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Great Onelers in History and Real Time: Combo Edition November 27, 2010

Posted by Onely in Great Onelies in History, Great Onelies in Real Time, Profiles.
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Welcome to the latest installment in our Great Onelers series, where we profile outstanding single people who refused to be marginalized or stereotyped. This special super-bonus ultimate combo post features two women who lived over a thousand years apart. It’s a long post, starting with our present-day Great Oneler. If you’re curious about the historical Oneler, skip to the end.

Our Great Oneler in Real Time is Asra Q. Nomani. You may remember her from Bella DePaulo’s Living Single post, Deleting a Friend to Spotlight a Spouse. Nomani, a good friend of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was intimately involved in the fallout from his disappearance and eventual beheading. She and his wife were the last two people to see Pearl alive and free. After his disappearance, she held vigil with his wife and was even asked to help track down his dental records. As described in DePaulo’s post, filmmakers deleted her existence from the movie about Pearl, but we here at Onely know more than Hollywood. Nomani is a Great Oneler.

I recently read her 2005 book Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam. Nomani was raised in the U.S. by Muslim parents who immigrated from India. She recounts her struggle to reconcile the true tenets of her religion with the sexism and singlism often perpetrated in the Islamic world, by people who twist those tenets.

In search of answers, Nomani goes on Hajj to Mecca. For anyone not familiar with the logistics of this religious pilgrimage, as I wasn’t, it’s a fascinating look into the culture, rituals, and economics surrounding this time-and-body-intensive trip. But what interested us here at Onely were Nomani’s thoughts, interspersed through the story, on what it was like to partake in this Islamic tour de force as a single woman, with her son Shibi just out of infancy.

You see, while she was working as a journalist in Pakistan, she became pregnant by her Pakistani boyfriend. He freaked and left her alone to deal with her growing belly, the disappearance of her close friend Danny, and the fear that the authorities might come down on her if they found out that she had (GASP) gotten pregnant out of wedlock.  (And the filmmakers took her *out* of their movie??!)

But Nomani is a Great Oneler, so she rallies. She takes Shibli on Hajj, where people assume she has a husband and ask where he is (which will probably sound familiar to many of our Copious Readers, regardless of religious background!). At home in West Virginia, she fights like the dickens against the old-school patriarchy in her hometown mosque, because they treat the female worshipers like fourth-class citizens. She stages at least one sit-in in the mosque, in the front seats normally reserved for men.

Women played an important role in the beginnings of Islam, and prophet Mohammad seems to have respected them, empowered them, and encouraged their equal participation in the religion. Nomani provides numerous examples, but the one that stood out to me is our Great Oneler in History: Ramlah.

From Standing Alone (100):

She was the daughter of a man named Abu Sufyan, a leader in the prophet’s tribe of the Quaysh and a passionate foe of the prophet. She defied her father’s wish that she remain within the religion of the tribe and converted to Islam with her husband. To escape persecution for their decision, she and her husband started a new life in the African empire of Abyssinia, which was led by a Christian ruler, Negus. There her husband converted to Christianity and insisted that she do so also or face a divorce. Ramlah’s options were limited: relinquish her right to determine her own religion by either returning to her father’s home or remaining in her husband’s home, or leave her husband and live alone. She chose to live alone. Ten years later the prophet sent a proposal of marriage, and Ramlah married him happily.


photo credit: Steve Rhodes


1. Onely - December 11, 2010

I’m making a comment on my own post! Because no one else has! Asra = Awesome.

= )

2. Laura - February 7, 2011

I found this to be a truly inspiring story!Thank you for writing this and highlighting a remarkable woman!

Onely - February 9, 2011

Thanks Laura! I just randomly happened upon her book in the library and am so glad I did.

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