Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement.
A lot is being said now about the “silent secret Trump supporters.”
This is my confession — and explanation: I — a 51-year-old, a Muslim, an immigrant woman “of color” — am one of those silent voters for Donald Trump. And I’m not a “bigot,” “racist,” “chauvinist” or “white supremacist,” as Trump voters are being called, nor part of some “whitelash.”
In the winter of 2008, as a lifelong liberal and proud daughter of West Virginia, a state born on the correct side of history on slavery, I moved to historically conservative Virginia only because the state had helped elect Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States.
Tuesday evening, just minutes before the polls closed at Forestville Elementary School in mostly Democratic Fairfax County, I slipped between the cardboard partitions in the polling booth, a pen balanced carefully between my fingers, to mark my ballot for president, coloring in the circle beside the names of Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence.
A West Virginia group, West Virginia Conservative Foundation, led by Republican tea party activists is running an ad attempting to connect longtime Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall to President Barack Obama, emphasizing the congressman’s Arab-American ancestry. In the ad, ominous music plays as Rahall discusses his chairmanship of the Arab-Americans for Obama group when Obama was a presidential candidate. The ad ends asking viewers to call Rahall and “tell him to stand with West Virginians.”
One of the leaders of the group paying for the ad, also contributes to a blog that has targeted Rahall and suggested he has ties to terrorists or their supporters.
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.
Vivid, dramatic portraits of Muslims in America in the years after 9/11, as they define themselves in a religious subculture torn between moderation and extremism
There are as many as six million Muslims in the United States today. Islam (together with Christianity and Judaism) is now an American faith, and the challenges Muslims face as they reconcile their intense and demanding faith with our chaotic and permissive society are recognizable to all of us.
From West Virginia to northern Idaho, American Islam takes readers into Muslim homes, mosques, and private gatherings to introduce a population of striking variety. The central characters range from a charismatic black imam schooled in the militancy of the Nation of Islam to the daughter of an Indian immigrant family whose feminist views divided her father’s mosque in West Virginia. Here are lives in conflict, reflecting in different ways the turmoil affecting the religion worldwide. An intricate mixture of ideologies and cultures, American Muslims include immigrants and native born, black and white converts, those who are well integrated into the larger society and those who are alienated and extreme in their political views. Even as many American Muslims succeed in material terms and enrich our society, Islam is enmeshed in controversy in the United States, as thousands of American Muslims have been investigated and interrogated in the wake of 9/11.
American Islam is an intimate and vivid group portrait of American Muslims in a time of turmoil and promise.