Editor’s Note: Film subject Asra Nomani compiled this chronology of key events in her early activism leading up to the petition to expel her from the mosque in Morgantown. After more than a year of deliberations, the mosque’s leadership finally chose to abandon this effort.
1981: Zafar Nomani, Asra’s father and professor emeritus of nutrition at WVU, helps to establish Morgantown’s first mosque in downtown Morgantown across from the Monongalia County Jail.
1992: ICM buys property at 441 Harding Avenue and creates a mosque there.
Oct. 29, 1999: General body passes constitution of ICM by unanimous vote.
Oct. 26, 2003: ICM opens new mosque at 434 Harding Avenue for first congregational prayer.
Oct. 26, 2003: Asra drafts a “Manifesto for Equal Participation by Women” with seven points including “equity in infrastructure in mosque,” “appropriation of equal funding for women’s activities” and “meeting for discussion between Board of Trustees and women regarding equal participation by women in mosque.” She delivers it to her father, Dr. Nomani, who presents the document to his colleagues on the board.
Asra arrives at the front door of the mosque where the board president tells her to take the rear entrance: “Sister, please, the back entrance.” The rear entrance took women into a balcony in which they faced a half-wall with no visual access to the prayer leader and no ability to participate in discussions.
Oct. 31, 2003: After the Friday afternoon prayer, members of the Muslim Students Association distribute books including Woman in the Shade of Islam, documenting the type of women who “enjoy being beaten” in a section marked “Women Beating.”
The mosque manager informs a woman, “A woman’s voice is not to be heard in the mosque,” when she asks for a microphone so that a new woman convert can make her proclamation of faith.
Nov. 6, 2003 AM: Asra enters through the front door with her mother, Sajida Nomani; her son, Shibli; her father and other family members and prays in the main hall, about 30 feet behind the men. The mosque president yells at Asra and her mother to pray upstairs in the balcony.
Nov. 6, 2003 PM: Asra enters through the front door and prays in the main hall again. The men interrupt the prayer, and a man declares, “We cannot pray until she leaves.”
Nov. 7, 2003: The ICM board votes 4-1 to make the front door and main hall “solely” for the use of men. Asra’s father is the lone dissenting vote. He pleads with the men to reverse their decision.
Nov. 14, 2003: Asra sends an agenda to with the president of the mosque’s board of trustees for a meeting to discuss the issue of women’s rights at ICM: “On a personal level, it is only through my careful examination of a woman’s rights on these matters that I am heartened that the faith into which I was born did not destine me to second-class treatment within my own community. It’s a real travesty that we are having this conversation in the 21st century to protect rights given to me as a Muslim woman in the 7th century.” She adds: “It is my firm hope that you and the other members of the board will lead other communities into an expanded view of the mosque as a centerpiece of the Islamic community.”
Nov. 27, 2003: The acting board president notifies Asra that “due to the busy schedules” the board members did not have time “at this point” to discuss Asra’s proposed agenda.
Nov. 28, 2003: Asra replies to the board president, expressing her disappointment that the board is unable to meet. She notes: “Since I last wrote to you, I have further observed the systematic exclusion of women from meetings regarding activities at the mosque. In addition, there is a general atmosphere of exclusion through lectures addressed only to brothers, as, for example, we witnessed today, and sermons in which the message is clearly sent to women that it is better for them to stay away from the mosque. Directly and indirectly, women are systematically discouraged from active participation in our mosque in Morgantown.”
Dec. 25, 2004: Asra files a complaint with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) against the Islamic Center of Morgantown and its board of trustees for “discrimination at mosque against women.” She outlines the incidents since Oct. 26, 2004. Actions desired: 1. A formal policy by ICM allowing women access to the front door and the main all and active participation in educational, mosque and community activities; 2. A formal action plan to promote the participation of women in the mosque and leadership of the ICM; 3. The communication of these policies to the congregation.
Dec. 28, 2004: The Washington Post publishes an essay by Asra regarding the issue of women’s rights in mosques in its Outlook section.
Jan. 13, 2004: The Council on American-Islamic Relations sends Asra a correspondence regarding her complaint, accepting the case as Complaint No. 04-008. “By reporting your case, you are helping to document discrimination against Muslims in the United States,” the letter says.
