Searching for an Inclusive Islam

Eight years after "Muslim bad girl" Asra Nomani began her battle with her Morgantown, West Virginia mosque for women's equality, she wonders when her dream for an inclusive Islam will be realized. For Nomani, the struggle continues.

Asra Nomani

After the terrorists attacks of 9/11 and after Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was brutally executed in Pakistan, his colleague Asra Nomani returned to her home of Morgantown, West Virginia, pregnant and alone, reeling from what she had witnessed. She reached out to her faith and turned to her local mosque for solace--and realized there was a different conflict brewing right on her home turf.

Nomani’s battles with her mosque to create more equality for women turned into a fight to rout out the extremism she felt was permeating her world. Her radical ideas about how to create an inclusive Islam, which included advocating for women-led prayers and a cherry-picking practice of religion, rocked the Muslim-American community to its core and earned her a “bad girl of Islam” persona. Now back in the spotlight with the recent debut of a PBS documentary about her fight, Nomani spoke with Beliefnet about making mosques friendlier, why moderates can be pushovers, and how humanity, not religious dogma, must be the last word.



Everyone has a different vision of what an inclusive Islam should be. Has your vision changed since you began your battle?

[Years ago] I watched Michael Wolfe’s documentary about the life of the Prophet Mohammad. And I literally had tears in my eyes as I was watching that documentary, because I realized that, as a community, we’ve gotten so far away from the dream that the prophet had in the seventh century--of having a community where all people would feel welcome and there would be civility.

In my mosque, it was a typical Salafi/Wahhabi ideology permeating--men would virtually throw themselves against a wall and throw their eyes in far distance, afraid that they were going to turn to stone if they looked at a woman.


There was no connection between [the men down below yukking it up after prayers] and those women and those children stuck up in the balcony.

And that is, to me, the complete opposite of the mosque in the seventh century where women talked directly to the Prophet Mohammad, where he prayed with his grandchildren on his back, where there was civility to people of other faiths, even to people who would be rude to the prophet. These stories are told over and over again in the community but hardly ever practiced when it comes to our place of worship.

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