By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
28 September 2018
Born with Wings—The Spiritual Journey
of a Modern Muslim Woman
Author: Daisy Khan
Publisher: Penguin Viking, Gurgaon
Price: Rs. 599
Fascinating Account of a Very Eventful
Memoirs of people who have done interesting
things with their life are not simply an account of their struggles and
achievements. Their true value lies not just as a record of some significant
events but, rather, in their role as a potential means to inspire others to
learn from the example of such individuals and emulate them. They provide
important lessons about life, including about how to deal with challenges and
how to make the best use of the gifts that each of us is blessed with.
Reading about the lives of inspiring people
is a wonderful way to get ideas about what to do with one’s own life. In this
regard, this book is a real gem. It is the story of the life of a woman who has
become an inspiration for many. Naturally, not every reader will agree with
everything that the book says and every claim that it makes. But still, it
definitely makes for great reading!
Now based in New York, Daisy Khan was born
in a comfortably-off Muslim family in Kashmir. Her family was rooted in Islamic
traditions, and at the same time, was open to other cultures. ‘At home with our
families and at school, we were not afraid of other religions, and it was unimaginable
that any group would be made to feel unwelcome’, Khan writes. ‘What I
understood from school and home was that there was only one God and that God
created us in many communities so that we might get to know one another.’
Having studied in a Catholic girls’ school
and the presence of strong women in her family had a major role in shaping Khan
for some of the many roles that she was to go on to play later in life. So,
too, was her parents’ decision to send her at a relatively young age to the
United States to attend high school, where she stayed with relatives in a
largely Jewish area.
Khan writes poignantly about the culture
shock she experienced when she got to America. But talented and determined as
she was, she made her way about and quickly climbed the corporate ladder after
college as an architectural designer in New York.
That wasn’t to be her major vocation in
life, however. Even as she loved the freedom she enjoyed as a career woman, she
felt something missing in her life. One day, someone suggested she visit a Sufi
mosque, and there she discovered a warm home. Khan provides interesting
glimpses of her journey in her faith, and explains how she ended up marrying
the mosque’s imam, the internationally-known the Egyptian American Sufi Islamic
scholar, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, noted, among other things, for his advocacy of
women’s rights, interfaith harmony and peace-building.
But in this new phase of her life Khan
wasn’t to become a domesticated housewife. As the spouse of a
socially-progressive imam, Khan now took up new roles, guiding women who turned
to her for advice. In the process, she emerged as a firm advocate of gender
justice, using arguments rooted in Islamic discourses to defend Muslim women’s
rights within the family, to combat patriarchal interpretations of Islam and to
oppose child marriage and female genital mutilation. Khan provides us
interesting details of some of her practical efforts in this regard, including
her role in founding the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and
Equality (WISE), a global organisation that works for Muslim women’s rights.
Khan also describes how over the years she
became deeply engaged in efforts to address some of the other key issues in
ongoing debates centred on Islam and Muslims. One of these was promoting
harmony and dialogue between Muslims and people of other faiths. Khan was well
suited for this immensely important task. Her being able ‘to embrace all
cultures and religions’, as she puts it, probably made her ideal for this.
Another area where she made major practical contributions, and which she
recounts in considerable detail, are peace-building and working with Muslims to
oppose terrorism in the name of their faith.
This is a fascinating account of a very
eventful life, one rooted in faith and remarkably open to various traditions
and cultures. It is a story of a life
led with meaning and purpose, seeking to creatively and sensitively respond to
some of the most pressing concerns the world is beset with today.
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