“The Mosque in Morgantown” explores dilemmas facing American Muslims

Working in Pakistan after September 11, 2001, former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani faced a double shock. First came a surprise pregnancy and abandonment by the Pakistani man she thought would be her husband, then the murder of her dear friend and colleague Daniel Pearl at the hands of Muslim extremists. Still reeling and with a son to raise, she returned to her hometown in West Virginia and discovered the mosque had been taken over by men she saw as extremists. THE MOSQUE IN MORGANTOWN chronicles what happens when she decides to fight back — unexpectedly pitting her against the mosque’s moderates. As the film unfolds, it tells a story of competing paths to social change, American identity, and the nature of religion itself.

Premieres June 15 on PBS

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(Courtesy of PBS)–Morgantown, West Virginia, is a university town of 30,000 nestled in the Appalachian Mountains—and the site of a brewing battle within the local mosque.

Journalist Asra Nomani glimpsed Islamic extremism up close when her dear friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistan. When she returns home to West Virginia to raise her son, she believes she sees warning signs at the local mosque: exclusionism against women, intolerance toward non-believers, and suspicion of the West. Her resulting campaign against perceived extremism in the Islamic Center of Morgantown brings a storm of media attention, unexpectedly pitting her against the mosque’s moderates.

These would-be allies object to Asra’s methods and suspect her motives, seeking themselves a more conciliatory path to change. They say she has unfairly used the label of extremism and is working only to further her own career as a writer. It is not long before members put forward a petition to expel her from the mosque.

But Asra is unwavering. She believes intolerance in the mosque is the first step on a potential path to violence, and that Islam cannot afford to handle this problem with half-measures and diplomacy; the stakes require nothing less than a revolution. As her efforts to spark that revolution escalate to the national stage, many Muslims in the mosque and elsewhere begin to suspect she aims to reshape the religion into something that is no longer Islam.

The film also features Christine Arja, a convert to Islam who initially opposes Asra’s efforts but eventually becomes her only ally in the mosque; and Ihtishaam Qazi, a moderate mosque leader who becomes Asra’s strongest opponent as he struggles to balance competing viewpoints in the community.

THE MOSQUE IN MORGANTOWN frames this local conflict as a lens to explore the larger dilemmas facing American Islam. It tells a story of competing paths to social change, American identity, and the nature of religion itself.