Some of our local Hadassah women traveled to New York for their annual convention, where one of the speakers was “Muslim refusenik” Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today. Here’s a report from one of them.
By Lise Rosenthal
I don’t think I’ve been so excited since my cousin got us tickets to see the Beatles in Candlestick Park in 1966. What is it about this woman? There are other voices—not many, not enough, but some—calling for an Islamic Reformation, but Manji’s voice slices through the rhetoric, the excuses, the blame throwing and the posturing, like Alexander’s sword through the Gordian knot.
I think it’s her optimism. She’s not asking Islam to be something it’s not. She’s insisting that it be what, in her view, the Prophet intended—demanded—that it be. Speaking on a panel with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, and author and BBC commentator Douglas Murray, Manji took issue with the term “moderate Muslim.” “The Moderate Muslim is part of the problem,” she explained. “He denounces violence but denies the role that Islam plays in the violence.”
A Reforming Muslim, on the other hand, denounces violence but acknowledges the part that Islam as it is practiced today, plays in the violent impulse. A Reforming Muslim practices ijtijad, or independent thinking. The Muslim establishment, from the Ayatollahs to the Muslim student organizations at American universities, will go to their deaths—or someone else’s—to keep the gates of ijtijad rusted firmly shut. The latter, ironically, thrive in an environment of cultural pluralism, but do not themselves believe in free thought for anyone else. Muslim women attending Manji’s lectures confide that they do so despite overt threats of physical harm and rape from their Muslim brothers.
Manji asserts that Muslim women will be the force for change because they have the most to lose. Micro-business loans to Muslim women that improve the lives of their families will translate into schools for their children—as has indeed happened in Afghanistan. The money that a married Muslim woman earns is hers absolutely, according to Islamic law, and the Prophet’s first wife Khadija was a wealthy businesswoman in her own right. It might work. It certainly makes better sense than pouring more millions into the coffers of the male leadership who, if they are honest, spend it all on weapons, and if they are corrupt, salt 90% of it away in their personal bank accounts and only spend 10% on weapons.
Her book was on sale at the resource center and Manji announced that she would be there for a short while to sign copies. I already had my copy, so avoided the mayhem at the checkout line that snaked far down the hall. When my turn came I said, “Thank you for the courage it took to come here today and to do what you do every day.” She did not dispute my words, but flashed the smile of one who is confident that truth and rationality will prevail. Irshad Manji is storming the gates of ijtijad but she is not doing it alone: although her book has been translated into 25 languages, not surprisingly, it is banned in Muslim countries. But the pdf in Arabic on her website Muslim Refusenik has been downloaded a quarter of a million times; in Urdu, 100,000; in Farsi, another 100, 000.
Beware, Ayatollahs. A five foot tall lesbian with spiky hair has got your number and the burka hasn’t been made that will silence her.
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