Magazine article Tikkun

The Trouble with Islam

Magazine article Tikkun

The Trouble with Islam

Article excerpt

The Trouble with Islam

The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform In Her Faith by Irshad Manji. St. Martins' Press (January 2004).

Is Islam more narrow-minded than the rest of the world religions? That's a "party-wrecker" of a topic says Irshad Manji in her book, an open letter to her fellow Muslims entitled The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform In Her Faith. Clearly, Manji has little hesitation about wrecking the party, as she bluntly expresses what she considers to be the dismal state of Islam. Calling herself a Muslim "refusenik," a phrase borrowed from Soviet Jews who refused to "comply with the mechanisms of mind-control and soullessness," Manji stakes out her position that Islam is stuck in "foundamentalism"-a fixation on Islam's founding moment-which has resulted in "defensive preoccupation against new and innovative thinking."

This book is an unrelenting criticism of Islam. Although a Muslim herself, Manji calls the religion antiSemitic, homophobic, misogynist, racist, lacking independent thought, exploitative, hypocritical, complicit in the Holocaust, brain-dead and militant. She offers abundant examples to support her accusations, many drawn from her personal experience as an out lesbian Muslim hosting a queer Canadian TV show in the late 1990s.

Manji's core message is that Muslim fundamentalism should not define the religion. She argues that this fundamentalism is dangerous, that it can violate basic human rights, that it is not a necessary part of Islam, and that both Muslims and non-Muslims must speak out against it.

Some of Manji's work resonates with the struggles that any progressives of faith have in coming to terms with their religious tradition. For example, Manji's chapter on the tensions and contradictions within the Koran adeptly describes the dilemma faced by modern people who follow ancient texts: "We have to own up to the fact that the Koran is all over the bloody map. Compassion and contempt exist side by side." Manji addresses the difficulty of dealing with troublesome passages in holy scriptures, and the need for open and honest questioning of such texts. She raises the highly provocative query: "What if Mohammed Atta had been raised on soul-stretching questions instead of simple certitudes?" This chapter is powerful, as she expresses fear that only in contemporary Islam (and not in other religions) is "imitation" mainstream.

Manji's hope for her fellow Muslims is ijtihad, the Islamic tradition of independent reasoning, which allows every Muslim to update religious practice in light of contemporary circumstances. She proposes an ambitious campaign called "Operation Ijtihad," which would begin with an international, interfaith effort to back women entrepreneurs in Muslim countries. Given Manji's pessimism about Islam throughout the book, she shows an unexpected, yet refreshing optimism about the far-reaching possibilities of the project. Her conclusions also raise an important challenge for Westerners, arguing that Western Muslims should be exercising their civil liberties to speak out against abuses in Islamic countries, and that non-Muslims should not be afraid of charges of racism when joining in these efforts.

However, despite Manji's embrace of ijtihad as a positive alternative to fundamentalism, it is hard to believe that her book, given its denigrating tone, is in fact directed toward positive action by her fellow Muslims. Rather, it seems to iced into anti-Muslim, and more particularly, anti-Arab feelings held by non-Muslims; indeed, in some passages, it seems to feed specifically into anti-Arab feelings held by many Jews. …

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