But now I stand strong beside my daughter as the leaders of our mosque put her on trial to ban her from the mosque. The mosque management committee has informed my daughter that 35 members of the congregation have signed a petition to "expel" her from the mosque for "actions and practices that are disruptive to prayer, worship and attendance" at the Islamic Center of Morgantown and "actions and practices that were harmful to the members of our community."
Her crime: speaking out against gender inequity, hate and intolerance at our mosque. This kind of retribution is unprecedented in my lifetime of working within the Muslim community, but it is emblematic of the way that extremists and traditionalists try to squash dissent within the Muslim world.
To enlighten me, it took the courage of women who no longer accept the status quo. On an overcast Friday afternoon not long ago, I marched with seven Muslim women to our local mosque here so they could challenge cultural traditions that order women to enter through back doors and pray in secluded spaces in mosques throughout America. And I am proud to be part of a historical reform movement of Muslim communities led by Muslim women who have more courage and power to realize a vision that I have shared but couldn't manage to bring to my hometown mosque during 28 years of leadership. The women who marched were inspired by Hajar, the historical mother of Islam (Hagar in the Bible and Torah), a single mother who raised her and the prophet Abraham's son Ishmael in the desert of modern day Mecca.
Since my earliest day, I have firmly believed that Islam is a religion of peace, love, justice, equality, respect and accountability. Five times a day, I unfurl my prayer rug at home and pray to Allah, Islam's expression of God. I have long felt Islam's principles of equality, justice and respect apply to everybody - Muslims and non-Muslims, black and white, male and female, adult and children.
Born in India during the British colonial rule of India, I was touched by expressions of human struggle. The echo of the start of World War II still rings in my ear: "World war has started. Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor," the radio announcer said on BBC. I still remember the cuts of the tree I climbed to listen to Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi protest British rule. The scenes of death and survival during the famine that hit India in 1942, claiming an estimated two million to five million lives, are seared in my memory. I imagined myself as one of the children lying dead on the streets of Calcutta. Allah kept me alive.
I asked, "Why?" In my reflections as a child, I found the answer: to serve humanity and care for my family and the community. At home, my mother was the leader of our family. She was the pilot of the ship we called home. She was the radar. She was the force. She was the "shakti," a concept in India for "energy." I learned from an early age to always respect women, their voice and their authority.
Growing up, I witnessed highly educated men verbally and physically abusing their wives. I was struck by the double standard by which the preached ethics in the public sphere but little practiced it at home. I realized that the global society is male-dominated and social, cultural and legal rules are mostly made by men to favor men.
We hear about "honor killings" when a father murders his daughter for having had sex before marriage or even being raped. I have long wondered how many fathers have shot their sons for dishonor? Many men do all kind of nonsense, but they remain clean, as men in society look the other way. Women are exploited or oppressed in the both the West and the East, while we as men preach justice and equality. I am struck by the double standard with which we live.
I am not just pointing fingers. I am pleading mea culpa. I, too, am guilty. In 1975, I helped start the Muslim Students Association on the campus of West Virginia University but had a roster of only men for years. In 1981, I helped start the first mosque in Morgantown, but somehow we didn't find room for the women, including my wife and daughter.