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Asra Nomani
By Nitish S. Rele


You got to admire Asra Nomani. The woman has got guts. And despite two recent death threats, the Mumbai-born journalist and author is determined to challenge tradition by advocating women-led prayers in mosques around the U.S. In fact, she has finished the first phase of the Muslim Women’s Freedom Tour, which has met with a mixed response in different American cities.

Women-led prayers in Boston, Washington, D.C. and Toronto went quite peacefully. “In San Francisco, we had to pray behind a wall,” said the 39-year-old in a husky and soft voice. “At a Seattle mosque, men refused to pray with us and began to harass us. And at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles, the people in charge sent a woman to physically remove me. We are dealing with an entrenched discrimination against a woman’s right to live in faith and tolerance.”

The daughter of Indian parents Zafar and Sajida Nomani moved to the U.S. when she was just 4 years old. She was raised in Morgantown, West Virginia before she ventured out to write a book “Tantrika: Traveling the Road of Divine Love” and work as a Wall Street Journal correspondent. But it was a journey to Mecca with then-infant son Shibli that inspired the single mother to write the recently released book “Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam.”

Nomani discovered that she was following the 4,000-year-old footsteps of another single mother, Hajar, the original pilgrim to Mecca and mother of the Islamic nation. “It is sad that so much of the freedom enjoyed for centuries by women has been wiped out by the conservative brand of Islam practiced today,” she said. “It gives the West a false image of Muslim women as veiled and isolated from the world.”

Upon returning from the Mecca pilgrimage, Nomani dared to walk through the front door of her hometown Morgantown, West Virginia mosque and pray in the main section of the mosque, which is reserved for men. This set off a firestorm of controversy, protests and death threats, resulting in the mosque excommunicating her. Regardless, the fight continues.

And it could very well spill into India, where “Stand Alone in Mecca” will be published by HarperCollins later in the year. “There are obviously a lot of issues with the interpretation of the Islamic law in India,” she said. “I am supportive of some of the women’s activities already happening there. Women-led prayer in mosque is at the top of my list. And when was the last time we heard of a woman pundit? Spiritual leadership has for too long been the domain of men. That has to change. Woman just can’t stay in the ghettos anymore.”

What are Nomani’s memories of Mumbai, the city of her birth? “As a child, I distinctly remember these dance halls across the street where Gulf sheikhs would come to be entertained by the mujra girls,” she reminisces. “Little boys could venture out to play but we girls weren’t allowed to step outside.”

For more information Nomani, click on her Web site:




Q: My wife and I stay separately in a rented apartment. I pay $700 as monthly rent. I have to spend a lot on telephone bills and for gas/repair charges of my old car. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) we get is not enough. My son desires to invite me to stay with him to avoid inconvenience to me in my old age. However, my wife and I desire to stay indefinitely “not too far – not too near”. He has now decided to pay my monthly rent. Is it a fact that my SSI is likely to be reduced by $700 a month? Is there any other way to solve this problem?

A: What your son pays towards your living expenses is your unearned income. You may get $20 relief but your SSI will be reduced by $680 a month. If your son directly pays for your telephone bills as well as gas/repair charges, SSI administration will not demur.

Q: I am reaching the age of 65 in October 2005. I have no resources here or in India other than a sum of $15,000 in a local bank, saved from my miscellaneous work earlier. As I am indebted to my son for his kindness and good behavior towards me, I wish to transfer this amount to his account in September and only then I shall apply for SSI. Is this in order?

A: No. It would have been in order between July 21, 1988 and Nov. 19 1999. It is considered as invalid transfer and for some months you will be penalized by denial of SSI. October is still far. You may spend that amount and keep a proof of it that you have spent for your necessities/comforts or luxuries. You may choose to be a co-sharer with your son in his house and let him reduce his mortgage debt by $15,000. You must stay in that house.

Q: I have a big house of my own with mortgage fully paid off. My sons have left and only my wife and I are to live there. When I apply for SSI on reaching 65 in a couple of months, will the SSI administration ask me to sell my house and go to a small one and live on the difference without public assistance?

A: No. A house however big and a car however expensive are resources, which are exempted, provided you live in this house and use the car.

Q: Now that my daughter and son-in-law are leaving California, my daughter is desirous for a situation when I need money for emergent use and I have no adequate balance from my SSI, can I borrow a sum of $10,000? I shall not make use of it unless it is absolutely unavoidable. As borrowing is no income/resource, I feel SSI Administration may not deny me SSI? Am I correct?

A: No. As per strange rules of SSI, the amount borrowed is her as well as your resources. The unspent amount at the end of the month is without doubt your resources. The country is much advanced technically that your daughter can supply the funds to you in a minute. Tell her not to worry about a financially emergent situation.

Q: I have a joint account with my son -- only $2,000. I am going to declare half of this as my own resources. Do I offend the rules of public assistance?

A: The most common causes of joint accounts problems can be avoided by advising clients as early as possible whose assets count as resources to them. In joint account situation, it is important to obtain written statements from the co-owner(s) of the account showing that the claimant did not own and did not use all or a portion of the funds. It also is essential to have written proof that the account has been charged to reflect the claimant’s non-access or limited access thereto whether a claimant is able to rebut the presumption of joint ownership usually turns on his/her credibility. Normally, the SSI administration will presume that the entire money is your resources, unless the other joint owner also is on public assistance.

These questions and answers are excerpted with permission from “Mapping the Maze: A Guide to Welfare for Elderly Immigrants” by Harikrishna Majmumdar of California who has advised several hundred welfare applicants. The author has attempted to help immigrants to navigate the maze of rules and regulations encountered when approaching the U.S. welfare system. A copy of this 2003 published book is available for $10 from H.J. Majmumdar, 450 Melville Ave., Palo Alto, Calif. 94301 or send an e-mail to if you have a question.

FODOR’S INDIA, $23.95, 620 pages
By Nitish S. Rele

Looking to visit India this summer? Or maybe planning a vacation to the country of your birth in December? Well, don’t forget the updated and fifth edition of “India Fodor’s,” which was recently released.

For 2005, the over 600-page travel guide is packed with the usual information on not just where to stay or when to go, but also great itineraries, pleasures and pastimes, calendar of events and smart travel tips.

For convenience, the book is divided into 12 regions: The Himalayas, Delhi, North Central India, Rajasthan, Bombay and Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad, Orissa and Calcutta.

Here are a few samples of some of the regions:

The Himalayas: Ride an elephant through Corbett National Park or escape from civilization in a yuk at Ladakh Sarai.

Bombay and Maharashtra: Marvel at ancient cave paintings at Ajanta and Ellora or soak up the hullabaloo of Marine Drive’s at Chowpatty Beach.

Goa: Gambol among the church ruins in gorgeous Old Goa or find a private nook at Dudhsagar Falls.

And there is more. Much more to succumb to your animal urges, worship religious sites, spice up your trip, dazzle your eyes or just lose yourself into the wonder that is India.

“Fodor’s India” ( is one travel companion you would want to tag along with you to India, especially if you are heading out on vacation after visiting your hometown. Enjoy the journey and the book.

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