Standing Alone ....
The first time I ever heard the name Asra Nomani was in a yahoo discussion group. It was in the context of her Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosques. And as I read her 10 points I felt that here is one woman, who is finally doing something for the rest of the women and trying to ascertain their rights. The discussion on the newsgroup was very heated and it was mainly about her other Islamic Bill of Rights for Women, this time in the bedroom. I looked at the 10 points and though I could relate to some, others left me wondering, while one made me angry. She doesn't supply the quranic basis for this bill of rights and her wording is ambiguous enough for me not to take it at face value.
The discussion extended to her book “Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam” and I am afraid there was no grey area here. People either loved her book or hated it. There was no in-between. I became very curious and wanted to judge for myself. The first step was to look at her official website and to read a few excerpts from the book and reviews. I was struck by the fact that all reviews online were very favourable and all praise and admiration. Where were some of the negative samples I saw in my discussion group to present both sides? Wouldn’t that have given a more balanced picture and shown honesty and decency of the author?
Something else struck me about the website, the desperate need of the author to liken herself to the great women in history in a very transparent and in my opinion a rather undignified way, great women in pre-Islamic time as well as after Islam. I felt that she had some axe to grind and was suffering from a massive attack of some kind of insecurity, perhaps about her being an "un-wed" mother. Before jumping to any more conclusions I decided to buy and read the book, so I could make up my mind whether she was indeed an enlightened courageous leader as many praised her to be, or just an insecure ignorant opportunistic woman with her own hidden agenda as others accused her of.
I started reading the book. In fact I read it twice. Once just reading it and once seriously paying attention to every word, almost like an editor. And I must admit that it left me completely split. I still couldn’t make up my mind whether to clap for her and cheer enthusiastically or to shake my head and sigh. Even now I am still split.
I was impressed with certain parts, her honesty about her own experience, her frankness about her own thoughts and feelings, her courage in taking up the fight for her right to pray in the mosque, opening the way for other women to follow. I was especially impressed with her bluntness about her feelings of self-hate and self-loathing. It takes a lot of courage for a person to write so openly condemning one’s self.
In quite a few ways I could identify with her. Being the result of a mixed marriage between a European Christian mother and a Muslim Arab father, I could relate with her own identity crisis, the feeling of being torn between two cultures and sometimes belonging to neither one. I suffered from that for a long time and went on my own quest reading about different religions and trying to find my own path, till I found it at some point and chose to be a Muslim wholeheartedly and not just in name, without any coercion. My family has long been active as Islamists and my grandfather published an encyclopedia of Islam. My uncle was declared a heretic by the fundamentalists for his reformist book "The Sad Muslim's Guide', so I could relate to her fears as well. In fact, I could relate to other issues as well, but this is not about me, so back to Ms. Asra Nomani and her controversial book.
When I first started reading the book, a sentence in the preface struck me: "This book is a manifesto of the rights of women based on the true faith of Islam.” I felt quite hopeful and encouraged that an American Muslim woman would adhere to the “true faith of Islam”, especially that the rights granted to women by Islam seem to have gotten lost down the ages. But the more I read, the more I felt that maybe this “true faith of Islam” needed a definition first. True faith according to whom? True faith by whose standards and rules? By which classification?
On page 20, talking about hudud laws, Ms. Nomani writes: “To me these laws emblemized a deeper crisis of self-determination for women in Islam. Women in Islam are so very much defined by hudud. These hudud are used to control everything about our lives, from our sexuality to where we can pray in the mosque that are our places of worship. By other names, these types of boundaries have also defined women throughout time in other cultures and religions, including Judaism and Christianity. So often religion is used to impose boundaries that ultimately deny women rights that have now been articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to self-determination, the right over our bodies, the right to travel freely.” I started wondering about what happened to using the tools of the true faith of Islam? Was the declaration of human rights Islamic then? I am not a fan of hudud laws myself, and the way they are practiced in this day and age is not even Islamic, actually far from it, but that was a contradiction, one of many I found while reading the book and which left me a bit uncomfortable about her motives to say the least.
On page 25, Asra writes: “According to the rulebook of Islam and most of the other religions, I had sinned. I had broken the moral code of my religion.” This came as a surprise to me; I mean this proves that even for Ms. Asra Nomani zina is a sin after all? Then how come she wants to advocate it as in the women’s bill of rights in the bedroom, where she says in Point 8: “Women have an Islamic right to exemption from criminalization or punishment for consensual adult sex.” I mean according to the “true faith of Islam” consent is not enough as a criteria, there needs to be a marriage contract which fulfils certain rules, or perhaps I am using a different criteria?
