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Asra Nomani: Government Should Tell Muslims How to Worship

16 July 2011 Loonwatch.com 11 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Asra Nomani: Government Should Tell Muslims How to Worship

Freedom of worship is one of our most invaluable rights. It means that I have the complete freedom and the human right to worship God the way I see fit or to not worship, provided that I uphold the standards of civil law. Thomas Jefferson so eloquently wrote:

That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

[The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom]

This human right is the cornerstone of our democracy. It keeps the political conversation rational, among other things, and prevents our nation from degenerating further into partisan religious delinquency. So, naturally, I am dismayed when I see this most basic and cherished freedom become a casualty in our national discourse on Islam and Muslims.

Observe Asra Nomani, whom we’ve criticized before for supporting racial profiling, in her latest draconian suggestion; if mosques do not bow to the demands of her ideology, they should be denied tax exempt status (i.e. forced to shutdown from crippling taxes). How did she arrive at such a conclusion?

Nomani says she is fighting Gender Apartheid:

Our goal was to walk through the front double doors designated for “brothers” and pray in the forbidden space of the opulent musallah, or main hall, of the mosque.

She paints herself as a freedom fighter, a successor to Martin Luther King Jr. But the question is: why do Muslim men and women pray in separate spaces? Is it sexism?

Until a point in time when we live in a “genderless” society (maybe something Asra advocates?), men and women are generally considered distinguished entities and traditional religions tend to take this into account. In the case of the majority of Muslims, men and women pray in separate places for the five congregational prayers because the Quran says:

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them… And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof… (24:30-31)

Pious Muslims are not supposed to gawk with lust at members of the other sex. This applies in daily life and even more so in the ritual prayer in which concentration and focus should be directed towards God and not the opposite sex. Separating men and women in the Muslim prayer is therefore considered a matter of modesty; not that women are inferior or have less rights. Thus, separate prayer halls in themselves are not an indication that women are being mistreated or denied access to the mosque.

But perhaps the issue is that women have a less nice area to pray in or are being denied access to the mosque altogether. On this issue Nomani has a point, and she produces some statistics and studies, although mired by her sweeping generalizations:

In a 2005 publication, “Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers,” written by two American-Muslim groups — the Islamic Social Services Associations and Women In Islam — the authors confirmed that “many mosques relegate women to small, dingy, secluded, airless and segregated quarters with their children,” some mosques “actually prevent women from entering,”…

It is true that some mosques have less than adequate facilities to accommodate female worshippers, but is it always a case of sexism? If you haven’t noticed, opening or expanding a mosque is not the easiest thing to do in America right now. There are other factors involved other than an alleged omnipresent sexism dominating the Muslim community. Some of these mosques do not have the funding to give women a bigger space; and perhaps, it may be the conservative culture of a particular mosque for women to normally pray at home with their children, usually coming to the mosque only on special occasions, and thus a bigger space is unnecessary.

Nomani could draw from Islamic tradition to support her legitimate goal of helping women increase their presence and participation in the mosque. She could, for example, mention how numerous authentic traditions record that the Prophet Muhammad gave women universal support to go to the mosque:

Do not prevent the maid-servants of Allah from going to the mosque.

[Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 0886]

She could engage in a respectful dialogue with notable Imams, scholars and activists, work for grassroots change in her local community, and help establish the model mosque she seeks with their help or of her own volition. Unfortunately, Nomani thinks strong-arm bully tactics and shouting matches in the mosque are the way to go.

First, she travels to different communities to whom she does not belong and demands to violate their sacred spaces. Then, she makes a ruckus in the media to bring pressure on Muslim communities from society at large. That hasn’t worked, so now she wants the government to step in and tell Muslims how they should organize their prayer halls:

I understand the difficulties in having the state intervene in worship issues. I believe in a separation of church and state, but I’ve come to the difficult decision that women must use the legal system to restore rights in places of worship, particularly when intimidation is used to enforce unfair rules.

