Monday, July 25, 2005

Asra Nomani

Last night, Book TV had Akbar Ahmed interviewing Asra Nomani.

Dr. Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington. Ms. Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, is the Indian-American author of Standing Alone in Mecca.

The brave Ms. Nomani has created waves by her entirely valid demand that she, and fellow Muslim women, be treated at par with men at her Morgantown mosque. For this straightforward demand, she now faces excommunication from the mosque founded by her own father!

Dr. Ahmed is a polite man, and Ms. Nomani very courteous, but the interview was quite disturbing. In the course of the interview, the moderate Dr. Ahmed dismissed any talk of Islamic reform (since Muslims have been given God's final word by His Messenger). He prefers the word renaissance, instead. Fair enough. But, given the challenges facing moderate Islam, this kind of hair-splitting over words is staggering. Why is Dr. Ahmed (who young people look up to) wasting time on precise definitions of next steps when he should be emphasizing the obvious direction the Ummah needs to move in?

Dr. Ahmed also -- gently & indirectly -- chided Ms. Nomani for her tactics which have brought unwelcome media attention to her community.

His recommendation to her was to find a way to handle her concerns within the community. He suggested that mosques are democratic institutions where even the Imam is elected; so, Ms. Nomani might be better served trying that democratic process to seek equality at her own mosque!

Frankly, it is her community that ought to be ashamed that, living in America, it still holds on to antediluvian inequality of women. Powerful Muslim voices like Ms. Nomani do not need to submit to their community's anti-reform leadership. It is the community that needs to adapt to 21st century American Muslim modernity represented by the brave people like Ms. Nomani. Why is it even acceptable that there's a chance she can be excommunicated simply for asking to be equal? If all Muslims are equal (as she proudly notes) in Mecca, why not then in Morgantown? Why isn't Dr. Ahmed dispensing his erudition to the neanderthals there?

We had long looked up to Dr. Ahmed. After this interview, regretfully, he's fallen quite a few notches in our esteem.

14 comments:

history_lover said...

Frankly for most muslims it would be the reverse - Akbar Ahmad is held in much higher esteem than than Asra Nomani
As an Indian muslim I don't believe Islam needs reformation and whatever other people may try
people like Asra Nomani will Inshallah always be marginal.
We will not change our religion to please others ...

Primary Red said...

Actually, if one were to follow the example of the Prophet Mohammad, one'd find that equality for women is central to Islam.

Myopic obstinacy such as what the Morgantown community has demonstrated is neither consistent with Islam, nor with modernity.

Best regards.

Kaunteya said...

I feel by and large the Muslims actually do not want to reform themselves. And if you ask me personally, its really their problem whether they want to reform or not. And frankly no one would have cared of muslim reforms if today we would not have this global menace called terrorism. The West is waking up today to fight against Islamists only when their buts are on fire. Honestly they cared two cents for reforms when Kashmir was burning or when 300,000 Hindus were massacared in East Pakistan. Today the West has woken up to this menace only when the fire is directed in their direction.
Nobody in the world should have a problem if a particular community does not want to change. After all we do not go after each and every community and ask them to reform. One feels a problem, when because of the attitude of certain community or atleast the section of that community havoc is created in our lives.
I have never seen a Muslim leader (whether 'liberal' or 'intellectual') come out strongly against a crime committed by terrorists.
Even if they condemn an act, they invariably follow it up with either a justification or a 'But'..
Its always like, 'We agree that it was wrong.. but..' and than the usual blabber about either Palestine or Israel.
Every crime is ultimately justified on either the west's policy or something wrong done in some distant place to a 'fellow' muslim.
So a Godhra massacre is justified for some 'tiff' between Hindu fanatics and Muslim Tea Vendor ( off course it was followed by lot of theories and justification of different color), Kashmir massacres are jusftified because apparently the Security forces have been involved in some excesses and Bombay Blast is justified because Babri structure was demolished.
So killing innocent and people not related to that particular incident is justified on the basis of something that happened in a remote place because of very different reasons.
So why should't the Hindus justify Gujarat riots than ? But no Hindus cannot justify this. They will be outright communal if they do so.

Primary Red said...

Kaunteya:

You answer your own question as to why Hindus ought not rationalize our despicable behaviour in Gujarat -- such "root-cause" rationalization does not diminish the moral (& strategic) losses from wanton murder.

That many Islamists lapse into this surely does not mean the rest of us need to respond in kind.

Best regards.

froginthewell said...

As an Indian non-muslim I think practising scholars are much better off deciding on such issues, and that nonbelievers have no role dictating to a religion how it should behave - as long as it doesn't interfere with fundamental rights and civil liberties, and as long as everyone has a choice of whether to practise or not. After all, a mosque is not a public property. Primary red, your statement about equality needs much more justification.

In any case, I don't see any "equality liberals" ever being concerned about antimale discrimination, such as sex-selective draft in countries like Korea, income tax and insurance benefits for women, affirmative action, the nonsense called alimony ( other than child support, particularly the 50-50 breakup ), the ridiculously larger funding womens' health receives though women live longer etc. Somehow religions are a soft target for attack - much like beef ban in any Indian town is backward but dog-meat-ban in some US states is okay.

Primary Red said...

Actually, we aren't dictating nothing to no one. Asra Nomani, a practicing Muslim, is asking for an entirely legitimate right.

