Wadud was born as Mary Teasley in Bethesda, Maryland. Her father was a Methodist minister and her mother descended from Muslim slaves of Arab, Berber and African ancestry dating back to the 8th Century. She received her B.S, from The University of Pennsylvania, between 1970 and 1975. In 1972 she pronounced the shahadah and accepted Islam, not knowing of her maternal ancestry and by 1974 her name was officially changed to Amina Wadud to reflect her chosen religious affiliation. She received her M.A. in Near Eastern Studies and her Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan in 1988. During graduate school, she studied advanced Arabic in Egypt at the American University in Cairo, continued with Qur'anic studies and tafsir at Cairo University, Egypt, and took a course in Philosophy at Al-Azhar University.
She was contracted for a period of 3 years as Assistant Professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia in the field of Quranic Studies in Malaysia, between 1989 and 1992, where she published her dissertation Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective, a book, which is banned in the UAE. However, the book, continues to be used by Sisters of Islam in Malaysia as a basic text for activists and academics alike. During the same period that she also co-founded the NGO Sisters-In-Islam.
Wadud's research specialities include gender and Qur'anic studies. After publishing her first book, she spoke at universities, grass roots level, government and non-government forums at various gatherings throughout the United States, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe. In 1992 Wadud accepted a position as Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Virginia Commonwealth University, from where she retired as of 2008.
In 2007 she received the Danish Democracy Prize, and in 2008 she gave the keynote address "Islam, Justice, and Gender" at the international conference Understanding Conflicts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, held at Aarhus University, Denmark.
From 2008—present, she is a visiting professor at the Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
In February 2009, she was a speaker at Musawah - Equality and Justice in the Family conference, where she presented a paper titled “Islam Beyond Patriarchy Through Gender Inclusive Qur’anic Analysis”.
Wadud was also a speaker at The Regional Conference on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Muslim Societies, hosted by United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP) in Jakarta, Indonesia, in March 2009.
Wadud was also spoke at a workshop "Sharia and Human Rights" University of Bergen, Norway in late November 2009.
She is scheduled to speak an upcoming public lecture titled "Muslim Women and Gender Justice: Methods, Motivation and Means" Faculty of Arts, Asia Institute, The University of Melbourne, Australia on 18 February 2010.
Wadud was the subject of controversy, debate and Muslim juristic discourse after leading a Friday prayer (salat) of over 100 male and female Muslims sponsored by the Progressive Muslim Union and held in the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York on March 18, 2005, breaking with the tradition of having only male imams (prayer leaders). Three mosques had refused to host the service and the Sundaram Tagore Gallery withdrew its acceptance of the event after a bomb threat. Becoming the target of death threats, the police and VCU, fearing for her security and reacting to concerns from parents about their children's safety, asked Wadud to conduct her classes from home through a video link. (The event was not the first time in the history of Islam that a woman had led the Friday prayer. See Women as imams for a discussion of the issue.)
Before in August 1994, Wadud also delivered a Friday khutbah (sermon) on "Islam as Engaged Surrender" at the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa. At the time, this was largely unheard of in the Muslim world. As a result, there were attempts in Virginia by some Muslims to have her dismissed from her position at Virginia Commonwealth University.
There has been objection and support from Muslims around the world to Wadud's imamate. In spite of the criticism, Wadud has continued her speaking engagements, and has continued to lead mixed-gender Friday prayer services. On October 28, 2005, following her talk at the International Congress on Islamic Feminism in Barcelona, Spain, she was invited to lead a congregation of about thirty people. Following an invitation by The Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, she also led a mixed-gender prayer in The U.K., even though Muslims planning to attend were threatened with being disowned by conservative imams through personal visits from mosques.
Scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi berated her on Al-Jazeera, calling her action unislamic and heretical; while Eygptian scholar Gamal al-Banna argued that her actions were supported by Islamic sources, and were, therefore, orthodox. Other supporters include Leila Ahmed, Islamic Scholar, who thought it was a good thing as it brought attention to the issue of women in Islam, and Ebrahim E.I. Moosa, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, who called the prayer a "wonderful move".
She was interviewed on WNYC radio on July 14, 2006, to discuss her book Inside the Gender Jihad. She responded to questions and comments about other activities including women in gender-mixed Friday prayer service.
In 2007, Wadud was the subject of a documentary by Iranian-Dutch filmmaker, Elli Safari, called "The Noble Struggle of Amina Wadud".
Her first book, titled "Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective", published in March 1999, contributes a gender-inclusive reading to one of the most fundamental disciplines in Islamic thought, Qu'ranic exegesis.
Her latest book, "Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam", was published in 2006. It not only continues her Qur'anic analysis but also provides extensive details about her experiences as a Muslim, wife, mother, sister, scholar, and activist.