Standing Alone in Mecca (book review)

Book Review by Sadia Dehlvi

In a charming personal narrative, Nomani   navigates  through a crisis of faith brought upon by the murder of close friend Daniel pearl by Islamic militants and an affair with a Pakistani man in
Karachi that leads to a child out of wedlock. Wrecked with guilt and seeking to hold her son without shame, the young   Indian born American Muslim back straps the infant and along with supportive parents   embarks on a pilgrimage to
Mecca wrestling with contradictions of feminism and Islam.  

The adventures of this tremendous unification in faith could   interest non Muslim readers as the roads to
Mecca and Madina   clearly read  “Muslims only”   but the detailing of the motions of ablutions, prayer and the pilgrimage can be skipped by those who  have been there and done that.

The geographical journey to the holy cities   provides glimpses of the repression and countless hypocrisies that describe Saudia Arabia ‘s social and political life but  what is  engaging  is Nomanis spiritual search through Islamic history that questions and instructs about the rights of  women in Islam. Nomani   exposes the roots of the purantical Wahabbi Islam   funded by the Saudis through their outreach programs which emerged to curb Sufism and pushed women to the second rank.

In the deserts of
Mecca,  Nomani finds strength in the forgotten legacy of  women in Islam including the prophets mother, wife and daughters. What is particularly endearing is Nomani’s   tale  of  soul bonding with Hagar,  Prophet Abrahams second wife whom he married to have a child since Sarah was infertile.(In the old testament Hagar is an Egyptian slave hired as a surrogate mother) Prophet Ishmael was born of this union and in a test of faith, Abraham went off with a jealous Sarah leaving Hagar alone near the Kaaba in the custody of God. Four thousand years ago, Hagar stood alone in
Mecca and in a desperate   search for water to quench   the crying   baby’s thirst , ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah  appealing to God for mercy.  Hagar passed the trial of isolation and water sprang from where the baby kicked. The ritual of running between the hills in the tradition of Hagar is an important ritual in the pilgrimage and the water that sprang from the ground is the holy water of “zam zam” carried back home by pilgrims.

Nomani  is surprised to  find liberation in Islam  and discovers prophet Mohammad as a social reformer who built a community on ideals of justice, equity and tolerance that honoured women. The  inspired  pilgrim comes home to  challenge the  norms of   local mosques in
America urging them to allow women to pray alongside men as they did in early Islam and continue to do so at the Kaaba and the mosques at Madina. The writer makes a strong plea for “ijtehad” or judicial scholarly reasoning   used to mediate question of Islamic law  to resolve issues of the modern world.

The book affectively argues that Muslim societies that punish women for alleged crimes of the body contradict the fundamental principles of forgiveness, privacy and motherhood in Islam. Without being insulting, Nomani confronts her faith  over sex, sin and  female sexuality emerging  as powerful leading voice for change, plurality of expression  and egalitarianism in the Muslim world..

Standing Alone in

A Pilgrimage into the heart of Islam

Author Asra q.Nomani

Pages 413

Published by Harper Collins

Price: Rs.395

Published on April 24, 2007 at 7:40 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was a bit disturbed by Sadia Dehlvi’s use of the phrase, “…embarks on a pilgrimage to Mecca wrestling with contradictions of feminism and Islam.”

    But that feeling of uneasiness diminished as I read more.

    I would have added “apparent” just before “contradictions of feminism and Islam.”

  2. I have not read the book so cant say if Hagar (Hajra) is mentioned there but this review is quite informative.All these years celebrating edi-ul-Azha and been to perform umara several times- i never knew that Hajra was a surrogate for Ibrahim and Sara; I was unaware of sara’s existence at all. This post invoked curiosity and have been googling Hajra and Hagar but could not find much information. Is there a source out there on hajra and her real story.

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