Unbelievable! One Christian author took the words right out of my mouth:

That is an almost comically irrational paragraph, and yet it ran in a column published in none other than USA Today. Nomani says that she “understand[s] the difficulties in having the state intervene in worship issues,” but shows no such understanding at all. Then, she writes that she “believe[s] in a separation of church and state,” but then she calls upon the coercive power of the state to force doctrinal change in places of worship. She cannot have it both ways…

I am not worried that IRS agents are about to descend on the nation’s churches, mosques, and synagogues to force a new government-endorsed theology on our places of worship. I am very concerned, however, that this kind of argument, left unaddressed, implies a power that the government does not and should not possess.

Undoubtedly what Nomani is asking for is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution’s, First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” She would open the floodgates of government intervention into the most private area of our lives, our places of worship, our sacred spaces, and threaten to raise our taxes if we didn’t worship in a manner consistent with her ideology (a curious double-violation of Tea Party ideology but nonetheless will probably receive a free pass from many on the Right because of the fact that Muslims are Nomani’s target).

She warns us that in mosques “intimidation is used to enforce unfair rules” but she has no problem using the long arm of the law to intimidate Muslims and force them to construct their prayer halls in line with Nomani’s ideology or else be crushed by burdening taxes.  So, Asra, how are you not also using intimidation “to enforce unfair rules?” Can anyone else see the double standard?

Don’t get me wrong. Freedom and women’s rights are very vital issues for Muslims to tackle, but not so much for Nomani. She seems far more interested in getting her uninformed and sensational views published than in helping the Muslim community from within.

How else can we understand her aggressive assault on our most basic American freedom?


  1. Nomani in my opinion is another Walid Shoebat, except that she tries to portray herself as a “reformer from within”. There are plenty of Muslims and former Muslims (in the case of Shoebat) who are earning a living from the mass hysteria being aimed at Islam in America today.

    We could all make a fortune writing books entitled, “Confessions of an Ex-Terrorist”, or “Why Muslims Hate America–as told by a Reformer Muslim”, however most of us are honest and fear God more than we fear not being able to make the mortgage payments on our fabulous homes, or supporting our ego.

    Nomani just wants Americans to “love her”, and this is the only way she has figured a way into their hearts.

    I’m also an American, and I don’t love her.

  2. Wow. Does she also want the government to go into Baptist churches and force them to ordain women?

  3. I am Muslim, and have prayed in mosques with no separate prayer areas for men and women. I was most uncomfortable for the duration of my stay there, and most relieved when we had finished our prayers and were back in the car. This is not how a trip to the mosque should be.

    One must wonder if she took the time to ask any women if these issues were important to them. If she is going to claim to fight for women’s rights, then it would seem logical to ask if these are rights that we WANT. Otherwise, the fight is irrelevant. If one were to poll women at the mosque I currently attend, I believe there would be honest issues identified, but not our separate space.

  4. JennyH, do two wrongs make a right?

  5. I think there is room for less orthodox thinking within Islam. Orthodox and Conservative Jews also separate by gender. That is fine for those who wish to keep with those beliefs. However, I do believe there is room in Islam in this nation to accept a more reformed and liberal interpretation of the religion that doesn’t separate the sexes. It is more in fitting with this culture that is perhaps more egalitarian than Islam in the rest of the world.

    On the other hand, talk about closing mosques that do not accept Ms Nomani’s beliefs is also lacking respect for freedom of religion. She cannot impose her views on others, just as others are wise not to impose their beliefs on her.

    Rather making this an issue that polarizes, looking for compromise in a day and age where people are so extremely entrenched that their way is the only way, is un-American. Just because our politicians are recalcitrant jack asses who are wasting our taxpayer money and getting very little done, we should try to avoid the same in our religious and other social interaction as much as humanly possible. Two wrongs do not make it right.

  6. I’ve often wondered about the need for “modesty” in Islam since rape and sexual molestation seem to occur in Islamic societies whether the woman wears a burka or is dressed in a shirt and pants like Lara Logan.