Further down on page 25 she writes: “I had started reading about a woman named Hajar. She was one of the few hits I got when I did a Google search of “Islam and single mother.” That threw me a bit. Are we equating Hajar here with a zaniyah? Or am I misunderstanding the definition of single mother? It again revived the feeling I had while reading the website, the desperate attempt of Ms. Nomani to liken herself with the historical female figures. Why is she so desperately trying to compare herself to all these women, when there is no comparison? She calls Hajar as well as the prophet's mother as "single mothers", and even Ms. Amina Wadoud does not escape this comparison for on page 203 she is introduced as: “She was a single mother and a Muslim feminist." What does this have to do with anything? One was a widow, the other an abandonned wife, the third maybe divorced? Why do these honourable female figures end up being compared when this comparison is neither needed nor fair? What gain could be made from this comparison? What was the purpose?
I started getting a strange feeling the more I read. This “true faith” seemed to be rather selective and perhaps restricted to what Ms. Nomani believed to be essential or true. On page 39 she writes: “Still, I washed myself before prayers, if not with conviction about the necessity or even the symbolism of the rite.” Uhmmm, necessity? I thought the Quran was the rulebook, even Ms. Asra Nomani’s rulebook, just like everyone else who calls himself a Muslim. So what happened to: [5.6] O you who believe! when you rise up to prayer, wash your faces and your hands as far as the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles; and if you are under an obligation to perform a total ablution, then wash (yourselves) and if you are sick or on a journey, or one of you come from the privy, or you have touched the women, and you cannot find water, betake yourselves to pure earth and wipe your faces and your hands therewith, Allah does not desire to put on you any difficulty, but He wishes to purify you and that He may complete His favor on you, so that you may be grateful. Here it clearly defines that this is necessary before prayers.
On page 49 I read: “We passed the sign that marked our entry into this sacred zone. Haram Boundary, it read. For me haram, which means forbidden, has a negative connotation.” I could excuse this mistake, for after all Arabic is not her native tongue, so she wouldn’t know that this was a wrong translation, because the word harram is sacred and haram is forbidden or sinful. They are both rather close in transliteration, and have the same root, so her ignorance of Arabic is affecting her here. But then again as an author, one has the moral obligation to supply correct and accurate information, so it would have been easy to check that out. There are online dictionaries, there are translators and I am sure there are many native Arabic speakers even in Morgantown, in the foothills of West Virginia.
I think that she tries to explain or perhaps even excuse that on page 50 saying: “Arabic isn’t my language, and I don’t subscribe to the logic of those who want to declare Arabic the language of all Muslims. Many Muslims think that Arabic is the language of God.” Be that as it may, it is too bad really, for the Quran itself is in Arabic and there is nothing one can do about that. Nobody said that Arabic is the language of God, but fact remains that it is the language of the book:
[12.2] Surely We have revealed it-- an Arabic Quran-- that you may understand.
[13.37] And thus have We revealed it, a true judgment in Arabic, and if you follow their low desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you shall not have against Allah any guardian or a protector.
[20.113] And thus have We sent it down an Arabic Quran, and have distinctly set forth therein of threats that they may guard (against evil) or that it may produce a reminder for them.
[26.195] In plain Arabic language.
[41.3] A Book of which the verses are made plain, an Arabic Quran for a people who know
[43.3] Surely We have made it an Arabic Quran that you may understand.
I know that there are many people, who don't like the fact that Arabic is given what they think a priority, specially when dealing with the Quran, but translations do weaken some of the nuances. Perhaps I will write a blog entry on that at some point.
Again we have a wrong translation on page 53: “Labayk (Here I come!)" Unfortunately labayk is not really here I come, the real meaning is “at your service” literally “answering your call” or “obeying”.
On page 57 I was startled to read: “This was the point that marked the beginning of each round of the tawaf, and this was where we were supposed to do a ritual called istislam – kissing the Ka’bah, touching it, or simply facing it to honor its divine history.” Which haj manual is she using here? Perhaps one coloured with local traditions rather than required steps? Kissing and touching it? I know that this is forbidden in Islam, or are we both on two different religions here or what? What about this sura then that even at the times of Ibrahim it was said [14.35] “And when Ibrahim said: My Lord! make this city secure, and save me and my sons from worshipping idols.” More and more I was beginning to feel that Ms. Nomani was talking about a different Islam from the one I grew up with, studied and believed in, an Islam, perhaps coloured with some local traditions she inherited from her Indian roots.
