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Author Discusses Women in Islam; Steve Fossett Just Minutes Away From History

Aired March 3, 2005 - 13:29   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: "Now in the News," in western France, a horrific pedophilia case gets under way, 66 men and women are on trial, dozens of them accused of prostituting children and babies in exchange for food, cigarettes and small amounts of money. The alleged victims are children living in a low-income neighborhood. One young girl was reportedly raped 45 times. More on this story later on LIVE FROM.
In Los Angeles, Jay Leno tells a judge "don't fence me in." The late-night talk show host, who has been called as a witness in the Michael Jackson case, wants the judge to clarify a gag order so he can continue to joke about the trial on his show. His lawyers say if the order must be applied, they're asking that it be limited to Leno's firsthand information.

And in Iraq, as insurgent attacks continue, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi extends a national state of emergency for 30 days. Suicide car bombers striking today in Baghdad and Baqubah, killing at least six people. The official U.S. death toll has now surpassed 1,500.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The New York Times describes her as the Rosa Parks of Islam. One day in West Virginia, Asra Nomani, a single mother and devout Muslim, walked through the front door of her mosque and prayed with the men, a bold move that is unacceptable in the Islamic religion. The inspiration came after her journey to Mecca, the ultimate pilgrimage for any Muslim. Asra says she was just following in the 4,000-year-old footsteps of another single mother, Hajar, the Biblical and religious icon that was not only the original pilgrim to Mecca, but the mother of Islam.

"Standing Alone in Mecca" is Asra Nomani's story. She joins us live from our CNN affiliate WDCD in Bridgeport, West Virginia to talk about her journey and life mission for the rights of Muslim women.

Good to see you, Asra.


PHILLIPS: Why don't you tell us what kind of impact Mecca made on you and how it inspired this mission of yours to make Islam, I guess we could say, a little more progressive?

NOMANI: I walked in the history of all the amazing women that have defined Islam in the First Century. So many years ago, women were participants and leaders. And I walked in the footstep of this great woman who is the mother of Islam, Hajar. She went to Mecca and she stood there alone with her son and she is the source of our religion. And I sit before you with her strength coursing through me. I walked in her footsteps and could I feel her power. And I knew that we had to reclaim our place, our rightful place, as women in Islam.

PHILLIPS: What do your parents think of what you're doing within Islam and your trip to Mecca? Let's start with your mom. I know she has been quite an inspiration for you. Your mom and dad both very devout Muslims.

NOMANI: My parents have been amazing. They are right now with my son, probably watching, while he's saying, "mama, mama" to the TV. They have been, for me, the model of what Islam can be in the world. Osama bin Laden is not the face of Islam to me. My parents are. And they taught me virtue, honesty and courage. And this is how I believe we have to define our Muslim world today. 9/11 changed the stakes for our generation and we can do nothing less than all of -- the best that we can possibly do as human beings to serve Islam well in the world today.

PHILLIPS: Asra, what is it that bothers you most about the Islam religion? Is it the people? Is it the religion? And you look at so many other religions, they become more progressive as time has gone on.

NOMANI: What bothers me about our community is that we are betraying the essential principles that Islam was built upon. We are not living fully with the compassion, the tolerance, and the inclusion that define Islam in the Seventh Century. So it's incumbent upon us as Muslims to take a stand. And so my book is really a call to action for women and then all moderates to stand up, and stand up to the extremists, and to not allow closed doors to bang on anyone's face.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk -- we've talked about the trip to Mecca, your book focuses a lot on that. But right now, specifically in your hometown in Morgantown, tell me about what you're doing with regard to your local mosque, one that your family helped build, and this bill of rights that you've created.

NOMANI: Well, what was so beautiful was in Mecca I was a fully realized human being. There were no back doors for me. There was no back entrance. There was no back row where I had to pray. I prayed alongside my father. I walked in through the front door with him.

When I dared to try to do the same at my mosque in Morgantown, I was screamed at and yelled at and I was told to take the back door. I was told to sit in the balcony. And so for almost two years now, we've been fighting and we walked in through the front door and into the main hall.

And I now sit on trial because 35 men at the mosque have signed a petition to have me banned for being a troublemaker. So on March 1st, the start of Women's History Month, I launched what we're so proud to call the Muslim Women's Freedom Tour. And what I did was I posted on the door of my mosque 99 precepts for opening hearts, minds and doors in our Muslim world. And with it I attached a bill of rights for women in the mosque and a bill of rights for women in the bedroom, so that we can assert and reclaim all that Islam created for women.

