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 Life
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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