Also, let's please not mix this specific issue up with all manner of other discriminations. The question before the Morgantown mosque is simple: are the women in that community equal to men or not? All else is irrelevant.

Best regards.

froginthewell said...

Primary Red : I accept and appreciate your point that you aren't dictating anything but only peacefully and democratically endorsing a "legitimate" claim.

What I wish to say is :

(i) It is not obvious to me that Islam/Prophet Mohammed advocates absolute equality under all circumstances. It is a matter of intense debate among scholars, and as long as it doesn't infringe on civil liberties it is better restricted to within a forum of religious scholars.

Moreover many sanyAsinI maThas do not allow men into certain quarters and many male monasteries do not allow women into certain quarters. Such distinction need not always mean that some people are always being considered inferior etc. The media would only be glad to ignore such religious reasons and present it as injustice. Is it clear that Ms. Nomani has "tried that democratic process" before approaching the media and thereby tarnishing the institution?

(ii) As to why I quoted other discriminations : because you said "...living in America,...". So I wanted to show that discriminations even worse are the norm in many developed countries ( some of the ones I quoted applying to America too ). So this being in America is not any particularly worse.

pennathur said...

S-R-I,

I am surprised at your charity towards Akbar Ahmed. He has gotten everything wrong for a few decades now. In the late 60s early '70s he made much of the oil-wealth of the Arab feudal states and wove scenarios of a resurgent Islamic ummah reclaiming its place as the new center of the West-East process as he imagined it to be in the early 1000s (based on incomplete readings of course). He got that wrong. In the 80s with the ascension of the Zias in Pakistan and Bangladesh he was talking of a restoration of Islamic power led by Pakistani knowhow, Bangladeshi thought, Indonesian and Malay prosperity funded by Arab oil-wealth. As those dreams turned to dust through the economic collapse of Indonesia, the defeat of Saddam and the collapse of Arab 'solidarity' over Saddam's perifidy, Akbar Ahmed still thought up some new schemes for 'Islamic greatness'. As Islamic fundamentalism raged in India Akbar Ahmed found the most convoluted logic to explain away obscurantism and illiberalism. When finally Islamicist terror reached the heart of the West that fateful day in September, Akbar Ahmed's 30-year long exercise in self-delusion also came to an end. All these years Akbar Ahmed has remained oblivious to the momentous developments in India, where Muslims continue to prove every prejudiced notion of Islam wrong.
Akbar Ahmed's notions are of no use to Muslim Indians and as far as Muslims in other countries are concerned he is almost a non-entity.

history_lover said...

Let me state the mainstream position of Muslims on this issue.
Praying in a Masjid is COMPULSORY for Muslim males (if they do not have any valid excuse) while for women it is OPTIONAL.
According to Hadith,
It is better that Muslim women pray at home but they should not be disallowed from going to the masjid
This is traditionalist position on this issue.
That is why most masjids do not have additional arrangements for women .

Primary Red said...

Pennathur:

Did not know the history of Dr. Ahmed as you've laid out. Thanks for alerting us to this. Will research this further.

Best regards.

Kaunteya said...

Primary Red:
I was just pointing to the double standards followed. I know there's no justification to crime and terror, whether its gujarat'03 or dehli '84 or bombay '93 or bhagalpur'89.
The problem is only gujarat is selectively quoted time and again as a metaphor for violence and the label of communal is stuck with a particular community using the mechanism of truth-by-repeated-assertion.

pennathur said...

Primary Red,
Akbar Ahmed was reviewed much in the Indian press by a few notable Muslim Indians. The late Iqbal Masud - a popular film critic and commentator - who could alternate between rationalism and parochialism, dissed his scholarship and contentions about JK and Hyderabad. For many other Muslim Indians, Akbar Ahmed represents the intellectual facade covering cunning and the hunger for power best characterised by Jinnah. The sharpest angle of divergence between Muslim Indians and the constituency Akbar Ahmed represents is that of the characterisation of Indian's Muslim nobility. For the former these represent decadence, authoritarianism, and feudally acquired privilege. For Akbar Ahmed they represent the modern face of Islamic governance and the state (probably today's counterpart of the Caliphate). AA lies entirely outside the modern arts movement of Muslim Indians - IPTA, Sardar Ali Jafri, Jan-Nissar Akhtar (Javed's father and a teacher of ABV), the free modernist thinking group, MC Chagla, Ismat Chugtai - and of course entirely off the traditional entrepreneurial class, ranging from Suleiman Mithaiwala to Wockhardts, Wipros and Ciplas.

It is a shame that few Western Universities have hosted people like MJ Akbar, Saeed Naqvi (the world's best foreign correspondent), the late Rafiq Zakaria or Fatima Beevi.

pennathur said...

History_Lover,

Muslim women can and do pray at mosques in several places around the world. Women in Kerala won the right to do so over 10 years ago.

history_lover said...

@pennathur
AS I said most most masjids do not have special arrangements but some do .I remember when I was in Kuwait there were special arrangements for women during Ramadan.
Muslim men need to reflect on why they oppose womens's prayers in masjids.
while muslim women activists also need to reflect why do they insist on praying in masjids .Is it just a case of self assertion or an ego issue of the Nafs is the motive to develop Taqwa ?

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