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Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islamby Asra Nomani
Synopses & Reviews
As President Bush is preparing to invade Iraq, Wall Street Journal correspondent Asra Nomani embarks on a dangerous journey from Middle America to the Middle East to join more than two million fellow Muslims on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required of all Muslims once in their lifetime. Mecca is Islam's most sacred city and strictly off limits to non-Muslims. On a journey perilous enough for any American reporter, Nomani is determined to take along her infant son, Shibli — living proof that she, an unmarried Muslim woman, is guilty of zina, or "illegal sex." If she is found out, the puritanical Islamic law of the Wahabbis in Saudi Arabia may mete out terrifying punishment. But Nomani discovers she is not alone. She is following in the four-thousand-year-old footsteps of another single mother, Hajar (known in the West as Hagar), the original pilgrim to Mecca and mother of the Islamic nation.
Each day of her hajj evokes for Nomani the history of a different Muslim matriarch: Eve, from whom she learns about sin and redemption; Hajar, the single mother abandoned in the desert who teaches her about courage; Khadijah, the first benefactor of Islam and trailblazer for a Muslim woman's right to self-determination; and Aisha, the favorite wife of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam's first female theologian. Inspired by these heroic Muslim women, Nomani returns to America to confront the sexism and intolerance in her local mosque and to fight for the rights of modern Muslim women who are tired of standing alone against the repressive rules and regulations imposed by reactionary fundamentalists.
Nomani shows how many of the freedoms enjoyed centuries ago have been erased by the conservative brand of Islam practiced today, giving the West a false image of Muslim women as veiled and isolated from the world. Standing Alone in Mecca is a personal narrative, relating the modern-day lives of the author and other Muslim women to the lives of those who came before, bringing the changing face of women in Islam into focus through the unique lens of the hajj. Interweaving reportage, political analysis, cultural history, and spiritual travelogue, this is a modern woman's jihad, offering for Westerners a never-before-seen look inside the heart of Islam and the emerging role of Muslim women.
"A former Wall Street Journal reporter, Nomani has invented her own nonfiction genre: gender-sensitive Muslim travel writing. An excellent companion to Nomani's first book, Tantrika, this memoir treads similar ground, chronicling her pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, in 2003. Throughout the book, Nomani is filled with self-doubt and healthy frustration with her Islamic faith. The portions describing hajj, particularly the other pilgrims' warmth to her infant son, are original and enjoyable. But the book also points to the incongruity of how the same Muslim community — or ummah — can condemn Nomani for having her son out of wedlock, in a clear case of extramarital sex. The second half of the book records Nomani's pioneering struggle at her mosque for equal treatment of women. Daring to enter the men's door at the mosque, Nomani is repeatedly ostracized, and her father — a founder of the mosque — vilified by his counterparts. Nomani decries the Wahhabi takeover of American mosques and demands reform — a call that will resonate with the average American Muslim. The stories of her preteen niece and nephew introduce readers to a new generation of Muslims who are American and equality-minded. Through memorable personal narrative, Nomani gently instructs readers about modern Islam and her role as a woman within it. (Jan. 18)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] life-changing experience that she chronicles with compelling detail, candor, and passion both intellectual and spiritual." Booklist (Starred Review)
A Wall Street Journal reporter who is also a Muslim unwed mother goes undercover on the Hajj, reflecting on the history and progress of women in Islam. Her biography takes readers beyond the traditional faith to bring it fully into its own today in America.
About the Author
Asra Q. Nomani was born in Bombay, India into a modern but conservative Muslim family, came to the United State at age of four, and was raised in the foothills of West Virginia. Now a Wall Street Journal correspondent, Nomani has also written for the Washington Post on the role of women in Islam, has covered the war in Afghanistan for Salon, and her work has appeared in such magazines as Cosmo, Playboy, and Outside. Nomani is the author of Tantrika (HSF, June 2003) and currently lives in Morgantown, WV with her son Shibli.
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