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.

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You don’t want to raise your kid with that kind of oppressive teaching. Are you going to lose your youth or are you going to set up basketball courts and allow them to have rock bands and poetry jams and the all ways that they want to express themselves? That was my ultimate goal, to make mosques friendlier to a lot of my younger selves who were as rudderless as I had been in my organized religion.

It is comforting to know some things have never changed since Islam began. But some argue that religion should be adapted for modern times. How can you find the balance between the two?

We have to expand the way Islam is expressed in the world. Right now we’re institutionally dominated by a very conservative brand of Islam, one that always keeps women in the back, if not segregated completely—a brand of Islam that keeps women from the pulpit, whether it’s to lead prayer or to even give a speech.

There’s hardly a mosque in the world where a woman can’t enter without covering her hair. The Catholic Church went through their theological evolution regarding the little handkerchiefs that women ended up putting over their hair to symbolize this covering. The synagogues have gone through their own evolution to create different denominations of sorts. Churches allow for different types of services.

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[Muslims] have to intellectually allow for these differences. I can imagine people cringing at the ideas that I’m suggesting about women being able to stand in the front row, and they’ll throw all sorts of theological arguments against it. But there is a calling inside the community for interpretations of Islam that allow for it.

Is there room for both—mosques where Muslims worship conservatively and mosques that invite interpretation?

I think there is room for both. Traditionalism and conservatism has as much of a right to exist as any other interpretation. What I just oppose is the imposition of an interpretation on everyone. And there’s too much of an oppressive dynamic in our community and in our mosques. I have a problem when an interpretation of any faith is used an excuse for violence or oppression of others. I have a human rights issue with that.

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