Islamic Feminism Meets Resistance
- Woman Fights for Equality in Morgantown Mosque
The Associated Press
Published: Jan 25, 2004
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - For three months, Asra Nomani has been
defying convention at the mosque she attends - by walking through
the front door.
Nomani, a journalist who has written for the Wall Street Journal and
The Washington Post, is trying to change a rule that women should
enter the Morgantown mosque through a side staircase and pray
separately from the men. A growing number of mosques have such
"I can interview the Taliban," said Nomani, 38, "but I can't walk
through the front door of my mosque."
Before ever approaching the front door, Nomani asked the mosque's
board of trustees for equal access for women. But when she later
went to the mosque, the board president stood at the front door and
said, "Sister, please, the back entrance," Nomani noted in a
discrimination complaint she filed with the Council on American-
About three months ago, Nomani, her mother and her 12-year-old niece
rejected the women's entrance for the front door.
Once inside, the women chose not to pray in a balcony built for
women in the rear of the mosque - where the main prayer space cannot
be seen. Instead, they began praying under the same vaulted, sunny
ceiling as the men - but several feet behind them.
"The men interrupted the start of 'taraweeh' prayer," Nomani
recalled in the discrimination complaint. "A man said, 'We cannot
pray until she leaves.' A group of men told my father to tell me to
leave. He said he would not.
"Four men assembled around me and told me to leave. Two men took
positions directly behind me and started to pray. One of the men
assembled around me asked in an intimidating way whether I wanted to
remain with these men behind me. Another man poked his finger at me
and spoke to me in a threatening way. I remained."
Nomani and her father, Zafar, a professor emeritus of nutrition at
West Virginia University, mosque founder and current board member,
recently filed a police complaint saying that one man in the
congregation yelled at her, called Zafar Nomani an idiot and waved
his arms at them before other members of the congregation restrained
"If women are not treated with respect and dignity in our mosques,
we have failed," Zafar Nomani said. "I am concerned not only about
women but the second generation of immigrant children growing up in
Asad Khan, acting president of the mosque's board, said a meeting on
the issue will be held soon but declined further comment until after
Morgantown's mosque is among a growing number of U.S. mosques that
put women behind a partition or in another room to pray. In 1994, 52
percent of mosques had such a practice, but that rose to 66 percent
in 2000, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The world's holiest mosque - in Mecca - allows women and men to pray
together, said Nomani, who has prayed there. She was born in India
and lived in New Jersey before moving to West Virginia.
NOTE: Most Muslim women prefer to pray in a separate area. It might
be more worthwhile for women's rights activists to fight for a
women's area in every mosque.
US undiplomacy backfires in Kerala
By Mukundan C Menon
16-31 January 2004
Demonstrations in Calicut against the US seminar
It would have otherwise been a clever politico-PRO move by US
diplomats in India to woo the Muslim community. However, since their
chosen venue happened to be Kozhikode, the nerve centre of Malabar
Muslim politics in Kerala, the undiplomatic move was thoroughly
exposed and heavily backfired.
The occasion was a workshop on "Islam and Women", better
called "Islamic Feminism", organized by the Chennai-based US
Consulate at Hotel Hyson Heritage, Kozhikode, on December 22. It was
supposed to be under the joint sponsorship of the local Farooq
College which is run by a Muslim management. However, they
dissociated at the last moment following protests from Muslim bodies
and intellectuals. The main speaker at the event was Prof Margot
Badran, a senior fellow at the Centre for Muslim-Christian
Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington. Claimed to be an
expert in "Islamic feminism", her topic was academic: "Islam and
multiple discourse of gender". However, as soon as the invitation
from US consulate reached the press and selected invitees, the
hidden agenda was known: a clever maneuver to counter the strong
anti-American sentiments which prevail in the Muslim-dominated
Malabar region, and which only multiplied after the recent Iraq
events. At the best, both the chosen time and venue turned out to be
The lead for the protest was taken by the radical Muslim outfit,
National Development Front (NDF), and its women's body, Kerala
Women's Front (KWF) who staged demonstration and dharna in front of
the hotel even before the workshop started. Another demonstration
was staged by followers of the Sunni leader, Kanthapuram Aboobecker
Musaliar, belonging to Sunni Students Federation (SSF).
Inside the hall, NDF leader Prof P Koya, an invitee, asked Dr Badran
point blank : "What is the compelling reason for the US consulate to
hold this seminar on "Islamic Feminism" in Malabar when the US
administration is massacring large numbers of women and children in
Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, which is a major issue of global
Although Farook College dissociated itself, its sociology department
head, N P Hafiz Mohammed, was one of the principal organizers.
Taking exceptions at the protests generated by the seminar, "which
is purely academic in nature", he said : "My association to organize
this seminar has not in any way diminished my strong opposition
towards the US administration's foreign policies". On the other
hand, Prof Koya was of the view that the US administration had been
wooing opinion leaders among the Muslim community with offers of
free trips to US with the ulterior motive of winning their support
for its "anti-Muslim" foreign policies the world over.
Advocate Norbina Rasheed, an invitee and councillor in Kozhikode
Municipal Corporation, while taking exception to Ms Badran's keen
interest to link feminism to Islam and the rights of Muslim women,
asked : "Why is she not concerned about the sufferings of women in
Christianity and other religions?"
Notably, the anti-US communist parties maintained a stalk silence
over this undiplomatic event. Also, leading Muslim bodies, ranging
from Indian Union Muslim League to Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, did not
bother to register even token protest. The latter, however, sent an
observer to the seminar to directly monitor the proceedings.
Ironically, the organizers chose to screen in the Seminar hall the
controversial Malayalam movie, Padom Onnu: Oru Vilapam, deplicting
the plight of Muslim girls who were forced to marry in childhood in
some parts of Malabar. According to Shajahan Madambat, a US
consultate official from Kerala, its screening was merely meant to
use it as a catalyst to generate good discussion, and do not reflect
their assessment of the film as an authentic portrayal of Muslim
women. However, since the same film found applauds especially from
Sangh Parivar, its screening at this "diplomatic exercise" was
enough to raise eyebrows.
Is there, after all, anything called "Islamic feminism"? According
to Ms. Badran, who is on a tour of India under a US cultural
exchange programme, Islamic feminism was a discourse grounded in
Quran and not a response to the constitution of any country against
its anti-woman provisions. Outlining the emergence of feminism in
Egypt and the rise of Islamic feminism in post-Khomeini Iran and
Malaysia, she said: "It is a movement to demand equality and justice
with men that had been clearly laid down in Quran."
"Islamic feminism need to be discussed in detail for several
reasons: The first Muslim was a woman. Islamic feminism is popping
up in different countries now. Islam is the fastest growing religion
in the world. More people, especially women, are converting to Islam
than to any other region", she said.
Responding to IUML's Ms Kamarunnisa Anvar, chairperson of Kerala
State Women Development Corporation , as to why so many women are
converting to Islam amidst all these loud talks about Muslim women
being suppressed and oppressed within Islam, Dr Badran said: "Many
women whom I interviewed in different parts of the world stated
their decision to convert to Islam was borne out of the security
that Islam offered to its followers and the discipline it inculcated
Despite this setback the Chennai US consulate is reportedly planning
to organize similar workshops in Malabar area to counter the anti-
American sentiments which are running high in Muslim-dominated
areas. NDF leader Prof Koya said: "Muslim organizations will not
allow the US consulate to conduct any more workshops anywhere in
Kerala. The US wants our support for its anti-Islamic policies world-
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