Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for August 15th, 2012

Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam

Posted by nliakos on August 15, 2012

by Asra Q. Nomani (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006)

Asra Nomani was born in India but raised mostly in the United States. This book describes how she confronted her own faith by going on the Hajj with her parents, her niece and nephew, and her baby son, Shibli. The book describes in detail her experiences before, during, and after the Hajj and then follows her as she musters up the courage to speak out for the rights of women in Islam in the United States, and at her own home mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia in particular.

Along the way, Nomani shares what she is learning about her religion. I knew some but learned much that I did not know about Islam–its history, principles, practices, sects. Nomani writes that the Prophet intended women to play an important role in Islam, but that his progressive vision has been hijacked by conservative men seeking to consolidate their power over women. (Interestingly, in Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes the opposite claim: according to her, Islam is basically skewed against women. Who is right? Does it depend on which hadith (saying attributed to the Prophet) you believe?)

Nomani expects to find discrimination and judgment in Mecca; instead, she finds that men, women and children pray together in Islam’s holiest places during the Hajj. Subsequently, she is surprised and hurt by the vehemence of the resistance she encounters back in Morgantown when she attempts to open the mosque to women (who are traditionally expected to use a separate entrance and to pray in a separate part of the mosque where they cannot see or hear the prayer leader well, if they choose to pray in the mosque, which is not even expected of them).  Her parents, in particular her father, support her throughout her struggle to convince or force the mosque leaders to grant women equal access to the mosque. In her frustration, she sometimes rewards him by scolding him, as if he were to blame, but he remains her staunch supporter.

Reading the book showed me many sides of Islam. Like Christianity, it is not one thing. This should be obvious, but I don’t think it is to many people. Readers of Standing Alone in Mecca will finish the book with a much greater understanding of Islam than they had when they began it.

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