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