Jan. 16, 2004: Asra goes to ICM with her father, Dr. Nomani, and attempts to join the weekly Friday study session in the main hall, respectfully sitting at least 10 feet behind the men. A board member orders Asra to sit approximately 50 feet farther back with her back against the wall of the main hall. Asra notes her respectful distance from the men and affirms her Islamic right to participate in the study session.
Another mosque member, a research assistant professor, makes threatening gestures at Asra’s father, spews personal insults: “You’re an idiot! Look at the daughter you raised!” he says. The board member threatens Asra with a restraining order banning her from the mosque.
Jan. 18, 2004: Asra files an incident report with the Morgantown Police Department. It is classified as Incident No. 04002646 under the classification of “Assault Intimidation.”
Jan. 23, 2004: The board of trustees meets with Asra and her mother. They present two recommendations that the board: 1. Implement a rule with the suggested language: The board affirms the right of women to enter through the front door and participate in prayers, study sessions and community activities in the main hall. 2. Establish a committee including board members and women and men from the community, representing a diversity of views, to study and improve the status and participation of women in activities at ICM. The committee will issue a report to the board with recommendations by Feb. 23, 2004.
Jan. 31, 2003: The research assistant professor apologizes to Dr. Nomani, who accepts the apology.
Feb. 7, 2004: The board president sends Asra a correspondence thanking her for her input and notes the apology given to Dr. Nomani. He notes: “For your information Islamic Center of Morgantown has a policy that every Muslim man or woman is encouraged to pray and is welcome to attend masjid services.”
“Sister, the Board of Trustees wants to assure you that no discriminatory policy will be implemented in the Islamic Center of Morgantown.”
Feb. 23, 2004: Asra thanks the board president for his efforts and statement. She seeks a clarification that “this affirms the right of women to the front door and the main sanctuary, including all activities there, as well as full and fair participation in the mosque’s activities and services.” She receives no response.
March 1, 2004: Five men issue a memo to the board to notify them about “the establishment of a temporary, voluntary ICM executive committee,” effective March 1, 2004, “to maintain daily Masjid matters, essential for all brothers who attend the daily prayers.”
March 9, 2004: Asra and other members of the community propose the naming of an Ad Hoc Committee, as allowed in Article VII of the constitution, to address “the current management crisis” at ICM. She receives no response.
March 17, 2004: Asra seeks assistance from the Islamic Society of North America’s Leadership Development Center.
March 19, 2004: Asra and other community members send a formal request for involvement to the ICM board, CAIR and ISNA to respond to the unconstitutional “takeover” of the mosque.
March 21, 2004: The board announces an April 23, 2004, election for the executive committee. It notes: “Membership requirement for voting will be waived for this upcoming election only.”
March 25, 2004: The board withdraws the March 21 election announcement. The board issues a notice that it has been “instructed by ISNA to follow the constitution of ICM in various operational matters including, elections, formation of committees, management and running of ICM, etc.”
March 25, 2004: Dr. Nomani seeks assistance from ISNA for overseeing a fair and legal election.
March 26, 2004: A Ph.D. student delivers the Friday sermon and expresses support for Sheikh Yaseen, the spiritual leader of Hamas.
Dr. Nomani reads an announcement notifying the congregation that new plans for an election will be soon announced. In addition, he notes: “In compliance with our constitution, we are informing you that the Board of Trustees does not recognize any Executive Committee that is not elected according to the ICM constitution.” He adds that “the use of the microphone or addresses to the public must also be approved by the board. Any violations of these terms will be considered a violation of the constitution that governs ICM.”
Dr. Nomani writes to the board president to express concern over the Ph.D. student’s statement:
March 26, 2004: An ISNA representative writes to Dr. Nomani and proposes a plan for a fair election. He proposes one-month notice to give community members time to register to vote for the election.
March 29, 2004: Asra and Mrs. Nomani send a correspondence to the ICM board and ISNA
March 30, 2004: The ICM Election Committee announces a date of May 7, 2004, for the election of the Executive Committee. Members have one week or until April 6, 2004, to register to vote.
April 1, 2004: Asra, her mother and Christine Arja write to the ICM board, the ICM election and nomination committee and ISNA to protest “unconstitutional registration deadline for membership and voting rights.” They receive no response.
April 2, 2004: A member of “temporary executive committee,” another Ph.D. student, delivers the Friday sermon. “To love the Prophet [Muhammad] is to hate those who hate him and the Sunnah.” The sunnah are the traditions and sayings of the prophet Muhammad. It was appropriate for a daughter to call her father “a filthy polytheist” when he showed disrespect to the prophet. He identified “three enemies of Islam,” individuals who raised questions about the Qur’an, Sunnah, and the sharia, or Islamic law. He said that we must “stay faraway from those who are enemies of Islam.” He noted: “True and sincere love renders the enemy of your beloved as your enemy.”
