I hear so often the criticism that we could have a better spokesperson than I am. But I don't claim to be a spokesperson for anyone but myself.

This one prayer service got a lot of media coverage. How is this going to be sustained in the future?
I am leading another prayer service in Boston to help show the New York event was not a one-time event, that women will continue to reclaim their rights. I plan to go from city to city to talk about the issues I raise in my book, to tap the local scene, and to see what action they want to take to make our Muslim communities more tolerant. That's why I called my book tour the Muslim Women's Freedom Tour.

So will there be prayer events in many more cities?
Yes, I think there will be. We broke an important barrier and we have to continue to reclaim the rights that we asserted there and show that there are countless Muslim men and women who want Islam to be expressed in a different way. Right now it's expressed in such a dark way, yet it was so beautiful that Friday. It was a safe environment for everyone. We made it so all people could be comfortable, so families could pray together. It felt like the same kind of communal spirit that I felt in Mecca, where people naturally float into whatever space they want--if it's all women they want, they go there; if it's all men they want, they go there; if they want to pray beside their husband or brother, they do that. Our mosques and our communities take that natural flow out when they segregate women from men.

How else did your hajj help you clarify these issues?
The hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca] was really the transformative experience that people say it can be. I'm a real visual person. I had heard the name of Hajar [Abraham's concubine, mother of Ishmael], but when I walked in her footsteps, I could feel her strength. When I passed the Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Mecca of today, I thought about Mecca then, and about Khadijah, the prophet's first wife, and her life as a caravan trader. When I went to the mosque in Medinah and was unable to enter, I thought about the prophet Muhammad's wife Aisha, who was really one of Islam's first theologians. I could feel the pulse of all these strong women.

I came to realize that all my years working as a reporter had put me in a place to investigate the truth of women's place in Islam. My training makes me question. When they tell me that I have to take the back door and pray in the balcony, I question it and find out the truth--that I don't. I think what separates my frustration from the frustration of a typical Muslim is that I'm not afraid to pick up the phone and call anyone. I've spent my adulthood [as a Wall Street Journal reporter] challenging the spin doctors in corporate America, so it's natural to challenge the spin doctors in Islam.

Can you give some specific examples from the Qur'an or Islamic law that challenge the typical view of women's place in Islam?
There are a few passages that mean a lot to me. This isn't about what you're asking, but one that inspires me is from "Al-Nisa" (The Women):

Oh ye who believe!
Stand out firmly
For justice, as witnesses
To God, even if it may be against
Yourselves, or your parents
Or your kin.
Al-Nisa, The Women, 4:135

Some others that are used to assert women's equal rights are:

Whoever does an atom's weight of good, whether male or female, and is a believer, all such enter into Paradise.
--Al Ghafir, The Forgiver, 40:40


The true believers, both men and women, are friends to each other. They enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil; they attend to their prayers and pay the alms and obey God and His apostle. On these God will have mercy. He is Mighty and Wise.
--Al-Araf, The Heights, 7:71

It was Amina Wadud [Islamic studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University] who was the one who told me about these passages. She liberated me from so much of the garbage that I had been told in the community. I had literally been told that a woman's voice is not supposed to be heard in a mosque. But really it's not that clear-cut, and there's a great argument against that position.

Was there ever a time in your life when you gave up on Islam, when you decided it wasn't the right religion for you?
I really wondered if I would continue as a Muslim when I came back from Karachi. I was still trying to absorb my friend Danny [Pearl]'s murder. I had a baby in my belly who my baby's father couldn't accept because I was unmarried. I wondered at the time if this was really my faith. I went to a Methodist church and was welcomed there. They gave me kinship and friendship and strength. But then I stayed within the protection of my parents, who are good Muslims, and I started to see incrementally over time expressions of compassion from other Muslims.

I discovered the truth, and the truth has kept me within Islam.

Do you have a particular vision for the Islam that your son grows up with?
I really dream about sitting at my son's wedding one day with his bride beside him, with a woman equal to a man as a witness, a woman presiding over the ceremony, his beloved equal to him in the eyes of our community. I want my son to be the feminist and visionary that I believe the Prophet Muhammad was. He worked to improve the condition of women in the seventh century, and we've only gone backwards since.