Irshad Manji wants to stir things up. The author, journalist, and advocate for religious reform opposes the hijab, saying it “makes [women] a billboard for the most chauvinistic aspects of Arab tribal culture,” and was offended by plans to create an Islamic community centre near Manhattan’s Ground Zero. She is committed to her Islamic faith, but is urging all Muslims to ask questions and hold moral stances about things like honour killing and suicide bombing.
Manji’s new book, Allah, Liberty and Love, is out this month. It’s a follow-up to her wildly successful The Trouble With Islam Today, which was banned in many countries. But droves of readers, especially women and youth, reacted positively to Trouble, which has now been published in thirty languages and downloaded more than two million times. In Allah, Manji writes that the imam at her mother’s mosque in Vancouver “declared me a ‘bigger criminal’ than Osama bin Laden. His rationale: among Muslims, my book had allegedly caused more debate.”
Manji, a feminist, lesbian Canadian, is perhaps not many orthodox believers’ preferred critic of mainstream Islam. She frequently receives death threats, and reprints some of them in Allah, Liberty and Love. But she argues that the focus can be taken off of “bombings, beheadings, and blood” if Muslims practice ijtihad — using one’s mind to understand the world and “exercising the freedom to ask questions — sometimes uncomfortable ones.” Manji emphasizes that both Muslims and non-Muslims have a responsibility to query what is happening in Islam. Yet Muslims, she writes, are fearful of speaking out and acting in non-traditional ways for fear of dishonouring their families, while non-Muslims fear being labelled bigots for questioning the religion.
Manji is outspoken, determined, and, some would say, fearless. But as I interviewed her at Random House Canada’s Toronto office, I was taken aback by her charm and openness. A condensed version of our conversation follows.
Lindsay Lafreniere Your book The Trouble with Islam Today created such strong praise and criticism from people all over the world. Did you anticipate such reactions, and are you expecting a similar response to this book?
Irshad Manji I didn’t know what to expect after The Trouble with Islam Today came out. I only knew one thing, which was that my conscience required me to write it. I certainly didn’t expect the emails from young Muslims in the Middle East asking when I was going to get the book translated into Arabic. It’s been somewhat surreal, but more instructive and eye-opening than anything else. I truly would not have predicted being able to write a book called Allah, Liberty and Love after putting the finishing touches on my previous book. Love was not what I was thinking. I’ve [since] learned that I’m not alone and in fact, there is such a constituency of reformist Muslims who need to be equipped with the “how” of expressing themselves and not just the “why.” (more…)