Asra Nomani

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Asra Nomani
Born 1965
Bombay, Maharastra, India
Alma mater West Virginia University (BA), American University (MA)
Occupation Journalist
Home town Morgantown, West Virginia
Children Shibli Daneel Nomani

Asra Quratulain Nomani (born 1965) is an Indian-American journalist, author, lecturer and feminist, known as an activist involved in the Muslim reform and Islamic feminist movements. She teaches journalism at Georgetown University and is co-director of the Pearl Project,[1][2] a faculty-student, investigative-reporting project into the kidnapping and murder of her former colleague, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The project was published by the Center for Public Integrity.[3]

Nomani is the author of two books, Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Tantrika: Traveling the Road of Divine Love. She is also the author of numerous articles, including "Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom", the "Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque", and "99 Precepts for Opening Hearts, Minds and Doors in the Muslim World".

Nomani's story is surveyed in the documentary, The Mosque in Morgantown, aired nationwide on PBS as part of the series America at a Crossroads.

Early life[edit]

Nomani was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. When she was four years old, she and her older brother moved to the United States to join their parents in New Brunswick, New Jersey. There her father, Zafar Nomani, was earning a Ph.D. at Rutgers University. When Nomani was 10 her family moved to Morgantown, West Virginia, where her father became an assistant professor of nutrition. Her father (cited as M.Z.A. Nomani) published studies on the health effects of Ramadan fasting, and also helped organize mosques in both New Jersey and West Virginia. In her books Tantrika and Standing Alone in Mecca, Nomani states that she is descended from Indian Muslim scholar Mawlana Shibli Nomani, known for writing a biography of Muhammad, but this is disputed in a letter to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper from a writer who identified herself as speaking for descendants of Mawlana Shibli.[4] Nomani received her B.A. in Liberal Studies from West Virginia University in 1986 and M.A. from American University in International Communications in 1990.


Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal correspondent and has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, Slate, The American Prospect, and Time. She was a correspondent for in Pakistan after 9/11, and her work appears in numerous other publications, including People, Sports Illustrated for Women, Cosmopolitan, and Women's Health. She has delivered commentary on National Public Radio.

She was a visiting scholar at the Center for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. She was a Poynter Fellow at Yale University.

Nomani is the founder and creator of the Muslim Women's Freedom Tour. She has also defied literalist interpretations of Islam that segregate women from men in prayers at mosques, and was a lead organizer of the woman-led Muslim prayer in New York City on March 18, 2005, which has been described as "the first mixed-gender prayer on record led by a Muslim woman in 1,400 years."[5] Various mixed-gender prayers have been led privately by a Muslim woman, including a 1997 funeral prayer led by a South African Muslim feminist Shamima Shaikh.[6] Nomani has said the prayer was the first publicly led Friday prayer in modern-day history.


In November 2003, Nomani became the first woman in her mosque in West Virginia to insist on the right to pray in the male-only main hall. Her effort brought front-page attention in a New York Times article entitled Muslim Women Seeking a Place in the Mosque.[7] The article chronicled Nomani's "Rosa Parks-style activism."

Inspired by Michael Muhammad Knight's punk novel The Taqwacores,[8] she organized the first public woman-led prayer of a mixed-gender congregation in the United States, with Amina Wadud leading the prayer. On that day, March 18, 2005, she stated:

We are standing up for our rights as women in Islam. We will no longer accept the back door or the shadows, at the end of the day, we'll be leaders in the Muslim world. We are ushering Islam into the 21st century, reclaiming the voice that the Prophet gave us 1400 years ago.

In his book Blue-Eyed Devil (p. 209), Knight recalls the event as follows:

Inside the chapel there might have been as many reporters and camera crews as there were praying Muslims. The imam of the day, Amina Wadud, was so distracted by the long rows of popping flash-bulbs that in the middle of the prayer she forgot her ayats. At PMU's first board meeting, Ahmed Nassef would read to us an email from Dr. Wadud that completely washed her hands of the event. Though she still believed in woman-led prayer, she wanted nothing to do with PMU or Asra Nomani... Wadud had drawn a clear line between the Truth and the media whores, and we knew that PMU was on the wrong side. To avoid public criticism, PMU's website made no mention of Asra's role in organizing the prayer. Asra complained of PMU shutting her out.[9]

The publicity, however, was instrumental in prompting several major Muslim organizations in the United States, including the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America to issue their first substantive work aimed at affirming women's rights in mosques, publishing Women-Friendly Mosques and Community Centers: Working Together to Reclaim Our Heritage. The booklet, written by long-time social activist Shahina Siddiqui and Islamic Society of North America president Ingrid Mattson, was successfully distributed to mosques nationwide.[10][11] In addition to her books, she has expressed her experiences and ideas for reform in one New York Times editorial and in several other publications and broadcasts. She was a friend and colleague of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was staying with her in Karachi with his wife Mariane Pearl when he was abducted and later murdered by Islamic militants in January 2002.[12]

In the movie based on the book, A Mighty Heart, by Pearl's wife, British actress Archie Panjabi plays the role of Nomani. The Washington Post published a review, by Nomani, of the film in which Nomani argued "...that Danny himself had been cut from his own story."[13]

Nomani is interviewed in a 2005 National Film Board of Canada documentary by Zarqa Nawaz about the efforts of North American Muslim women to be accepted in mosques, entitled Me and the Mosque.[14]

