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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:

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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