Ron's Reviews > Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam

Standing Alone in Mecca by Asra Nomani
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's review
Apr 02, 2012

really liked it

Although written mainly for an American Muslim audience, Nomani's book tells an absorbing story for other readers whose knowledge of Islam is limited by whatever happens to be the day's news. Nomani, best described as a reformer within the American Muslim community, accomplishes two things: describing in detail the compelling experience of hajj (a pilgrimage with her family to Mecca in post-9/11 Saudi Arabia) and opening the doors of the mosque to reveal the fiercely intense political struggles that are currently being waged there between hard-line conservatives and moderates.

The polarizing issue (and its magnitude may surprise some readers) is the role of women in the mosque, where the near absolute dominance of men prevents women from worshiping as equals before the Creator. Simply insisting on the right to enter by the front door of her family's mosque in Morgantown, WV, causes an uproar, and her Bill of Rights for Women in Mosques has the impact of Luther's 95 Theses in shaking the foundations of rigidly held Islamic dogma.

Meanwhile gender intolerance, as she notes, is accompanied by the anti-Western, anti-democratic politicizing of Islam that is being advocated within the walls of many mosques in America. Hers is a disturbing account of a religious community under siege. Nomani is not a scholar, and her book is more the story of a personal journey than a reasoned argument in support of toleration, compassion, and equality, which she holds as the core values of Islam now betrayed by religious extremists.

Along the way, she struggles with doubts and uncertainties, confronts obstacles, and over a period of time (2001-2004) overcomes barriers both within and without to assume leadership as an advocate for Muslim women's rights. It's easy to find fault with aspects of this book, and many are noted in the other reviews posted here. While her story is fascinating and worth reading by anyone wanting to understand more deeply the political and cultural complexities of Islam both in the world and here in the U.S., it's probably not the only one a person should read.

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