PHILLIPS: Looking at history, looking at other religions, do you think what you are doing now will have a domino effect? Do you truly believe that Islam can become more, I guess, progressive when it comes to the role of women?

NOMANI: I believe that the Muslim world can become more progressive to accurately reflect the progressive values of our religion. We are betraying the faith when we close a door on any woman. When we murder in the name of our faith. When we express hatred toward any human being in the name of our religion.

And I know it can happen. Progress is inevitable. And we will win. The dark side will not define this world. And light will shine. And it will shine from the people of Islam. And it will shine from the Muslim communities of this world. I'm convinced of it.

PHILLIPS: Asra, you've received a lot of death threats, haven't you?

NOMANI: I have. I have. And they do not deter me.

PHILLIPS: Your boy, your little boy, as we look at these pictures of him with you, particularly when you took your trip, I think there's a personal story that you should tell our viewers and I know you talk a little bit about it in your book, about your son's father and your situation and how that relates even more to Hajar and the life of this mother of Islam.

NOMANI: You know, everybody knows of Islam, Christianity and Judaism as one of the Abrahamic faiths. What we forget is that there were women who were mothers to the boys from which the tribes came, springing Islam, Judaism and Christianity into the world. Hajar was the mother that bore Ismail, and from Ismail came the tribe into which the prophet Muhammad was born.

She was a woman left alone in Mecca. And I was a women who left Karachi, Pakistan, two years ago pregnant and alone, because the father of my baby would not stand by me. I had to choose life over death as my ultimate decision. And what I chose was life. I chose to keep my baby. And he is testimony, to me, of what can happen in this world if we choose the light over the dark. He's so beautiful and he is the leader in my world, for a better world.

PHILLIPS: The book is "Standing Alone in Mecca." Asra Nomani wrote it. Pretty fascinating stuff. We'll follow your journey, Asra, thanks for your time today.

NOMANI: Thank you so much. We're going to change the world.

PHILLIPS: I have no doubt you will. You're already making changes, Asra, thank you -- Tony.

HARRIS: When we come back, get a closer look at the messages sent to the Wichita media by the BTK killer.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "Odd, sex, details, follow, plan, fantasies, victim."


HARRIS: Frank Buckley goes inside the mind of the serial killer next.


PHILLIPS: There you go, live pictures here.

HARRIS: Hey, wow.

PHILLIPS: Pretty cool stuff.


PHILLIPS: We're going to go in and out from a little black to the picture of billionaire pilot Steve Fossett right now because -- this is live television. And you know what, we're doing the best we can here via tape, I'm told now. So live, tape, what can I tell you, it's great video.

Steve Fossett, as you know, making his way around the world, flying on fumes. You could say the least. We know yesterday had a bit of a fuel scare there. Not quite sure if he was going to make the full trip. Now, as we watch him get closer and closer to Kansas. Not long ago we saw live pictures of him flying over the Grand Canyon.

Daniel Sieberg been following his trek throughout the -- I guess minute by minute, I guess all day since this morning. What do you think, Daniel, is he going to make it?

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's certainly in the homestretch and everybody there is optimistic that he's going to make it. Last night at about 11:00 they had to make the decision on whether to keep going because of this fuel problem. He apparently lost about 26,000 pounds of fuel somewhere early on in the flight, they believe about two to five hours.

To put that into perspective, we're talking about maybe filling up 15 H2 hummers. So that much fuel was lost, which, given that the jetstream and the tailwinds were good enough, stronger than they expected, actually, that was what prompted them to make this decision to continue on from Hawaii and make it all the way to Salina, Kansas, where they took off on Monday night. So, about 66 hours officially, once he lands.

PHILLIPS: So maybe he should have been flying an f-18, because then they could have done the refueling in the air, right?

SIEBERG: Certainly, he would have probably appreciated that. At this point, he's feeling a bit uncomfortable after everything. He has been in the air for 66 hours. We're talking about millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, who also circumnavigated the earth in a balloon, you might remember, after several failed attempts. There we see some file footage.

Oh, Steve Fossett. He's 60 years old. He's quite an adventurer. He also swam the English Channel, was in the Iditarod, he's sailed around the world, so he's has had plenty of challenges in his life. This is the first attempt to try to circumnavigate the world. It would mean about 23,000 miles, having taken off again on Monday night.

And the plane is really very unique. It's really made up of fuel, which is why it was so important that he apparently lost this fuel, or possibly it wasn't in there to begin with. About 18,000 pounds of fuel in total. A very heavy aircraft when it took off, now very light.

