The autobiography of a tireless advocate for women in Islam.
Women's rights activist Khan grew up as a Sunni Muslim in Kashmir, where adherents of several religions rub together and Islam takes a very tolerant form. Her family encouraged the education of women; during a period of political tension, she came to America to finish high school and remained to become a citizen. In her debut, the author maintains that Islam has historically supported the equality of women and men in religious and civil affairs, but its teachings have been distorted over the centuries by radicals, misogynistic male leaders, and appeals to local customs to support the subjugation of women. Her distress at these distortions caused her to fall away from Islam, but she found that her "soul was starved.” She returned to her faith through a Sufi mosque in New York, ultimately marrying its imam. This period of Khan's life most evokes a spiritual journey. Much of the remainder of the book recounts her global efforts to empower Muslim women through appeals to Islamic scripture and early practice and to increase understanding of Islam generally through interfaith encounters, particularly after 9/11. In the process, she gradually gained sufficient confidence in speaking about Islam to lead her own organizations. Running throughout the narrative is Khan’s frustration that her vision of Islam as a religion of peace and gender equality is often challenged by well-publicized terrorist actions and state-sponsored barbarities in explicitly Muslim nations. The author’s account is informative and appealing, and she is doing important work, but it lacks the introspective intensity and focus expected of a spiritual memoir. The loosely organized text is interspersed with illustrative vignettes out of chronological sequence that further disrupt the flow of the narrative.
A thorough memoir that would have benefited from deeper insights into how the author’s faith carried her through crises and how she resolves conflicts between its requirements and those of secular Indian and American cultures.