The Problem with Asra Nomani

by Suhail Qureshi

After September 11th, it seems there were only two kinds of Muslims portrayed in the media.  One was the “crazy extremist Muslim” and the other was the Muslim apologist who felt Islam needs to be reformed and plays up to the stereotypes the mainstream media portrays about Muslims.  Asra Nomani fits the latter.

An example of this is when, in the film, Nomani states that domestics violence is a major problem in the community.  This plays up to the stereotype that Muslim men treat their wives badly.  What is this based on?  Where’s her proof that Muslim men in America are beating their wives at a greater clip than men of other religions or no religion.  There is no evidence whatsoever.  Brittany Huckabee, the director, does nothing to challenge Nomani’s assertion.  I wonder if a Muslim director would have.

Nomani is a person who has been published in many different leading newspapers and interviewed on popular news shows.  Now she is being featured in this documentary.  Does anyone think she would get that extensive publicity had she challenged stereotypes about Muslims, as opposed to reinforcing them?  She is being used by a media that is hostile to us and our society.

I have read many articles about Nomani and by her.  Most Muslims are not upset by what she stands for.  They are upset as to how she went about it.  If she thinks there are issues in the Muslim community, shouldn’t she have written about it in Islamic publications?  That would make sense.  Instead, she calls CNN and writes about her cause in non-Muslim newspapers.  She should have understood that this would have led to a hostile response.  If it is a Muslim problem, why involve outsiders?  It’s our community.  Let us talk about it and decide for ourselves what is right or not right without outside interference.  Change should come from within and not feel like it is being imposed by non-Muslims.

Also, I feel many people don’t like Nomani because she is trying to reform Islam when she has no crediblity within the community.  This is a person who, I guess during her tantric sex phase, had a child out of wedlock.  She wasn’t living the Muslim lifestyle when she was doing this.  If you are going to preach a religion, a person should at least try to live a lifestyle acceptable to that religion.  It’s sort of like Bristol Palin teaching abstinence.

I wonder if that experience is at the heart of Nomani’s struggle.  Is this whole feminist Muslim thing a way of getting back at the man who knocked her up and left her?  What she needs to understand is that, if he was half a Muslim man, he would have done the honorable act of marrying her.  In Islam, it is a man’s duty to take care of his family.  It is not a choice.

As far as the documentary goes, it was well done.  I was expecting a hatchet job of the Morgantown Muslim community.  Instead, I felt I got a fair portrayal of the situation.  I came away thinking the same thing that many Muslims before have expressed about Nomani.  I have nothing against her cause.  It’s the person.



Suhail Qureshi is a hijack survivor and a Muslim living in Houston, TX. His first book, In the Name of Democracy, tentatively scheduled for release in December 2009, tells the true story of his family’s ordeal on PIA Flight PK326.

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  1. Chris says:

    Suhail thank you for the essay. I enjoyed reading it. Here are my thoughts. I appreciate your point of view and discussion.

    Quoting Suhail Qureshi “When the cameras stopped rolling, it seems she stopped fighting for her cause. She moved from Morgantown and is currently working on the Pearl Project in Washington D.C. ”

    The struggle to find the truth about Daniel Pearl’s murder is something Ms. Nomani feels deeply about. She speaks openly about that in her books.

    Asra continues to fight for the causes she believes in. She debated a Muslim woman’s right to choose at the Doha Debates in Qatar. Here is the youtube link.

    She moved from Morgantown to take a job and put food on her table. Who knows if West Virginia offered her a job…

    Rosia Parks refusal to move from her seat on the bus was considered extreme at the time. Malcom X was also known for being a violent and using agressive tactics. In both causes they demanded quick change and had they not fought for their beliefs progress would not have come as soon as it did.

    If you believe she has given up her fight feel free to email her and ask her what she is doing :)

    On a personal note I did not agree with her going to the Mosque outside of Morgantown in California and demanding to pray along side the men. She was a guest. Having said that it showed how simple the member of the Mosque were willing to adapt.

    The biggest question I have as an outsider is why the “open minded” or “moderate Muslims” whatever they would like to be called don’t open their own Mosque incorporating the moderate views the feel close to. Then everyone is happy.

