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Asra Nomani

Journalist & Author
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Biography

One of the last people to see her best friend, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, alive, Asra Nomani figures prominently in the acclaimed film, A Mighty Heart, starring Angelina Jolie. The film captures Daniel's wife Mariane and as they struggle to get answers and provide each other consolation and support during the dark days surrounding his abduction and murder. Nomani continues to search for the truth about who killed Daniel through The Pearl Project, an investigative program she now heads at Georgetown University.

Nomani, a Muslim born in India who later immigrated to America with her family, is a former Wall Street Journal correspondent who had written on Islam and the Middle East for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Time. She covered and analyzed the major events taking place, as well as reported from the front lines on the post 9-11 conflict in Afghanistan and throughout the region.

Today, Nomani also focuses on reclaiming women’s rights in the Muslim world and wrote the critically-acclaimed Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam on this subject. She is also a courageous activist and advocate for all women, in the US and worldwide, on such issues as equality, social and economic justice, and domestic abuse.

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Topics

The Paradox of Women in Islam

In this presentation, journalist, author, and speaker Asra Nomani - who was born into a conservative Muslim family from India - chronicles the struggle Muslim women face in reclaiming the rights women were granted at Islam's birth in the seventh century, which have since been erased by centuries of man-made rules and tribal traditions masqueraded as divine law.

To many, the Islamic feminist movement is filled with "the bad girls of Islam." But Nomani argues that their efforts are not anti-Islamic - rather, they use the fundamentals of Islamic thinking (the Koran; the Sunnah, or traditions and sayings of the prophet Muhammad; and Ijtihad, or independent reasoning) to challenge the ways in which Islam has been distorted by Sharia rulings issued by ultraconservative men. From the mosque to the bedroom, Muslim women have begun to challenge customs that deny them their basic rights, in such areas as gender segregation, mandatory veiling, forced early marriages, clitorectomies, polygamy, death for sex outside of marriage, domestic violence, and strict domestic roles. Nomani shares her personal story of empowerment, in which she walked through the front door of her mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 2003, and gathered up the strength to go into the main hall reserved for men only.

The struggle, she asserts, is to move Islam forward by reaching back to its progressive past. The effort, she says, is nothing short of a revolution.

The Mosque in Morgantown: Dilemmas Facing American Islam

Speaker Asra Nomani got a firsthand glimpse of Islamic extremism when her dear friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistan. When she returned home to West Virginia to raise her son, she found warning signs of extremism at the local mosque: the exclusion of women, intolerance toward non-believers, and suspicion of the West.

Her resulting campaign against extremism in the Islamic Center of Morgantown brought a storm of media attention, unexpectedly pitting her against the mosque's moderates.

Based on the gripping PBS documentary The Mosque in Morgantown, Nomani frames this local conflict as a means to explore the larger dilemmas facing American Islam.

Danny Pearl: The Truth Left Behind

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani was a friend and colleague of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. In fact, he and his wife were visiting her home in Karachi, Pakistan, when he went off for the interview from which he was kidnapped in 2002. Nomani played a key role in the investigation to try to find Pearl before learning that he had been brutally murdered. Six years later, Nomani is a professor of journalism at Georgetown University, leading the Pearl Project, a faculty-student investigative reporting project that is seeking answers to the questions of who really killed Pearl and why they killed him. The project's reporting has taken Nomani and her class figuratively onto the streets of Karachi and into the trenches of America's "war on terror." The Pearl case serves as a window into important issues related to terrorism, national security, foreign policy, and the challenges Pakistan faces in creating a civil society defined by rule of law.

The Fight for International Women’s Rights

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