On page 58 she writes: “The frenzy was not very different from the rush that filled the air when I’d watched Buddhist pilgrims stampede the stairs of the Ki Monastery in the Himalayan mountains of India just to set their eyes on a holy mandala, a circular creation of geometric designs that symbolize a blessed circle of protection. When I closed my eyes, I could see the dust storm kicked up by two hundred naked Hindu yogis, called naga babas, as they bolted for their holy ritual bathing in the Ganges river during the Maha Kumbha Mela. It was the same devotion that sent Jews and Christians to their pilgrimage sites. I had to admit that I didn’t feel the surrender to my faith that I was told I should feel at a moment like that. I somehow wished that I could be like them. But I wasn’t.” I don’t know, but here I felt that she was a journalist reporting, rather than a member of the faith participating in one of the most important rituals required. The only thing that came to my mind here is from the Quran: [4.142] “Surely the hypocrites strive to deceive Allah, and He shall requite their deceit to them, and when they stand up to prayer they stand up sluggishly; they do it only to be seen of men and do not remember Allah save a little.”
Then on pages 59 & 60 she writes: “Like most religions, Islam came from a pagan tradition that revered the power of a feminine divine. I had learned this while studying Tantra, a philosophy rooted in goddess worship. From Egypt to Babylonia, Greece, Rome, Asia, Africa and the ancient cultures of the Americas, ancient people related to God in feminine as well as masculine terms. Some Jewish scholars and followers of the Kabbalah Jewish spiritual tradition even believe that Yahweh, the Hebrew God, can be traced to a goddess, Shekhina. Some historians say it is very likely that the Ka’bah was originally a source of astral worship, a common theme in goddess traditions. The symbol of Islam in the modern day – a crescent and star – captures the spirit of that early devotion to the heavens.” I seem to have lost it a bit here, how can Islam come from a pagan tradition, when the Quran says about 216 times that it was revealed, hereby stating implicitly and explicitly that it is the word of God and his will and not some pagan tradition which has evolved. I mean what about this: [2.136] Say: We believe in Allah and (in) that which had been revealed to us, and (in) that which was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Yaqoub and the tribes, and (in) that which was given to Musa and Isa, and (in) that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit. Not just that, but if anybody wants to draw some line of development then one should be using this Sura: [3.84] Say: We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq and Yaqoub and the tribes, and what was given to Musa and Isa and to the prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit. Ibrahim has an entire passage in a Sura, describing how he faught against paganism, and even if there is no 'book' revealed to Ibrahim as such, the Quran tells us what was or wasn't revealed to him. Maybe a blog entry about that would be in order one day.
Again on page 60 Asra rewrites history: “In Islamic history, Abraham married her as a second wife, a co-wife. Unable to have a child, Sarah told Abraham to have sex with Hajar so that he could have a child, making her an early surrogate mother.” I know that authors do write what comes to their mind and that fiction is an acceptable genre, but I always thought that authors had a moral obligation to state facts and research their information properly before claiming something or other. I thought that authors needed to verify their statements, unless they were stating their own opinions and maybe views, which should be preceeded by words like "in my opinion", or "I believe", but with history it is a bit different isn’t it? History can be looked up and researched. In this case I need to know just what Islamic history is she reading here? And since when did Ibrahim take orders from anyone but Allah? And isn't Abraham the Jewish name, while Muslims call him Ibrahim? Weren't we asked not confuse him? [2.140] Nay! do you say that Ibrahim and Ismail and Yaqoub and the tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Are you better knowing or Allah? And who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah? And Allah is not at all heedless of what you do.
On page 61, speaking about Hajar and Sarah, Ms Nomani writes:“The Quran doesn’t speak about this rivalry, but maybe God could predict what would happen next in the story, having after all created human nature. Jealous of Hajar, Sarah ordered Ibrahim to banish the servant to the desert. Abraham complied.” Sighs, first of all Hajar was not his servant but his wife, a second wife, but nevertheless still a wife, as Ms. Nomani says herself on page 60. I sense a mix up here between Islam and Judaism. And what is this “maybe God could predict”? Isn’t it: [36.82] His command, when He intends anything, is only to say to it: Be, so it is. And he is all-knowing.
