The Trouble with Islam Today: A
Muslims Call for Reform in Her Faith
by Irshad Manji
An Excellent Perspective On Arab And Islam Mentality
This call for reform reads like an open letter to the Muslim world. Irshad
Manji, a Toronto-based television journalist, was born to Muslim parents in
South Africa. Her family eventually fled to Canada when she was two
years old. Manji shares her life experiences growing up in a Western
Muslim household and ask some compelling questions from her feminist-
lesbian-journalist perspective. It is interesting to note that Manji has been
lambasted for being too personal and not scholarly enough to h ave a
worthwhile opinion. Yet her lack of pretense and her intimate narrative are
the strengths of this book. For Muslims to dismiss her opinions as not
worthy to bring to the table is not only elitist; it underscores why she feels
compelled to speak out critically. Intolerance for dissent, especially
womens dissent, is one of her main complaints about Islam. Clearly, her
goal was not to write a scholarly critique, but rather to speak from her
heartfelt concern about Islam. To her fellow Muslims she writes: I hear
from a Saudi friend that his countrys religious police arrest women for
wearing red on Valentines Day, and I think, Since when does a merciful
God outlaw joy—or fun? I read about victims of rape being stoned for
adultery and I wonder how a critical mass of us can stay stone silent.
She asks tough questions: Whats with the stubborn streak of anti-Semitism
in Islam? Who is the real colonizer of the Muslims—-America or Arabia?
Why are we squandering the talents of women, fully half of Gods creatio n?
This is not an anti-Muslim rant. Manji also speaks with passionate love and
hope for Islam, believing that democracy is compatible with its purest
doctrine. Sure, shes biased and opinionated. But all religions, from
Christianity to Buddhism to Islam should be accountable for how their
leadership and national allegiances personally affect their followers. One
would hope that this honest voice be met with a little more self-scrutiny and
a little less anti-personal, anti-feminine, and anti-Western rhetoric. --Gail
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This is an easy read "as smooth as milk" and equally digestible. Manji
prosecutes a fairly rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the problems
associated with modern Islam in particular, one that is of tremendous
relevance given the hundreds killed by suicide bombers almost on a daily
basis. Muslims kill other Muslims in the main in order to defeat their stated
enemy, typically Jews or Americans though the ire could equally focus on
any group that is seen to threaten Islam, though of course the logic of
killing your own kind to avenge your enemy seems to be a bit lost. Manji's
catalogue of problems associated with Islam may have applied to
Christianity in the past, but I don't think any other modern mainstream
religion including Judaism can be compared in the context of violence and
treatment of the "other" to Islam (despite claims to the contrary). Tribal
religions can vaunt themselves over others arrogating for themselves the
God given right to pillage and destroy whomever or whatever they please
(in the name of God and self defence). Thus we see the superior Sunnis
killing the Shias as infidels and the pacific Sufis marginalised into the
periphery, also regarded as infidel material. And that's just intra Islamic
violence. Manji's book is quite old now. Since then, we have witnessed
Islamic beheadings of innocent people be they Hindus, Buddhists,
Christians or Jews as well as burning people alive, proudly placed as
videos on the web. "Let me propose this much: equality can't exit in the
desert, not if the taxonomy of the tribe is to remain intact" argues Manji in
one of the most forceful sentences in the book.
She effectively describes a plethora of problems in general and in
particular, teasing out history and examples of her encounters with other
cultures including a trip to Israel and the trouble she had seeing Islam's
holiest shrines as a woman. As an example, Manji queries the lack of an
outcry to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha's from a Muslim feminist: "
`Manji, do you know what's happening to Muslims in Palestine?' ....
Somebody return me to earth or transport my butt to a part of the solar
system where we distinguish between justice and justification."
I enjoyed Manji's treatment of the Palestinian conflict and her trenchant
analysis of freedom and openness in Israel compared to her neighbours.
By playing the victim card, Muslims seem to have lost out so far. Each and
every time something terrible happens, the finger seems to be pointed at
the Jews and Americans. Make no mistake, the Middle East convinced
themselves that 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy in all earnestness. There is
nothing new here, the Jews were accused of spreading lies as far back as
1848, the scapegoats of choice for any calamity in the Islamic world. The
exploration of anti-Semitism from a relatively short Islamic golden age to
the present is telling.
Irshad scorns and chastises the rise of Whabism from Saudi Arabia and
highlights the spread of this brand of Islam thanks to petro dollars. More
than the West, it is Arab culture that has colonised global Islam. The
author exposes hypocrisy on several fronts and scorns the culture of
ignorance that Wahabism and what is described as "foundermentalism" in
particular has created. We learn about Turkish observatories that were torn
down shortly after construction because of complaints from the Mullahs
and free thinking philosophers like Ibn Rashd who were assassinated for
expressing themselves. Saudi Arabia has been busy obliterating historic
Muslim architecture in case it encourages idolatry and Muslims are kept
ignorant about the Jewish roots of their faith (or at least, these roots are
Yet Manji remains a Muslim, beloved by many other Muslims sick of the
lengths to which hatred is espoused on the basis of the Koran and Hadiths.
A different kind of interpretation is possible, toning down the violent
rhetoric, begging the question as to what constitutes a Dhimmi or a
Believer? A reformed Islam is surely possible and Manji's is probably the
first major book exploring reasons for hope within the Islamic diaspora,
particularly in the West.
Manji explains that Allahu Akbar does not mean so much "God is great"
but that "God is greater", Greater than my petty views and opinions and the
potential need to kill and destroy in His name.
I think that the length of her essay does not permit enough room to explore
the solutions in bringing about reformation - one topic explored in some
detail is women's empowerment. We see that Manji is passionate for the
accommodation of Muslims by civilisation at large, and they should at least
be grateful (given many don't like this book) that she explains the need for
Muslim immigration into the Western or Developed world if they are to
maintain their productivity. Manji talks passionately a bout the need to
educate the disenfranchised young in Muslim countries via media
programs: "Whoever denies these kids economic and civic participation will
incite a degree of chaos capable of convulsing much of the planet". She
seeks the participation of anyone with resources to help Muslims to think
independently, outside the box. She calls this Itjihad, too long swept under
the carpet by theocratic governments.
The author is a powerful communicator and activist and has obviously
started something. Having appreciated this book I can only hope it will
influence Believers in a positive way but Manji's epistle probably falls
largely on deaf ears. At least she may be a Cassandra forewarning her
kindred and us poor infidels as to dangers ahead. This surely rates as a
document of its time, worthy of dissemination and discussion now and in
the future. Its impact if any, remains to be seen.
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