The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 31 March 2009
Irshad Manji’s book is an unsettling read for most of her fellow Muslims, although they may find themselves agreeing with many points. She describes how childhood days spent at her local mosque left her perplexed and irritated; she complains that the Middle East conflict has consumed Muslim minds. She highlights several grievances many Muslims probably share: what she casts as Saudi Arabia’s disproportional and destructive influence on Islam, how the hijab, or veil, has become a litmus test for a Muslim woman’s faithfulness, and the need to question the accuracy of hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad).
The exclusion of women from Muslim leadership is criticized as well. However, Manji’s arguments would be better taken-and easier to follow-if not accompanied by an unceasing list of Islam’s misdeeds. Manji often chooses the most controversial Koranic passages (rarely providing current scholarship for a more accurate reading of key verses), and her treatment of Islamic history is selective. She mistakes the negative fan mail she receives from Muslims who have seen her on television for the views of all Muslims, and lambastes those who present a sympathetic view of Islam, including the late scholar Edward Said.
Manji addresses her fellow Muslims thus: “I have to be honest with you. Islam is on pretty thin ice with me. I’m hanging on by my fingernails . . . .” What sounds like a nifty, snappy, wise-ass opener is, it soon becomes clear, really an expression of pain. Spirituality is important to Manji, and she feels her religion has betrayed her–from childhood onward–and she makes a number of important points.

First, she rejects the notion, popular since 9/11, that the problem isn’t Islam but that Islam has been ‘highjacked’ by murderous psychopaths. No, she says: Mainstream Islam IS the culprit; it is cruel and even brutal toward women, toward Jews, toward Christians, toward all other infidels–even toward other Muslims. Dissident Muslims can be and have been beaten, imprisoned, killed. Muslims who aren’t religious enough (e.g., those impious, kite-flying Afghanis) have been crushed. (Indeed, they were the Taliban’s first victims: There’s nothing fundamentalists hate more than apostates.)

As for the simplistic idea that “you mustn’t confuse Islam with culture,” she’s all too well aware that Islam and such cultural horrors as Sharia law go hand in hand, each supporting the other. Sharia law, you may recall, means honor killings, punishing homosexuals by toppling walls on them, punishing adulteresses by stoning them to death, and defining rape victims as adulteresses.

She is clear on Islam’s hermetic nature: Ask a question and get no answer, especially if you’re a woman. Propose interpretation and be told the Koran is the literal word of God–and that the ‘hadiths’ or secondary sources are likewise not to be questioned, analyzed, interpreted. The source of this closed view is, she says, “desert Islam”–the narrow, harsh Wahabist Islam of Saudi Arabia. Its hermeticism is only increasing. The Koran, according to fundamentalists, can’t be translated but must be read in Arabic (some also believe that only Arabs are “real Muslims”), and the Wahabist madressas (religious schools) don’t want many people to read it even in Arabic. They don’t teach reading but foster illiteracy; their students must learn to recite Koranic verses by rote.

Manji says most “moderate Mulims” allow these and other abuses to continue without protest. They remain silent–silent except, Manji says, for “screaming self-pity.” Indeed, Muslims are frequently quoted in the New York Times on being maginalized, discriminated against and harmed by “backlash” and Islamophobia.

In all, Manji was able, in 217 pages, to let readers into what she thinks is wrong with her religion, Islam, a religion that is never devoid of gender-based controversies.

You can get a copy from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Trouble-Islam-Today-Muslims-…

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