On page 61 Ms Nomani writes: “In the Quran Hajar made the choice to accept Abraham’s decision. She could have clung to him. Instead she chose to turn her back on Abraham and walk away from him.” I don’t know which Quran Ms. Asra is quoting here? The Quran I read has no mention of Hajar whatsoever. And even Ms. Nomani knows that, because on page 62 she writes: “Hajar should have had a revered place in Islam. Instead, even her choice of bride for the son she raised was rejected. She is not mentioned by name in the Quran.” This makes me therefore wonder how then does Ms Nomani know so much about Hajar’s choice or lack therof? Where did she come up with the statement from before? Perhaps I should do a blog entry on the 'real' story of Hajar one day.
On page 64 we find another one of the Arabic mis-translations: “This run is called sa’y or “struggle. To represent the struggle we all endure over faith and life.” Struggle is jihad and sa’y is literally a mission or an undertaking.
And again another mis-translation on page 65: “Dawah means to educate others about Islam”, because dawah literally is an invitation. Maybe Urdu rather than Arabic affects this point a bit?
Again on page 66 she returns to the subject and writes speaking about Hajar “I had made a choice, like her, to raise my son alone, contrary to the traditions of our cultures.” I was beginning to get a bit annoyed with this constant harping on the 'imaginary' similarities between them for Hajar was a wife and Ismail was no ‘bastard’, furthermore Hajar had no choice. And frankly speaking neither did Ms Asra Nomani. She didn’t make the choice, her boyfriend made it for her and dumped her, so what real choice was there?
On page 67 still speaking about Hajar she writes: “.. but maybe this young woman was merely seeking legitimacy from the father of her child. These days her sa’y could have been a lifetime of the night shift behind the cash register of the local 7-11, supporting herself and her baby.” I must have missed something somewhere. Just who ever said that Ismail was not legitimate? Maybe in Judaism Hajar is just a concubine or servant, but in Islam she isn't, she is a wife, which makes her offspring legitimate. And why in Allah’s name would anyone say that? Ismail is given the same rank in Islam like Ishaq and even Ibrahim himself: [2.133] Nay! were you witnesses when death visited Yaqoub, when he said to his sons: What will you serve after me? They said: We will serve your God and the God of your fathers, Ibrahim and Ismail and Ishaq, one God only, and to Him do we submit.
Sighs heavily, the more I read, the more I became convinced that we are talking about two different religions here. On page 74 she writes: “At the end of the second rak’ah of this prayer, as in the final rak’ah of all prayers, we sat and said another required chapter. During this chapter we raised our index finger while we said a particular part of a chapter that captures the shahada, or testimony of Islamic faith.” I am not a scholar of Islam, but I know about the “tashahud” it is not a chapter of the Quran at all, it comes from the Sunna, but definitely not from the Quran. Actually it is reported that it was the dialogue, which took place between Prophet Mohamed and the angels during the ascension at the night of Isra'a and Miraj.
On page 82 Asra writes speaking about the prophet’s mother: “Although the history books don’t cast her this way, his mother, Amina, entered motherhood as a single mother.” Sadly she was not Amina, she was Amna Bint Wahb bin Abd-el-Munaf and she was a widow, not a single mother. No wonder the history books don't cast her that way, simply because historian do not have this fixation. In my opinion, this obsession with turning every woman of some meaning in Islam to a single mother is starting to become a bit pathetic now.
On page page 100 Ms Nomani writes: “Today nearly half of the Islamic jurisprudence of the Hanafi school of thought, which is followed by 70% of Muslims, is based on the theology and jurisprudence communicated by Aisha to her students.” Ummm, I can only ask oh really? And since when was it 70%, perhaps this is the case in Pakistan or India, the native land of Ms. Nomani, but certainly that is not the case in the Middle East. Perhaps we need to see some evidence of that? Perhaps figures published in a study or something close to that? What is the source of this figure or is it just an assumption? I will look into that myself and perhaps try and find something to prove or disprove it.
On page 101 Ms. Nomani again rewrites history: “After the prophet’s death, Aisha’s brother, Abdullah bin Umar, a leading companion of the prophet and a son of Umar bin al-Khattab, the second caliph of Islam, reprimanded his son for trying to prevent women from going to the mosque.” I am sorry, but either she means Hafsa, daughter of Umar and also a wife of the prophet and sister of Abdullah, or she has no clue what she is talking about, or has a bad editor, since Aisha’s father was Abu Bakr.