PHILLIPS: How big is the cockpit?

SIEBERG: The cockpit's about seven feet. And that really is pretty cramped. A lot of people have been asking sort of the basic things. Is he sleeping? He's been taking sort of -- few minute naps here and there. He actually sets an alarm clock for himself to get up. There is auto pilot just in case he doses off a bit longer. They're in constant communication with him from mission control. Going to bathroom, another story. Maybe we don't want to go in to that now. But he also hasn't been eating a whole lot. He's been eating these protein shakes, trying to stay awake and energetic.

PHILLIPS: Well, another Renaissance man -- he's not in the air right now, he's on the ground, actually, our Bob Franken, hopefully going to be there for the grand finale and the touchdown. Bob has already told us about his book he'll be writing, live somewhere on the tarmac. Bob, what's it like down there, what are people saying? I understand he's actually supposed to land in about 20 minutes or so, is that right?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, and I keep on getting different versions of that. As I said earlier, it's like flying domestic commercially. There are very -- really not that many people here to welcome him, unless you count the members of the Salina South High School band. And I'm trying to count to see if there are more satellite trucks here than band members and more officials from Virgin Atlantic Airways. They're running a very, very, successful public relations event. This, of course, also will be setting a new aviation record.

Richard Branson has been just about everywhere. There's been a camera this morning. Told us that he had been contacted by the Smithsonian. The possibility exists that this plane is going to end up there, he said. But in any case, first it has to end up on ground. We're being told, I guess authoritatively, that it's going to happen in the next 15 minutes or so. But as I said, that's flexible, to say the least.

It's a flight that began on Monday, it's been over 65 hours now. This morning, he arrived at landsight somewhere around 9:00 hour locally, which would have been 10:00 Eastern time. In any case, was relieved to see that, he said he perked up when he realized that this was coming to an end.

There was some concern about a fuel shortage, some suspicion that was put out there to increase the drama. But whatever, the truth is that he will have enough fuel, we're told. He's not going to have to do a glider-like landing. That would have already begun if he was going to. He's 77 miles out. He'll land when he lands.

PHILLIPS: Well, Bob, I was listening into mission control and they were saying that possibly he might do a little flyover and then come in and land. And also, I was trying to listen to the calms (sic) to see how Fossett was doing, what the conversation was like. Do you know anything about how he's been feeling or what he's been saying to his folks in mission control?

FRANKEN: Well, he's had a bit of a headache, as one might have when you're cramped in an airplane for 60-plus hours. And he is -- has been required to drink a lot of water. This is an ordeal. But he's sort of -- has made a career out of ordeals, as you were pointing out, Tony. So this is the latest one. He is independently wealthy. Although this particular venture is, once again, sponsored by his good friend Richard Branson.

PHILLIPS: All right, Bob Franken there on tarmac. About 77 miles out. We got Daniel Sieberg here by my side. He's monitoring it also. We're following Steve Fossett's historic flight. More after the break.


HARRIS: I tell you, I didn't expect to be excited about this, Kyra. But it is sort of exciting watching Steve Fossett as he makes his way back to mother earth, circumnavigating the globe in the Globalflyer. ETA now 30 minutes or so.

PHILLIPS: Yes, I'm seeing everything in the mission control, they're going back and forth. Yes, it sounds about a half an hour.

HARRIS: About a half hour or so?


HARRIS: When it happens, we'll bring it to you live. We'll follow him in once we make official contact.

PHILLIPS: Hopefully a smooth landing, no fuel issues.

HARRIS: Ooh, boy, wouldn't that be something?

PHILLIPS: There you go. Breaking a world record. HARRIS: In other news now, health concerns in Washington this week in the U.S. Senate chambers where the FDA is pressing for more control over warning you, the consumer, about the risk of certain prescription drugs.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta says it's all about cutting the jargon and providing plain talk for patients.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, remembering that medicine, did it cause any problems when you were taking it before?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Adrienne Mims finds herself talking about drug safety more and more these days. Patients are concerned about recent FDA warnings and are confused what exactly a black box warning means.

DR. ADRIENNE MIMS, KAISER PERMANENTE: When it's issued by the FDA, it means that this is the most serious of the warnings that there could be complications, including death, from the use of a medication.

GUPTA: Problem is, how many patients actually see the warnings in those little inserts?

MIMS: If a consumer got the actual black box warning, they often toss them and they probably should toss them because it's not really written in patient language.

