TORONTO — The ongoing clash between western democratic values and fanatical Islam has nothing to do with Islam itself, but with moderate Muslims and non-Muslims who refuse to exercise the moral courage to speak truth to Islamist power.
Irshad Manji [Jimmy Jeong photo]
This is the essence of the message that author and renowned progressive Muslim Irshad Manji gives to readers in her new book Allah, Liberty & Love: The Courage To Reconcile Faith and Freedom (2011 Random House Canada).
“Moderate Muslims are so consumed with western colonialism that they’ve diverted themselves from dealing with the imperialists inside Islam,” she writes in one chapter of the book.
The need for the Muslim world to wake up, reflect and make the switch “from group victimhood to individual agency” is the key to stopping the spread of Islamo-fascism, Manji writes.
Speaking to The CJN in Toronto just prior to the local launch of her book, Manji explained why it’s important that Muslims embrace pluralism and reject Islamo-tribalism, while non-Muslims must rebuff the urge to be moral relativists when it comes to Islamist culture today.
It’s all about encouraging reform-minded Muslims to embark on what the Qur’an calls ijtihad, “Islam’s tradition of critical thinking, debate and dissent,” she said.
And she believes that huge numbers of reform-minded Muslims exist around the world. All they need is encouragement to speak up against an oppressive interpretation of Islam by many of their communal leaders, she said.
For Manji herself, this is a way of life. She writes openly and honestly about how she has always had a questioning nature, which landed her in trouble with her parents as well as with inflexible instructors at her Vancouver madrassah (Islamic school).
When it comes to Jews and Israel, Manji said the Qur’an has much to say on the subject, but many of these passages have been taken out of context.
“If we’re going to have serious reinterpretation of the Qur’an for the sake of religious pluralism” then a discussion about how these passages can be interpreted as both positive and negative to-wards Jews is essential, she said.
Muslims need to stop “being fearful and ashamed” about interpreting the Qur’an in ways that contradict the Islam-ist interpretation.
Honour killings, the debasement of women and the glorifying of violent jihad are not what Islam is truly about, Manji said.
As a book from God, she said, any interpretation is a human one, and thus potentially wrong. Only when Muslims are unafraid to admit this publicly can a healthy debate and discussion be had and dogma about the Qur’an is minimized.
Manji, who describes herself as a de-vout Muslim, said it’s a “spiritual responsibility” for all three Abrahamic faiths – Jews, Muslims and Christians – to create societies in which “we can disagree with one another with civility and in peace. Anything less is to usurp the mantle of God.”
For Manji, this means that the worship of one God obliges her to “defend liberty,” she said. “So Islam and freedom are compatible… one obligates a responsibil-ity for the other.”
As a freethinking Muslim, she said her own community must consist of more than just other like-minded Muslims. It needs to include Jews and all other so-called infidels, as described by many rad-ical Muslim leaders who misquote the Qur’an.
“I define my community as a constituency of shared values, not on the basis of inherited identities. Which is why it is so obvious to me that Jews who believe in liberty, in universal human rights, free-dom of expression and in pluralism of peaceful ideas… those Jews are part of my community,” she said.
Manji cited her Facebook community as one of the “genuine” communities in her everyday life. She noted how her friends on the popular social networking site represent views from across the political spectrum, and hail from all faith groups. Most importantly, she said, they can freely challenge one another’s beliefs and learn from each other.
She said as a person of faith she cannot abide by the idea that there is a truth that “can never change and should never change, precisely because I am not God. Only God knows the full and final truth of anything, so I embrace the fact I have limited knowledge” and remains open to better arguments from others to inform her decisions and judgments.
This position is one of moral courage in the face of intractable religious views, she said.
Manji hopes that her book and the ideas it disseminates – the same ones she promotes on the Internet via her website www.irshadmanji.com, where she also offers a free, downloadable reformist translation of the Qur’an – will have an impact on today’s Muslim youth by letting them know that there are other ways of thinking and speaking “without dishonouring” their families.
“So that they can raise their children in ways that are different from what they experienced,” she said. “As many Jews have told me, this is what God’s work on earth is. This is about tikkun olam and repairing a sometimes heartbreakingly broken world.”
Asked about her views on Israel, Manji said she’s been “lambasted” by both Muslims and non-Muslims for her stance on Israeli society.
“I applaud Israeli society for its diversity, freedom and commitment to universal human rights.”
Having visited Israel and the West Bank numerous times to speak with officials and “dissidents” on both sides, she said she’s been disappointed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent lack of will to compromise more with the Palestinian Authority during his term thus far.
That said, Manji is unequivocal in her belief that Israel must exist as a Jewish democratic state.
“The legitimacy of Israel’s existence is non-negotiable. Israel is a legitimate, Jewish majority state. I’m not for a moment saying that if Israel had done ‘x’, ‘y’ would have happened. No. I just want, as a friend of the Jewish people… I don’t want Israel isolated when the next major showdown happens. I’m willing to call out Israel’s faults quite regularly. But that’s only because my commitment is to the universal message of moral courage. It’s not to a particular tribe.”
Manji will discuss the book at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge St.) at 7 p.m.