On page 123 Asra asks a question: “When I became sexually active, I began to understand the power of sex, but I didn’t see why we attach stigma to adults having sexual relations.” I am not sure whether she really doesn’t know the answer to that, which would simply be because Sura [4.24] Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess: Thus hath Allah ordained (Prohibitions) against you: Except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property,- desiring chastity, not lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is prescribed, agree Mutually (to vary it), there is no blame on you, and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise” tells us to have sex only in marriage??
Again on page 124 Ms. Nomani writes: “I felt the pressure of the weight I carried on my back for the sin of having had sex as a single woman. According to the sheikh’s logic, with the hajj I would become a reborn virgin. Did I need that in order to feel good about myself? To feel pure? To feel worthy?” Another contradiction? So having sex out of wedlock is a sin? Furthermore I was taught that Haj was one of the pillars and not to be performed to feel pure and worthy or did I miss something here? Furthermore there is nothing that says "a reborn virgin", all it says is that all previous sins will be erased or forgiven.
On page 125 Ms Nomani writes: “And the Quran speaks eloquently about the concept of sacred sexuality between husband and wife.” I have read the Quran numerous times, and I am sure I read it with concentration, but I seriously cannot recall anything descriptive about the sexuality of a married couple. Where? Maybe Ms. Nomani’s first book “Tantrika” coloured her writing here? I would certainly like to read those passages of the Quran. In my understanding, marriage as such is spoken about, but not so much the sexual part of it other than perhaps define certain rules. Maybe some day I will write a post about that.
On page 128 she writes: “The story of Eve underscores the issues of sin and redemption that Muslim women face in a religion that defines every aspect of their lives, from the way they dress to how the have sex.” I don’t know where she gets this from, because Islam is the only religion that makes Eve and Adam equal in the sin of disobeying and eating the apple. Furthermore it is not the HOW to have sex that is defined, but the with WHOM rather, which Asra Nomani seems to be missing all the time.
I am not really sure where Ms. Nomani gets her knowledge about Islam and the Quran from. On page 135 she writes: “There was one jinn that we were particularly supposed to fear: Iblis.” Since when is Iblis a jinn? What happened to: [2.34] And when We said to the angels: Make obeisance to Adam they did obeisance, but Iblis (did it not). He refused and he was proud, and he was one of the unbelievers. Even Christianity calls him a 'fallen angel'.
I couldn’t even find a suitable comment for what I read on page 137: “talking about stoning the shaitan ritual or rajm “Samir saw the shape of the Washington Monument in the stone pillars. I saw giant phallic symbols rising to the sky.” Bit of a one-track mind here? Aren't believers supposed to be concentrating on the spiritual aspect of Haj, on being closer to Allah? Then people laugh about comments that are made about mixed gender prayers, saying that a raised female butt would distract the praying men. Double standards? If prayer and Haj are performed correctly, then the only thing people would concentrate on would be their rituals and nothing else.
On page 144 Ms Nomani writes: “According to the rituals of Islam, we hadn’t completed the hajj, because my family, for safety reasons, didn’t do the final circumambulation of the Ka’bah. I had to think about what complete means. There were actually 2 relevant concepts of completedness to think about – the physical and the spiritual. I didn’t think about the former : though I felt uneasy about not physically completing the hajj, I knew I was doing the right thing for my niece, my nephew and my son. To me, spiritual completion was more important.” Are we now haggling about haj? Why doesn’t she just start a new sect, the Nomanis or something and defines her own rules instead of bending the “true faith of Islam” like that, the one she stated in the prologue she was going to use.
I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read on page 150: “My honor as an author was that my book would be tucked in alphabetical order in the autiobiography section at Barnes & Noble between Queen Nour’s autobiography and Azhar Nafisi;s “reading Lolita in Tehran.” What about the author’s responsibility to accurate research and supplying the truth to the readers? Wouldn’t that contribute more to this so-called sense of honour??
I found another bit very amusing, namely what she wrote on page 167 writing about her fear of a fatwa: “I braced myself with the only weapon I had : knowledge.” I couldn’t help but ask if rewriting the Quran as well as history and the Sira of Prophet Muhamed can at all be called knowledge? It is not a shame not to know, but for me it is a shame not to know and then to state things as if they were facts without going through the pains of verifying any information one is not sure of.