GUPTA: Nowadays, many pharmacies provide easier to understand inserts, but the message is the same.

MIMS: Nothing is safe for everybody. And so whenever you get a medication, even over-the-counter, do look at the warnings.

GUPTA (on camera): Now the FDA does not keep track of the number of drugs that carry these black boxes, but it is estimated that several hundred of the approximately 10,000 it has approved do carry these warnings.

(voice-over): The best advice is to be an educated patient. For example, know if you're in the subset of patients that may be harmed by a drug. With ace inhibitors, a heart medicine, pregnant women can be affected. With oral contraceptives, smokers need to be careful. Antidepressants will soon carry labels for children and adolescents. And a decision on labeling for arthritis medicines called cox-2 inhibitors is now under consideration by the FDA.

MIMS: Let's try another maneuver.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Atlanta.


SIEBERG: I'm technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg. Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett is just minutes away from history. We'll take you behind the scenes of his solo flight around the work and talk to Burt Rutan, the designer of his aircraft. Stay with us.


PHILLIPS: Well, I guess he wasn't so low on gas after all. In just about half an hour, we're told the man who set out three days ago to circle the Earth in a plane, nonstop, all alone is about to do exactly that.

Daniel Sieberg here watching up and the Steve Fossett aviation record attempt. Actually, he's already broken the record with regard to distance, right?

SIEBERG: Right, technically he's blown that record out of the water. That was about 12,000 miles or so, set to about 40 years ago, by a B-52. So he's already accomplished that, and now of course he's hoping to land in Salina, Kansas within the half hour.

Now joining us on the phone right now is Burt Rutan, who designed the Globalflyer aircraft, the Virgin Atlantic Globalfyer.

Burt, you and your brother, Dick, also designed the Voyager aircraft which flew around the world in 1986. There were two pilots in that case, your brother Dick being one of them. What's the difference between that aircraft and the Globalflyer?

BURT RUTAN, AIRPLANE DESIGNER: Well, Quite a bit if difference actually. First, very quick, certainly on behalf of the people here that scaled, and not just designed, but built the Globalflyer, we just want to compliment Steve on a phenomenal show of stamina and just a beautiful job at flying this flight.

Yes, we were worried during a lot of the flight about the mysterious loss of fuel near the start. But what really saved the day here is we got beautiful tailwinds out over the Pacific. So he's coming back with real good margins, even though he did lose some fuel.

And now as far as difference, the voyager was a low altitude airplane flying with piston engines. So it had more range then the Globalflyer, because piston engines are more efficient than the turbojets.

SIEBERG: Right, Burt, I just want to point out we're looking at live pictures here in Salina, Kansas. I believe that's a high school band on the runway, getting ready to perform when he lands. A number of people are gathering there to watch him. Thousands of people watched him take off actually. About this fuel loss, a lot of people have been asking, speculation in the media that this may have been some sort of -- dare I say a publicity stunt...

RUTAN: Oh, absolutely not, absolutely not. I got back in here from a trip early yesterday morning, and we were looking at data that showed our fuel gauges -- first of all, we have fuel flow that tells us how the engines are -- how the fuel's being used, and that looked good. But our gauges showed that mysteriously, somewhere between the second or -- you know, about -- between the second hour and the sixth hour of the flight, in that time period, the gauges showed that we lost a bunch of fuel.

Now, it was dark. So we were unable to chase it and see if fuel was being sucked out of the vents somehow. We don't know...

SIEBERG: All right, sorry, we're going to have to stop you there, Burt.

RUTAN: Sure.

SIEBERG: We're seeing some pictures there of when it took off. It was obviously very dark. And of course everybody on the ground hoping that Steve Fossett comes in for a landing.

Burt Rutan, thank you so much for joining us. There's Sir Richard Branson. These are live pictures. He is obviously the head of Virgin Atlantic, the sponsor for this flight. Looks like he's going to be going out there to watch the plane come in.

PHILLIPS: So I guess about 25 minutes away, right?

SIEBERG: Yes, roughly 20, 25 minutes away. And he is approaching Salina, Kansas, municipal airport, where they took off, and that would complete the about 23,000-mile trip.

PHILLIPS: All right, Daniel Sieberg, thanks so much, and our Bob Franken there on the tarmac also. We're following the Fossett flight, Globalflyer, almost in Kansas.

HARRIS: And coming up in the second hour of LIVE FROM, more on Globalflyer and Steve Fossett as they land in Salina, Kansas. Be there live when it happens. LIVE FROM's hour of power begins right after this.



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