966 she moved to Kano in Nigeria to teach at the School for Arabic Studies, where Lemu was headmaster. Eighteen months later she transferred to Sokoto as principal of Government Girls' College. She and Lemu married in 1968, becoming his second wife.
In 1976 they moved to the newly formed state of Niger where Aisha became principal of the Women Teachers' College in the city of Minna and her husband served as a Sharia judge, then chief judge, at the Niger Court of Appeals.
When she first came to Nigeria, Aisha Lemu had been baffled by the way Islamic studies was taught in schools: “It focused entirely on how to pray, how to fast, but nobody taught the students why they should pray, fast etc, or even why they should believe in Islam.”
In 1969 she and her husband founded the Islamic Education Trust (IET), a charity devoted to promoting the growth of high quality education and integrating the perspectives of Islam into the modern curriculum, and in 1978 she became its director. She was also a member of a panel, set up to revise the national Islamic curriculum for schools
In 1985 she founded Fomwan as the voice of Muslim women in Nigeria, and was elected its first national leader. Since its foundation Fomwan has made considerable progress in promoting the education of Muslim women and girls.
Aisha Lemu was the author of some 30 books, many of which, including a junior Islamic studies series, are used as textbooks in Nigerian schools.
In 2000 she was appointed a Member of the Order of Nigeria.
She is survived by her husband and their son and daughter.
Aisha Lemu, born October 14 1940, died January 5 2019