    I read the article about Ms Nomani and the other Muslim women protestors in USA Today. Their protests remind me of protests against Jim Crow or Apartheid laws in previous eras.Protests are also not new to religious institutions in the US. Transgendered gay rights supporters have “invaded” Christian Churches as have supporters of Palestinian “rights”.When protestors disrupt religious services they are removed by the police. If the Muslim women are breaking local law let Mosque leaders call the local police.

    As far as whether or not Islam is being treated differently by these Muslim protestors, I don’t think so.About 20 years ago there was a movement to allow African-American men and women to become members of the Mormon faith. Some members of the Mormon faith began baptizing African-Americans into the faith. Eventually Africans-Americans were allowed into the faith.These protests by Muslim women for equal treatment in Islam strike me as similar. It will be interesting to see how Muslims react, will there be violence against these Muslim women or will Muslim men conduct themselves within the law of the United States?

  7. In the main, I agree with your point: the government has no business telling people how to worship, and particularly not making tax breaks contingent on following a government-approved line. However, I cannot let this rhetorical question pass:

    It is true that some mosques have less than adequate facilities to accommodate female worshippers, but is it always a case of sexism? [emphasis added]

    Unequivocally YES, it is ALWAYS a case of sexism. If in a case of limited resources a disproportionate share goes to the men — consistently, time after time — then that is the very definition of sexism. The sexism may be rooted in “the conservative culture of the mosque,” but it is still inarguably sexism. Placing the needs of male congregants above the needs of female congregants is sexism, period. Your right to freedom of religion includes the right to at least some sexist practices, but that does not change the fact that they are sexist.

    You dilute your argument by trying to disguise the fact that in so many cases separate is not equal.

  8. @Hera: You’re falling for the “Islam oppresses women” narrative that simply isn’t true. If Nomani were to work within her community to protect the Islam-given rights we Muslim women have, that would be one thing, but she advocates a position that there is something fundamentally wrong with Islam, instead of it’s interpretation or implementation among some patriarchal societies that also happen to be Muslim.

    read: http://www.themosqueinmorgantown.com/forum/2009/05/30/ansari/

  9. While I understand Ms. Nomani’s concerns, I have to say her methods of addressing them are flawed. If you want somebody to make changes, your first attempt should be to assume they will agree with you and want to make these changes, too. Only after you have exhausted all possibility of gaining their cooperation do you move to the next level, which is to try some sort of ‘quid pro quo’ (i.e., Let’s do something mutually beneficial). There are even more steps to take before you get to the stage she is in now of an all out war, take-no-prisoners, ‘We Will Overcome’. This is a shame for her because once you have gone down a step, you can’t go back up to “Cooperation”. Given what others have said about our constitution and the separation of Church and State, Ms. Nomani, I’m afraid you blew it.

  10. I agree that the government should not be involved in telling anyone how to worship. The fact that women must stay at home or attend services in 2nd class facilities behind the men is just another one of those issues in which people defend Islam by stating Islam does not seek to treat women as second class, but evidence clearly shows that it does. Once again it is not what people say but what they do. It is ok to have a tradition in which men and women worship separately. However, if only one sex has access to the money and means to build and maintain facilities because of their role in their religion and they use that role to enrich their worship experience while providing a bare minimum facilities to the other sex then the other sex is clearly being treated as 2nd class. Now they may be used to it and do not have a problem with it since they have known no other way but it is still wrong and indicative of a way of thought which places one sex as superior to another. Now do I care if they choose to worship this way or they believe women are second class? No I do not, but they should just admit that it is part of the faith and stop trying to argue that men and women have an equal standing in the faith be it extreme Islam or moderate Islam.

  11. […] a law that if mosques don’t allow women to pray in the musallah (main prayer section), they should not have tax exemption. I personally agree with the article in the sense that this demand infringes on the First Amendment […]

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