Born in Bombay, India, in 1965 to a conservative Muslim family, Asra Q. Nomani grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, becoming a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. In 2000, Ms. Nomani returned to India to do reporting for a book, Tantrika: Traveling the Road of Divine Love, journeying through Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries in India before embarking on the “peace bus” from Delhi to Lahore with her paternal grandmother. After the September 11, 2001, attacks, while on leave from the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Nomani became a correspondent for Salon magazine, reporting in Pakistan. Ms. Nomani was inspired by tragedy and hope following the kidnapping and murder of her friend Daniel Pearl on Jan. 23, 2002 in Karachi, Pakistan, where Pearl was staying at Ms. Nomani’s home when he was kidnapped. In the fourth week of searching for Mr. Pearl, Ms. Nomani learned she was pregnant; her boyfriend and she had planned to marry until Pakistani intelligence visited him. A week later, the U.S. FBI discovered the video that documented Mr. Pearl’s murder. Ms. Nomani was actively involved in the investigation to find Pearl, and her character was featured in the movie, Mighty Heart, starring Angelina Jolie as Mr. Pearl’s wife, Mariane. Ms. Nomani returned to her home in Morgantown, where she wrote Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, a manifesto for reform and women’s rights, chronicling her journey to Mecca with her son, then three months old. She has written on issues related to Islam for the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time magazine, American Prospect,
Slate and Sojourners magazine on Islam. Her work has appeared in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated for Women, Runner’s World and People.
In Morgantown, Ms. Nomani became a writer-activist dedicated to reclaiming women’s rights and principles of tolerance in the Muslim world. In 2003, Ms. Nomani challenged rules at her mosque in Morgantown that required women enter through a back door and pray in a secluded balcony. She was put on trial at her mosque to be banished, her son beside her as names were cast for the jury. The New York Times lauded her “Rosa Parks-style civil disobedience.” On March 1, 2005, Ms. Nomani posted on the doors of her mosque in Morgantown “99 Precepts for Opening Hearts, Minds and Doors in the Muslim World.” She was the lead organizer of the woman-led Muslim prayer in New York City on March 18, 2005. In 2005, Ms. Nomani was a visiting scholar at the Center for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University and a Poynter Fellow at Yale University. She has provided commentary on CNN, NPR, BBC, Nightline and Al-Jazeera, among others. In October 2006, she received a reporting fellowship from the South Asian Journalists Association to report on a Muslim woman activist building a women’s mosque in India.
Starting in 2007, at Georgetown University, she led a faculty-student project, the Pearl Project, which investigated Pearl’s murder and released a report in 2011, The Truth Left Behind: Inside the Kidnapping and Murder of Daniel Pearl, with findings carried around the world. The next year, still searching of answers, Ms. Nomani journey to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who confessed to killing Pearl. There, she had an awakening moment that led to the publication of a critically-acclaimed essay, “This is Danny Pearl’s Final Story,” on trauma and grieving in Washingtonian magazine. Most recently, Ms. Nomani wrote for the Washington Post about an honor brigade of scholars, community leaders, bloggers and others, who, in part supported by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, shut down debate in Islam, using techniques of shaming. She is working on a book about the stealth network that radicalizes Islam in the West.
Still hopeful, Ms. Nomani is editing a project, codifying a new school of law that will reject the majority schools named for men and espouse feminist, progressive, peaceful values that include free speech. She is a contributing columnist at the Daily Beast, writing for human rights and women’s rights in Muslim communities. In November 2015, Ms. Nomani reached millions of viewers of the HBO show, “Real Time,” hosted by popular comedian Bill Maher, with her message of Islamic reform and feminism. Ms. Nomani earned her bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University. She received a master’s degree in international communications from American University. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area, with her son, Shibli, hiking trails with his Boy Scout troop and playing a popular card game, Magic the Gathering, on the path to healing and joy.