    There are many denominations of Christianity that adapt to the needs of the believers. Some more conservative than others and others more moderate. Perhaps this is what Asra strives for?

    Again thank you for the posting Suhail. Blessings and success be to your upcoming book.
    Chris- Houston Texas

  2. Brittany Huckabee says:

    Regarding Asra’s efforts (or lack thereof) to work within the Morgantown community, it is worth checking out her chronology of events leading up to the petition to expel her from the mosque:

    These events happened before filming began and thus are not in the documentary, but I have no reason to question Asra’s account. Other mosque members will also confirm this tendency to dismiss and delay among certain leaders. Rather than going straight to the mosque leadership, Asra perhaps should have tried harder to rally the grassroots; she herself admits she’s not the best community organizer. But I certainly wouldn’t argue that she didn’t try to resolve her issues within the community first.

  3. Suhail Qureshi says:

    I did not overlook the accusations of bullying that Asra Nomani discusses in this documentary. It is my opinion that the Executive Board at the mosque and other members of the Muslim community did not bully her. It is the other way around. I believe they were forced to defend themselves against the bullying Nomani.

    Nomani is a person who wants her views to be tolerated, but, at the same time, does not wish to tolerate the opposition. Towards the end of the documentary, she tells a gentleman at a board meeting that she is not willing to compromise. Slow or incremental change is unacceptable to her. Instead, she wants to bully her way to change. Does she really believe religious traditions that have been chiseled deeply into Islamic society for over 1000 years are going to be undone in less than two years? Though her cause is honorable, she has to understand change will not happen overnight. President Barak Obama says change is Washington is slow. Well, change in religious and cultural traditions is even slower.

    For example, take a look at the Civil Rights Movement in America. It took about 100 years for the United States to strike down the unjust laws the South established under the Jim Crowe system. There were many people who fought to make changes. Before Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, there was Rosa Parks. Before her, there was Medgar Evers. Before him, it was Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. Keep in mind there were many other people as well. Obviously, any sane person would agree they were fighting for a just cause, but it still did not happen quickly.

    I think Nomani’s greatest failure, in her struggle, is not understanding the civil rights tradition in this country. It was, and still is, a grassroots movement. Through organizations, such as the black churches, the SCLC and local chapters of the NAACP, the fight against segregation grew on a local level first and then worked its way up to a national stage. If she wanted to make changes in the mosque in Morgantown, she should have fought harder to get the support of the local Muslim men and women in the area. Instead, she burns her support base by bringing in outsiders, who have no credibility within the community, to bully the mosque into submission. It probably made members of the mosque, including most of the moderate Muslims, defensive. They chose to shield their mosque against the attacking and aggressive Nomani by not supporting her. That is why she failed.

    Nomani even states, in the documentary, there was an unidentified woman who, initially, tried to work with her to make changes in the mosque. Once Nomani turned to her bullying tactics, this woman stopped working with her. In the film, there is a part where Nomani hands out invitations stating she is throwing her own Eid party. Why could she not do something like that for her cause? Together, both Nomani and the other woman could have distributed flyers at the mosque stating their positions and invite people to come to a meeting to discuss the matter. Maybe, through that method, she might have been able to build support for her cause internally. That would have made more sense than going to CNN.

    But, alas, she did none of that and I think I know why. I believe Nomani cared more about publicizing her book than for fighting for something she claims is important. Think about this for a second. When the cameras stopped rolling, it seems she stopped fighting for her cause. She moved from Morgantown and is currently working on the Pearl Project in Washington D.C. There are mosques there. Why does she not continue her struggle there to spread the word? Washington D.C. is certainly a much larger platform for her cause than Morgantown. Again I will reiterate that, though the cause is honorable, the person fighting for it is not and never was.

  4. ranier says:

    You overlook that Asra was threatened by members of this community and there seems to have considerable bullying, not mentioned in the film. A film The Mosque and Me shows a more accurate picture on how the hardliners bully the more open-minded Muslims, while this documentary seems to try to protect such thugs.

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