Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review (Guest Post) The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith

 Guest Post by Ernest Marshall

The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, by Irshad Manji, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003

Ms. Manji’s book is both a heartfelt defense and scathing criticism of Islam.  To understand this, a bit of her background is helpful.

Of South Asian descent, she immigrated to Canada from East Africa when four years old, and was raised in a Muslim family in the midst of modern Western cultural values. There are over a billion Muslims worldwide; they are not all living in Middle Eastern countries. Part of her message is that the monolithic view of Islam is not just a common misperception of the West, but a mistaken and harmful mindset of most of the Muslim world.
Ms. Manji’s growing up experiences were a multi-cultural mix, and she went out of her way to experiment and embrace diversity.  She can teach us more appreciation of America.

“Lord, I loved this society. I loved that it seemed perpetually unfinished, the final answers not yet known – if ever they would be.  I loved that, in a world under constant renovation, the contributions of individuals mattered.”

I have read a number of books on Islam, struggling to understand this frightening, confusing  post-9/11 world.  She cast the best light on it.  Her book incorporates, in an easy-to-read and digest way, a good summary of Islam’s history, diversity, and theology.  She points out that the Koran and other scriptures are full of wisdom and compassion but also justifications for violence and intolerance.  (Very like the Bible and other religious scriptures, I might add.)

She goes after the radical, Jihadist element in Islam, which gets so much post 9/11 attention, with hammers and tongs.  This has cost her of course, with various fatwas or death-threats and hate messages.  (My “favorite” is:  “Yes, Allah/God gave you a mind, but since you are a woman He didn’t mean for you to use it.”)

Other books I have read on Islam tend either to sugar coat the ugly jihadist element (as a “mere” radical fringe). They point out that Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions and, along with Judaism and Christianity, hold in common the belief that the first five books of the Old Testament are holy scripture.  We are all hug-and-kiss sibling religions.  Or they make excuses for the silence of “moderate Muslims," and avoid the tough issues of what is wrong with Islam today.

A major failing (to put it mildly) with the Jihadists and much of mainstream Islam, in my mind as well is Ms. Manji’s, is their dehumanizing views toward woman: half the human population, lovers, wives, mothers, and sisters.  This ugliness is also to be found in the Bible, by the way.  Turn to the book of Leviticus.  But this religious culture progressed. The Biblical passage where Jesus stops the stoning of the woman holds us, all men, to a higher, more compassionate standard.  

For me personally, Ms. Manji’s wonderful book addresses two big issues.  First of all, Christianity as well other religions, have their failings, their need for “reform."  It is sometimes easy to forget that it is a Faith not a Dogma.  Secondly, Ms. Manji has struggled with the question of whether to desert her Muslim faith or remain among the faithful.  I have had the same struggle as to whether or not to remain a Christian.  I was an agnostic/atheism for many years and became quite comfortable with it.  But did I wimp out?  There is something deep and wonderful about this world in which we live.  Religion is a clumsy attempt to plumb these depths.

See Also: Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks


  1. Nice review, Dad! :-) This sounds like a book I'd love to read. And you made an apt point that misogynistic attitudes are prevalent in various scriptural teachings, including the Bible. (They reflect the time in which they were written).

    My older daughter Sarah was traumatized by a passage from the Bible when she was quite young. She pulled the Bible off our shelf and started reading a passage. It talked about the brutal murder of some prostitutes, by men they had "wronged," and how this was "pleasing to God." (Apparently when you pay for a service, and you actually receive that service, you're being "wronged.")

    The more conservative wing of Christianity maintains stringent views about the role of women. (At least many people do -- I hate to generalize). I used to hang out in some fundamentalist Christian cyber-groups. I liked a lot of what they had to say, particularly about homeschooling, but discussions of the Biblical need to "submit to your husband" made my skin crawl.

    I always tell my kids that all religions reflect human weaknesses, and you always have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Much of the real wisdom is found in ideas we see reflected in virtually all major religions and philosophies, like the value of living with kindness and compassion.

  2. I immediately click this review when reading your latest post.

    I am a muslim and will remain one as long as I live and books about Islam always intrigues me.

    I hate that quote saying Allah gives you mind but doesn't mean you can use it because you're a woman. Whoever said that clearly never read Qur'an or misinterpret it. Allah puts women in respectfull position, even Prophet Muhammad first wife was a succesful business woman.

    1. Thank you for commenting, and sharing your thoughts from the perspective of your faith. I do not know much about Islam, but I have read this -- that Mohammed and the Qur'an have conveyed a message that women should be respected and honored. It's unfortunate that there are some members of all religions who don't read or misinterpret their scriptures. :-)

  3. you are welcome :)
    It's a sad thing to be missunderstood because of the radicals.

    Before Mohammad taught Islam, the Arabians were burying their baby girls alive because girls were useless for them and mothers were just like a thing fathers passed on to their sons when they died. Then Qur'an said that Heaven is underneath one's mother which mean heaven can deny you if you behave badly toward your mother. Who to be respected the most from parents is also mother, Prophet said respect your mother, your mother, your mother and then your father.

    Sorry for the long comment :)
    I just thought you might want to know how much we should respect women.

    1. I think that's a problem for many religions -- being misunderstood because of radicals. :) And sadly, it seems to be most true for Muslims today.

      Thank you for sharing this information about the Qur'an and early Islam.


Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- reader comments make this blogging gig worthwhile. :-) Due to excessive spam, we are now moderating all comments. Like that dude in the Monty Python skit, we just Don't ... Like ... Spam. I will try to post and respond to your comments as quickly as possibly.