This semester I had the privilege of meeting Asra Nomani. In my Media Ethics class, all students were required to attend a speech hosted by Asra Nomani. I had not heard of her, but she was a friend of someone I had heard of – Daniel Pearl. If you remember, Daniel Pearl was the American man that had been kidnapped and murdered during his visit to Pakistan. Daniel and his wife were staying with Asra when he was kidnapped.
Asra Nomani came to our college to speak to us about her life and her mission. She is rebelling against the gender discrimination that dominates her religion as a Muslim. Our professor indicated that because her beliefs are widely unacceptable among Muslims she is unpopular in some circles and has created some enemies. Because she has had several threats against her life, our professor was going to see that our college provided increased security on the night that she arrived.
Well alrighty then. Sounds great! Sign me up for that speech.
On the night of Asra Nomani’s speech, despite arriving 50 minutes early, it was difficult to find parking and I had to hike in a considerable distance in the rain to the auditorium. I observed a paid guard who did not see me approach because he had his back to me while he was texting. Once I reached him, he was startled and opened the door for me only to abruptly return to his previous preoccupation.
Once inside, I found a seat and settled in. It was prudent to arrive so early because it was already crowded and eventually each crevasse of the auditorium was filled in a “standing room only” fashion.
Asra was an amazing speaker. She spoke in a soft distinction that demanded silence from her audience because we did not wish to miss a word. She was as honest and pure as a summer rain. I sat mesmerized hanging on each word as she spoke of her friendship with Daniel Pearl, his tragic murder and the events of her life that has led her to be a passionate pioneer seeking gender equality in her Mosque and in all aspects of her Muslim religion.
As a Catholic, I have all I can do to practice my religion and provide a religious framework for my son. Unless I am on my own terms speaking to God in the comfort of my own environment, I see religion as a bit of an obligation. What fascinated me is that Asra Nomani was in love with her religion. It was this love that was a motivating factor for her to explore deeper and take out the gender segregation that was against the core of the Muslim beliefs. She spoke of her protests and her following with a sparkle in her eye because she believes that one day she will find a peaceful coexistence in prayer with all members of her mosque that will show love and acceptance without distinction for gender.
I admire Asra Nomani because she has a courage that awes me. At the conclusion of her speech she received lavish, sincere applause from most of the audience. It was a wonderful experience. At the conclusion of the speech she hosted question and answer session.
That is when the magic ended for me.