Asra Nomani is courageous, and deserves full support. “The Woman Who Went To the Front of the Mosque: Feminist Faces Ostracism — or Worse — for Praying Among Men,” from the Washington Post, with thanks to Ruth King:
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. It was two days after she appeared on “Nightline” talking about her fight to change her mosque that the death threats began. The first call came on her cell phone. The caller left a message, in Urdu: “If you want to stay alive, keep your mouth shut.” Otherwise, he said, he would “slaughter” her, halal style, saying a prayer as he slid a knife across her throat. If she didn’t shut up, he’d slaughter her mother and her father, too. Think before you speak, he said. I know where you live. I know where your parents live.
Then he called her parents’ home 10 minutes later. Just to reinforce the message.
It’s not a message that Asra Nomani, Muslim, unwed mother, former Wall Street Journal reporter, author and left-leaning feminist, is planning to heed (although she did contact the FBI and her local police). Yes, she’s started locking her doors now, a rarity for her here in her hilly home town. But she won’t be shutting up, definitely not, never.
There are those who see Nomani, a self-described “overambitious child of immigrants,” as a crusader, an activist lobbying for the right of Muslim women to pray side by side with men. This spring she launched the Muslim Women’s Freedom Tour, traveling from city to city (including a stop in April at the Islamic Center of Washington on Massachusetts Avenue NW) to encourage Muslim women to assert themselves in their mosques. As part of the tour, women pray in halls usually reserved for men and participate in mixed-gender prayer services led by women.
“It’s about time,” says religious scholar and historian Reza Aslan. “This conception of the separation of men and women is something that never occurred during the prophet’s lifetime.” He adds, “What she has done is perfectly in line with Islamic values, traditions and the prophet’s own desire to have men and women working side by side, praying side by side and even fighting side by side.”…
Asra Nomani is courageous, and deserves full support. Reza Aslan is another matter. Here he continues his now well-established practice of asserting what Hugh Fitzgerald would call his Own Private Islam, a fantasy that has little or no resemblance to actual Islam values and traditions, or to the actual example of Muhammad.
It is because Muslims themselves are well aware of this that she gets reactions like this:
“She’s like a troublemaker,” says Gamal Fahmy, 31, a British-born, Egyptian-raised assistant professor at West Virginia University and a mosque member who once clashed with Nomani and her father in a study session. “I don’t think she’s that religious, she’s that zealous about Islam and being a Muslim,” he says. “Bottom line, I believe she’s doing this for profit reasons.”
Drama follows the Bombay-born and Morgantown-bred Nomani: Thirty-plus members of her 200-member mosque, the Islamic Center of Morgantown, the mosque her father, Zafar, helped found in 1981, are petitioning to have her banished for “disrupting worship and spreading misinformation about Islam.”
Then there are the threatening e-mails; the articles, published around the world, accusing her of being a spy in cahoots with the CIA and Israeli intelligence; Jihadist message boards demanding that a fatwa be issued against a woman who led the first mixed-gender prayers and those who participated. An editorial writer for the India-based Web site Greater Kashmir writes that because Nomani had a child out of wedlock, “in Islam, punishment for an act for [which] Asra is proud of, is stoning till death.”…
At the book reading in April in the District, one reader said he really didn’t like her “Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom,” in which she asserts, among other things, that Muslim women have an “Islamic right to respectful and pleasurable sexual experience” and a right “to make independent decisions about their choice of a partner.”
Horror of horrors!
Even more egregious to her detractors is the fact that she had a child out of wedlock, in direct defiance, they say, of Islam’s dictates….
“I feel like I’m doing my heart’s work,” Nomani says. “I think it’s incumbent on Muslims with intellect, hope and love in our hearts . . . to go into the houses of worship and really try to transform the Muslim house from within. We have to take on this machine of extremism that’s trying to take over the world.”
But there are powerful forces against her:
She says there is a “Muslim Mafia” in town, a group aligned with Saudi Wahhabism, a fundamentalist branch of Islam. They bring sacks filled with cash to the mosque, she says. You have to challenge the power and control of those who run the society, she says….
And even her father sounds as if he’s been taking lessons from Reza Aslan:
Earlier her father had said, “Muhammad was one of the greatest feminists. Islam first gave rights to women 1,400 years ago. . . . When I see Islam today and the way people behave towards women, I am very sad. I am for women’s rights, respect, women’s equality. Islam teaches that.”