On page 169 Ms Nomani writes: “To punish mothers seemed to me to be not only cruel but a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 25, section 2: “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.” From what I know about Sharia as well as hudud laws, to punish a zaniyah there has to be a certain detailly stated proof. The proof should be supplied by four adult male witnesses. Furthermore there is more to it than even seeing it happen, there is further needed proof using a human hair to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was a 'penetration', but I digress. Nowhere have I seen anything about punishing the child. Furthermore did she not say that she uses the Quran and the true faith of Islam? Since when was the Declaration of Human Rights quranic? What did I miss? If she is going to use the declaration of human rights, then she should change the statements about using the tools of the true faith. Perhaps one day I will make a comparison between the declaration of human rights and what is stated in the Quran, regardless of what the followers practice and post it on my blog.
On page 171 Ms Nomani writes: “It seemed obvious to me that zina laws are not a humane, fair or judicious response to social realities. Because it is difficult to find the 4 witnesses required by the Quran to prosecute zina, the men are usually released. Pregnancy, however, is telling, so pregnant mothers are imprisoned even though majority shia opinion concludes that pregnancy is circumstantial evidence.” I think that Ms. Nomani is making a big mistake here equating the hudud laws for zina as revealed in the Quran, to the practiced (patriarchial) ways of mankind. In my personal opinion, from what I have read and studied in Sharia and Fiqh, I firmly believe that the hudud laws regarding zina were revealed as a deterrent rather than to be followed literally. I mean using common sense and logic one would think that having a sexual experience, specially an illegal one, would happen in private and would not happen in front of witnesses, four adult male witnesses at that. Say those witnesses walk in suddenly, seeing it still does not constitute proof. There is further proof required, namely that of passing a human hair between both bodies to proove an actual penetration. I have not heard ore read of any man able to sustain an erection in cases of extreme stress or fear. So I believe firmly that Allah is indeed merciful and forgiving, because when one thinks about it logically there just can be no proof furnished according to these guidelines. Furthermore according to the Quran [4.15] And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them so even in the unlikely even that proof can be supplied, this does not mean to kill these women or stone them to death. Who wants to keep a decaying corpse at home? Doesn’t the Sura explicitly ask to confine the guilty parties to their houses? Then we also have two other Suras saying: [24.2] (As for) the fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them, (giving) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you in the matter of obedience to Allah, if you believe in Allah and the last day, and let a party of believers witness their chastisement.[24.3] The fornicator shall not marry any but a fornicatress or idolatress, and (as for) the fornicatress, none shall marry her but a fornicator or an idolater; and it is forbidden to the believers.There is a huge difference between the words of the Quran and the practices of mankind today. I think one should make that distinction. I know that religion is judged by the way the followers behave, but that should not be the case. I don’t think it is right or even fair to judge using malpractice.
On page 176 Ms Nomani writes: “My experience with Buddhism and Hinduism didn’t leave me believing in many gods and goddesses. Instead, the way I looked at it, they had simply deified the many expressions of one divine force. Islam, after all, has 99 names for Allah.” Perhaps my logic is flawed, but no matter how much I try, I still fail to see the connection here. Names are one thing, but gods and their images or manifestation as idols is a totally different issue. Names are labels, just a different way to identify the same, after all: [112.1] Say: He, Allah, is One.”
On page 183 I was very surprised to read: “In one corner was Aisha, the young and favored wife of the prophet. Her father was Abu Bakr, an elder statesman. After the prophet died in 632, his companions sided with Aisha and elected Abu Bakr the first caliph of Islam. The line of caliphs starting with Abu Bakr had the allegiance of people who later became the roots of the Sunni sect, the majority of believers in Islam. Ismaili Muslims, on the other hand, as part of the minority sect of Islam called Shi’a, believe that the first rightful caliph of Islam should have been Ali, the husband of Fatima, the prophet Muhammad’s daughter and his only child to survive infancy… Although she lost the battle over succession, Fatima became the namesake for the Fatimid line of caliphs, which traces its lineage to her and Ali.” Apart from the fact that this is a completely new reading of how the shia and sunni chasm came to be and it being attributed to merely a power struggle between two jealous females, regardless of their position in the Prophet’s household, namely Fatima and Aisha, I am afraid that Ms. Nomani missed three daughters of the prophet here. All three, Zainab, Um Kalthoum as well as Ruqaya survived infancy and two of them even married the same man, Uthman Ibn Affan who was therefore given the title ‘Dhun Nurayn’, which literally means 'the possessor of two lights'. Maybe one day I will write a post on the rivalry between Aisha and Fatima. Gosh, I should really be grateful for Ms. Nomani for giving me so many topics to write about.
