In praise of Irshad Manji: Courageous Muslim reformer

There were two Guardian pieces focusing on Islam which I was tempted to post on today.

The first, “Letters: We need an inquiry into anti-Islam press“, Jan. 24, is a call for a Levesonstyle government inquiry into “negative, distorted and even fabricated reports in media coverage of the Muslim community.”  Signatories of the letter were accurately characterized by Harry’s Place as “a helpful list of Islamist activists connected to extremist political parties, and those on the far Left (and their hangers-on) who have made common cause.”

The second piece, a CiF commentary by Karen Armstrong titled, “Prejudices about Islam will be shaken by this show“, Jan. 22, cites an exhibition at the British Museum,  Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islamto argue that a respect for other faiths is central to Muslim tradition. Armstrong conversely berates the West for “succumbing unquestioningly to a medieval [anti-Muslim] prejudice born in a time of extreme Christian belligerence”.

In different ways, both pieces reflect the Guardian’s grand tradition of whitewashing the threats posed by militant Islam and the intolerance towards religious minorities in nations governed by the letter or spirit of Sharia law – and the Western self-flagellation which inhibits honest discussions of Islam’s social and political decline or, per the question Bernard Lewis posed, What Went Wrong?”. 

The question of how best to talk about Islam in the context of our mission (combating antisemitism, and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’) is indeed, at times, vexing.  But, the more I read the Guardian the more I’m convinced that the institution’s greatest fault lay not in its unwillingness to critically discuss radical Islam but, rather, in its failure to champion those Muslims who passionately advocate for genuine liberal reform within Islam.

Irshad Manji, the Canadian born Muslim who I had the pleasure of meeting following a speech she gave at the Philadelphia chapter of the American Jewish Committee in 2002, will never be published at ‘Comment is Free’.  But, her book, “The trouble with Islam today” (banned across much of the Middle East) is a must-read for those genuinely seeking a future Islam which is moderate, peaceful and tolerant.  

In “The Trouble with Islam”, Manji addresses:

  • The inferior treatment of women by Muslims
  • The Jew-bashing in which so many Muslims persistently engage
  • The continuing scourge of slavery in countries ruled by Islamist regimes.

Manji is a Senior Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy, and also directs the Moral Courage Project at New York University.

Her latest book, “Allah, Liberty and Love” attempts to explain the following:

  • What prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from expressing their need for religious reinterpretation?
  • What scares non-Muslims about openly supporting liberal voices within Islam?
  • How did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?
  • How can people ditch dogma while keeping faith?

In Amsterdam, in 2011, 22 jihadis stormed the launch for “Allah, Liberty and Love”, ordered her execution and threatened to break her neck.


Those seen in the video are members of “Sharia4Belgium“, an international network with cells in most of the countries Manji visited in 6 months of book tours. 

Noted Manji, optimistically, about the incident:

Even when they had a chance to run from the room, nobody at my Amsterdam launch fled. Some of my guests created a human shield around me and my host.

It’s yet more proof that “ordinary people” are capable of moral courage. As I write in Allah, Liberty & Love, “Some things are more important than fear.”

Manji’s bravery is truly inspirational, and stands in stark contrast to our day’s prevailing ethos of denial and appeasement in the face of such profound threats to the liberal values we claim to hold dear.

In praise of Irshad Manji!

(Enjoy the following clips, below, of Manji’s brief introduction to the themes explored in her latest book on Islam. Also, visit her YouTube channel, “Like” her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.)




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