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Born with Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman. Daisy Kahn

April 5, 2018

Born with Wings

Born with Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman.  Daisy Kahn.  Penguin, 2018.


3 stars

An illuminating memoir by a Muslim American woman, originally from Kashmir, who has been a leader for Muslim women within their faith tradition and for the alliance of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian women.

Daisy Kahn was born in 1958 into a large wealthy extended family in Kashmir, a time when there was tolerance between Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians.  She grew up in an environment that affirmed Islam as a peaceful tradition.  As a teenager she went to live with relatives in New York, eventually earning a degree in design and working in the city professionally.  After a period of religious doubt, she became involved with a group of Sufi Muslims where her religious faith was strengthened.  In her thirties, she married an Iman and as his wife, she broadened her realm of influence addressing the needs of young Muslims, bringing them together, counseling them and preforming their marriage ceremonies.  While holding on to the core values of Islam, she worked to expand the role of Muslim women.  She designed mosques in which the women’s section was near that of the men rather than in the basement.  She also became involved in creating new organizations for women within Islam and with women of the other Abrahamic traditions.   She and her husband became very widely known when their group planned to build a mosque near the site of the twin towers.  They became the face of the threat of Islam.

While Born with Wings recounts Kahn’s personal story, it focuses on the practical steps she has taken to expand the role of women within the Muslim community and with women of other faiths.  She  writes of the people she has known and who were her allies.  In her own words, the issues surrounding women in Islam are simple and clear.  Her basic belief is that the Quran supports the essential equality of women and men.  Existing restrictions and the debasement of women are merely later traditions which should be ended. Unlike other similar writers, she emphasizes what needs to be done rather than the theology.

Kahn’s book is a useful supplement to others I have read by Muslim women who have written about their religious paths.  See my bibliography and reviews at Women and Islam.  Leila Ahmed is a scholar from Egypt and now at Harvard.  She is the person who writes most deeply and authoritatively about women and Islam generally and about how American Muslim women are impacting traditional Islam.  Other women who have written about their own journeys to adapt their faith to life in the modern “Western” world  provide a nice counterpoint to Kahn’s book.  They are Threading My Prayer Rug, by Sabeeha Rehman, a Pakistani who immigrated to New York and Love in a Headscarf, by Shelina Zahra Jammohamed, a young London woman who writes about marriage.  I recommend all of these for anyone interested in the diverse paths of Muslim women today.

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