On page 189 I read: “As Shibli grew, I didn’t really know if I believed enough in my faith to initiate Shibli into it. After all, some Muslims invoked Islam to label me a criminal. For that reason, I couldn’t throw a naming ceremony, called the aqeeqa, which Muslim parents usually host for the Muslim community days after a baby’s birth.” I found this statement a bit hard to swallow. The reason was not the aqeeqa ceremony, which in my understanding is more local tradition than an Islamic ritual, even though the Prophet shaved his grandson Hussain's head seven days after his birth and gave the weight of his hair in silver as charity for him, but the statement that she was not sure if she believed enough in her own faith, yet embarked on a journey to fight for the rights of the women granted by that faith. What does that say about the motives of Ms. Nomani? This made me question a lot of things I read in her book; after all she started off the book wanting to defend the rights of women according to the true faith. Now it all looked different. It seems to me now, after reading thus far in the book, that Ms Nomani is not really on any journey other than perhaps one to find herself and to perhaps understand where she fits into the greater scheme of things. I started feeling very sorry for her and a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt came to my mind: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” For someone writing that she feels no guilt and no shame, she is just defending herself too hard. Maybe her biggest accusation comes from within herself.
On page 204 Ms. Nomani writes: “Salafi is an ideology related to Wahabism. Its proponents fancy themselves as pioneer, the literal meaning of Salafi.” Sadly this is another one of the wrong translations, because salafi comes from aslaf and those are the forefathers or the grandfathers so to speak, so literally salafi means founders.
And another wrong translation happens again on page 217 where Ms. Nomani writes: “awrah [forbidden] and fitnah [conflict]”, both again are wrong translations from Arabic, where going back to the root of the word awrah literally is nakedness or that which needs to be hidden and fitnah is not conflict but desire.
What I read on page 223 left me a bit speechless: “I closed my eyes to meditate. In the midst of troubles, the prophet Muhammad had gone within himself to find a divine answer. I could at least seek out human insight.” And I am still not really able to put my feelings about this sentence into words, because I am hoping that I misread it. In any case, who am I to judge, after all only Allah knows what is in the hearts of everyone: [64.4] He knows what is in the heavens and the earth, and He knows what you hide and what you manifest;and Allah is Cognizant of what is in the hearts.
On page 249 Ms. Nomani writes: “For all of the judgement against Muslim women who have premarital sex, how many men do as well? For all of the judgement against Muslim women as sexual beings, how many Muslim men have affairs or use polygamy, temporary-marriages and other forms of religious cover to get extra action in the bedroom?” I can’t help but ask when do two wrongs make a right? Aren’t we asked explicitly to adhere to a certain behavioural norm? What does this have to do with others following it or not? Do Muslims measure themselves by the behaviour of other Muslims or other people of different faiths even? Since when was religion a comparison or a competition?
This very same concept came up again on page 262, where she writes: “That’s in the Quran he insisted. But it wasn’t. It was just in his interpretation of the Quran.” So if some people misinterpret the Quran, does this give anybody the right then to re-interpret it as he/she pleases? To sort of implicitly advocate that consent is all that is required for any sexual relationship between adults?
If what she writes on page 281 is true: “We are trying to question defective doctrine from a perspective based on the Quran, the traditions of the prophet and ijtihad.”, then how come the bill or rights for Muslim women in the bedroom seems to be advocating zina?
Ijtihad is a term used for Islamic law and means the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the primary sources of the law, namely the Quran, Hadith and the Sunna, without relying on the views of other scholars. The opposite of ijtihad is taqleed, imitation. The person who applies ijtihad, the mujtahid, must be a scholar of Islamic law. I am not sure whether Ms. Nomani qualifies as a scholar of Islamic law or not, I know that I don't, but the definition of ijtihad states clearly that the primary sources should be used to arrive at an interpretation. I do not think that taking the opposite point of view to something that is clearly stated in the Quran can be acceptable , not even as an ijtihad.
Apart from all the mistakes in historical facts, religious points, linguistic issues or matters of translation, there were the contradictions in her very own biography. On page 20 she writes: "He arrived at night, and I took him to my bedroom.”I am carrying your baby," I told him, sitting on the edge of my bed. He looked at me stunned. In a pause that I filled with so many dreams, he sucked his breath in hard and said, "I have to go." The truth revealed itself. He didn't want me to keep the baby, and all of his fanciful talk about marrying me disappeared." So far so good, but then later on she writes on page 67: "10 years later I chose to leave the father of my baby after it became clear that the relationship would be unfulfilling and tumultuous." Then later on page 124 she writes: "I wanted to free myself from my self-loathing over the errors in judgement that had led me to love and trust a man who left me hurt, sad and alone." Then yet again on page 173: "Harris interrupted me. "What? He abandoned you?" I stammered. I realized how uncomfortable I was admitting the truth. "Well - you want to - you don't want to be so - you know , you hope that." I paused to collect my thoughts. "I am not answering you clearly, because - I am struggling with it aren't I?" So which one is it? Did he dump her? Did she leave him? Struggeling with being abandoned is perhaps an excuse for all those contradictions, but then I suppose that publishing houses have editors who go through a book before sending it to be printed.
