I arrived at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., half an hour before Friday prayer. In the open courtyard, men were distributing free lunches to the homeless. A man offered me a head scarf. I stood waiting - uncertainly - for the women I was there to join. In a moment I heard a commotion at the front gate. Asra Nomani - the "Muslim Sojourner Truth" - entered the courtyard with her friend Rahat Khan. Their mission? To pray in the main hall of the mosque - an area, by custom, reserved for men only - rather than in the "womens section" located in the basement near the mens bathroom.
This former Wall Street Journal reporter began by praying in her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia. I was intrigued by a Muslim woman, born into an Indian Muslim family and raised in the United States, not only returning to the heart of her religion but doing it in a way that produced the kind of radical call to freedom true faith engenders. I was intrigued by her connection with Sojourner Truth, the ex-slave who adamantly defended the rights of women in the church and in the society.
Not only is Nomani integrating the mosque, she "nailed" (taped, actually) her "99 Precepts for Opening Hearts, Minds, and Doors in the Muslim World" and an Islamic Bill of Rights for Women on the Morgantown mosque door. She stands firmly in the tradition of Martin Luthers 95 Theses pounded into the church door in Wittenberg and Martin Luther King Jr. posting the demands of the open-housing campaign on then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daleys office door in 1966. Nomanis reformation, however, is for the heart and soul of Islam.