April 4, 2004: The “temporary executive committee” meets at the ICM. Its agenda includes the instructions: “Sisters are allowed to attend, but must sit in a designated space at the back of the Masjid.”
April 5, 2004: Asra raises issue with the April 2, 2004, sermon with the acting board president. He defends the sermon.
April 6, 2004: Asra writes to ISNA regarding the April 2, 2004, sermon and the alleged takeover. She asks for ISNA’s intervention, noting that “we have absolutely no avenue within the community for conflict resolution.”
April 15, 2004: CAIR launches a new campaign, “Hate Hurts America,” designed to counter anti-Muslim rhetoric on radio talk shows.
April 16, 2004: Asra files a complaint with the ICM board, CAIR and ISNA regarding the April 2, 2004, sermon. She seeks to have the April 2, 2004, comments publicly disavowed in the spirit of building tolerance and inclusion. On this day, a professor of computer science preaches the Friday sermon, noting that the West is “immoral” and on “the dark path.”
April 18, 2004: At the meeting of the “temporary executive committee” at the mosque, Asra raises a procedural point and is verbally attacked. The research assistant professor from the Jan. 16, 2004, incident again orders her to leave the mosque. Asra feels physically threatened when another member of the congregation rushes over to her to verbally lash out at her.
April 19, 2004: Asra raises the issue of the April 16, 2004, sermon with CAIR. She receives no response.
April 22, 2004: The professor of computer science, also president of the “temporary executive committee,” responds to the complaint and says, “The use of the word ‘hate’ may be compared to the word detestable or severe dislike, and may have been chosen in the difficulty in translating between Arabic and English.” He further notes: “Asra has acted in many ways that are disruptive to our community and to individual worship during our Friday sermon and prayer, as well as other times. Many members of our community are troubled that their individual state of worship and reflection during our Friday sermons is interrupted by the sound of Asra writing notes and flipping pieces of paper as she attempts to record every word of the speaker, or Imam.”
April 30, 2004: The Ph.D. student who previously declared support for Hamas delivers the Friday sermon and declares that unchaste women are “worthless.” “A woman’s honor lies in her chastity and modesty.” He notes that various Egyptian leaders who have fought for women’s rights are “advocates of hell.” He criticizes women who work outside the home. Asra files a protest against the sermon.
Christine Arja delivers a pamphlet for the upcoming election for the Executive Committee noting the slate of candidates sponsored by the “Temporary EC.”
May 2, 2004: The ICM acting board president tells Asra, “These people have aggressively taken over the masjid. We don’t want it to get aggressive. Some of these brothers are aggressive. These people who are giving kutbahs (sermons) are not endorsed by the ICM ... Our hands are tied. We are trying to resolve this issue without going through the legal process ...The only reason this is going on is because we don’t want to fight in the masjid.”
May 5, 2004: Asra calls ISNA and is told that the organization prefers to have local issues resolved locally without its intervention.
May 6, 2004: The New York Times publishes an essay by Asra, “Hate at the Local Mosque,” calling upon moderate Muslims to stand up against intolerance preached at mosques such as her mosque.
May 7, 2004: Six members of the “temporary executive committee” are elected to the nine-member Executive Committee.
June 1, 2004: The new general secretary of ICM and Christine Arja separately inform Asra of a nascent effort to have her banned from ICM.
June 3, 2004: The Associated Press runs a story in which Ms. Arja says the mosque’s Executive Committee has voted to allow women in the front door and the main hall. This is the first public statement of this policy.
June 4, 2004: Asra, her mother and five women from across the United States peacefully march to the mosque to enter through the front door and pray in the main hall, behind the congregation of men.
June 18, 2004: The Executive Committee receives a petition to revoke Asra’s membership and ban her from the mosque.
June 29, 2004: Dr. Hany Ammar, president of the EC, gives Asra her first notification of the petition signed by “about 35 members of the ICM asking to revoke your membership and expel you from the ICM. The petition cites several charges that alleges that you have engaged in actions and practices that are disruptive to prayer, worship and attendance at the ICM, and that you have engaged in actions and practices that are harmful to the members of our community.”