Then there is also the contradiction about the baby and the concept of sin. Ms Nomani writes on page 11: “The next year I crossed the most sacred of boundaries of a woman’s body and consummated my love, but it wasn’t my wedding night. I wept in confusion over the truths of my physical and emotional urgings and the expectations of my religion and tradition.” A few pages later, namely on page 20 she writes: "I was consumed by the shame of ignoring the rulings of sharia, the "divine Islamic law.", whereas on page 123 she writes: "Sheikh Abdullah guided us to repeat after him: "Oh God forgive us." I whispered the words underneath my breath, but I didn't utter them from my heart. This concept of forgiveness eluded me.... I asked "What's the point in asking for forgiveness for decisions that can't be changed? Why live with regret?" Again on page 124 with regard to the same issue Ms Nomani writes: "Was creating Shibli the sin for which I had to seek forgiveness? I knew I had to resolve this question.... Even though I wished I had a resolution I didn't." So which one is it? Was having a sexual relationship outside the boundary of marriage a sin or not? If it is a sin then one should ask forgiveness, as per the guideline Ms Nomani herself chose as the tool of her faith. Doesn’t the Quran say explicitly [2.199] Then hasten on from the Place from which the people hasten on and ask the forgiveness of Allah; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Furthermore the Quran gives Muslims yet another assurance: [4.31] If you shun the great sins which you are forbidden, We will do away with your small sins and cause you to enter an honorable place of entering.
I am no Islamic scholar, but I have studied enough of sharia and Islamic history to have been able to point out those mistakes I found. I feel compelled to write this review because of: [4:135]: O you who believe! be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness of Allah's sake, though it may be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is nearer to them both in compassion; therefore do not follow (your) low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do.
I sincerely hope that Asra Nomani revises her book, should there be a second edition and correct the mistakes. I would also like to see someone more learned than me and much more at home with more intricate details of fiqh and Islamic jurisprudence and history read her book with concentration and no biases, to correct any other possible mistakes that I have not seen. Perhaps Asra Nomani herself should read the book thoroughly one more time now, after the initial excitement with it becoming a bestseller has died down and she should try and supply the sources for her claims and maybe try to bear this Sura in mind: [2.42] And do not mix up the truth with the falsehood, nor hide the truth while you know (it).
It is perhaps out of ignorance that she made those mistakes, but then the first word of the Quran was “Iqra” literally to read, a command to seek knowledge and combat ignorance. I would most certainly like to urge Ms Nomani to do just that, to read about her religion and try and remove her ignorance about certain aspects of it and fill the voids in her knowledge about it. I chose to think that she is rather ignorant about her own faith and religion over the other option, namely that this book is a distortion of Islam in the name of reformation and ijtihad with malicious intent.
After 9/11 there was a surge in Islamophobic books and all sorts of books claiming to explain this or that aspect about Islam. Irshad Manji and many others. These books started selling like hot-cakes, mostly bought by non-Muslims seeking information on Islam. What pains me is that these interested readers who really want to learn something about a religion they fear or know nothing much about, get controversial if not even distorted information instead of the real and accurate information they are looking for and they deserve to get.
Finally I do admire what Ms. Nomani did for the women who want to pray at the mosque. Every woman deserves to do just that if she wants to and Islam has granted her the right.
For not giving in to the fanatics who were trying to shut the women out of the mosque in Morgantown I salute Asra Nomani.
For looking for love, classically in all the wrong places and making wrong choices and settling for lust and not love, I pity her.
But for making those mistakes in history and language and not checking them out and verifying the information she was not sure of, while she has the use of vast resources on the internet (as per her own words in the book) I have to criticise her. An author has the moral obligation towards his readers to research his information accurately and only supply correct facts, after all this is not fiction. I do not regret reading the book, but it was not at all what I thought it would be. At the end I hope that those mistakes get edited out of the next edition.