Impact and criticism[edit]

Regarding the Morgantown mosque issue, Pakistani-American lawyer Asma Gull Hasan, author of Why I Am a Muslim: An American Odyssey, expressed admiration for Nomani, while West Virginia University professor Gamal Fahmy criticized her and questioned her motives.[15] Others suggest Nomani's woman-led prayer in 2005 led to open discussion and debate about the role of women in Muslim society.[16]

Representatives of mainstream Islamic organizations have criticized Nomani on the Morgantown mosque issue, in part because she has openly criticized commonly accepted practices in the American-Muslim community, but also for not sufficiently interacting with longstanding Muslim communities.[15] Louay Safi, executive director of the Islamic Society of North America's Leadership Development Center in Plainfield, Indiana, acknowledged that many women were unhappy with the Morgantown mosque, but called Nomani a "loner" without "the experience of engaging the community, negotiating and trying to change things gradually."[15]

Beyond the mosque controversy, Nomani has also been criticized for a variety of reasons by Muslims. For example, Nomani has been criticized for approving of – in her article "Why NYPD Monitoring Should Be Welcome News to U.S. Muslims"—the racial and religious profiling of Muslims.[17] That article, according to Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina, was part of a years-long pattern Nomani had displayed of "standing with Islamophobes and against justice."[18] Religion News Service, where Safi had originally attempted to publish the column, retracted the column.

In a column for which Religion News Service published numerous corrections, Safi also criticized Nomani's statement that increased use by Muslims of religious phrases such as insha’Allah (“God willing”) is “code inside the community for someone who is becoming hardcore. It doesn’t mean that they’re becoming violent or criminal, but it’s a red flag.”[19] Safi disagreed, stating that increased use of Arabic language religious phrases "is not a sign of radicalization, but merely one of piety."[20] Nomani responded that the statement was not a generalization but was made in the "specific context of a transformation of an individual."[20]

Also, author G. Willow Wilson criticized a Nomani essay, My Big Fat Muslim Wedding,[21] for, according to Wilson, implying that "there are no decent Muslim men on planet Earth–or, if by some miracle they do exist, they are so difficult to find that it’s not worth the bother."[22]

Nomani broke the news regarding Random House's decision not to publish The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, a historical novel about Aisha, wife of the Prophet Muhammad.[23] She expressed disappointment in Random House's decision.






  1. ^ "GU Class to Investigate Murder of WSJ Reporter". Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 
  2. ^ "Project Pearl: The Bravest Class in Town". Marie Claire. Archived from the original on 9 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Asra Nomani no kin of Allama Shibli. By Momna Sohail Sultan, Dawn (newspaper), April 22, 2005
  5. ^ Teresa Watanabe (2005). "Muslim women take bold steps for role in Islam: Not content with being pushed aside in mosques, some defy the religion's age-old traditions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-06-25. [dead link]
  6. ^ Shamima Shaikh (1998). "Death of a Muslim Joan of Arc". Mail & Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  7. ^ Muslim Women Seeking a Place in the Mosque
  8. ^ Blue-Eyed Devil, p. 206: "At a lecture in Arizona, Mohja Kahf called me the "enfant terrible of American Muslim writers." Asra Nomani told me "this is how you can finance your life," and said that The Taqwacores had led her to consider that women could lead men in prayer. Referring to the scene in which Tabeya, my niqabi riot grrl, gives a khutbah and serves as imam, Asra promised, "we're going to make that a reality."
  9. ^ Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America
  10. ^ Laurie Goodstein (July 22, 2004). "Muslim Women Seeking a Place in the Mosque". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  11. ^ "Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers: Working Together to Reclaim Our Heritage" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  12. ^ Timothy J. Burger; Adam Zagorin (2006-10-12). "Fingering Danny Pearl's Killer". Time (magazine). Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  13. ^ Asra Q. Nomani (2007-06-24). "A Mighty Shame: It's the Story of Our Search for Danny Pearl. But in This Movie, He's Nowhere to Be Found". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  14. ^ Ken Lem, Val (April 2006). "Me and the Mosque". Canadian Materials XII (17). 
  15. ^ a b c Teresa Wiltz (2005-06-05). "The Woman Who Went To the Front of the Mosque". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  16. ^ Jane Lampman (March 28, 2005). "Muslims split over gender role: American Muslim women challenge the tradition that only men can lead ritual prayers.". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  17. ^ Why NYPD Monitoring Should Be Welcome News to U.S. Muslims Asra Nomani, The Daily Beast, March 5, 2012
  18. ^ Stop Enabling Islamophobia by Omid Safi, Media Review Net, April 30, 2013
  19. ^ Muslims have a problem. Uncle Ruslan may have the answer. by Asra Nomani, The Washington Post, April 23, 2013.
  20. ^ a b 5 dumbest things said about the Boston Marathon Explosions by Omid Safi, Religion News Service, April 27, 2013
  21. ^ My Big Fat Muslim Wedding Asra Nomani, Marie Claire, July 9, 2009
  22. ^ An ideal husband G. Willow Wilson, beliefnet, August, 2009
  23. ^ Asra Q. Nomani (2008-08-06). "You Still Can't Write About Mohammad". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 

External links[edit]

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