An excruciatingly bad read if you are a practicing Muslim in the third world but a politically correct view if you are ‘secular’ westernized born-again wanna-be north American! Correction – Canadian!
By Fareeha Qayoom
hank God I am bilingual and I was born in a Muslim country. I never realized how lucky I was before I read the book “The Trouble with Islam Today, a Wakeup call for honesty and change by Irshad Manji, 2005 Edition Random House.
I maybe illiterate in five languages but at least I am fluent in two! Punjabi is supposed to be my mother tongue, even though I can read it, I can understand it, I can’t speak it. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan. I can read it, write it, speak it and communicate in it. English is the administrative and official language of Pakistan and almost the second language of all educated people of the world if it’s not their mother tongue. Fortunately, I can read it, write it, speak it, and communicate in it. French was an optional language that I took in college for four years, I can still read it somewhat, understand a few words, write a few words but I can’t speak it or communicate in it. (Give me a break; it’s been sixteen years since I graduated from college!) Arabic is the spiritual language of all Muslims. We say our prescribed five ritual daily prayers in Arabic, some of our informal prayers are in Arabic too, our Holy book, the spiritual guide of all educated Muslims is in Arabic and unfortunately for us, most of our earliest history including Hadith, sciences and arts is originally recorded in Arabic – (the first official and administrative language of civilization of Islam – now, its English in the post-colonial third world).
Non-Arabic Muslims (mother tongue not being Arabic) are somewhat handicapped. If they want to look up something about their religion, they either consult their fellow Muslim native scholars’ work (translations and research) in their native tongue or learn Arabic. (Yes, there is the third option, consult non-Muslim scholars work about your religion in English, however, there is a risk that you take whatever their integrity level; they are obviously non-Muslim and therefore bring that baggage/bias along with their scholarship. Some even undertake the translations and research to discredit Islam like the famous Orientalists mentioned at this website – Islamic awareness. No, I am not saying they are all bigoted. I am saying there is baggage that impacts their scholarship; its normal and human nature.
There is the fourth option; you can also look for research or translation in English by some of the Muslim scholars. However, you might not find enough material in English to make informed choices about your religion). Learning Arabic might not be worth it in the end anyway if you are not a scholar because the original manuscripts pertaining to Islamic history, arts or sciences might not be accessible or have survived in Arabic except for the Quran and handful of original books and manuscripts housed in the various museums of the world since its been fourteen hundred years since the advent of Islam.
So where am I going with this? Manji is severely handicapped in my opinion. According to her, she is the product of immigrant Canadians who arrived in “Richmond, a middle class suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia in 1972.” She was four. Before that, she and her parents had lived in Uganda though they were South Asian in origin. My point, unlike me, Manji is probably illiterate in more than five languages. She probably can only speak English, (maybe French also since it’s considered their second language) but I am willing to bet my last dollar (sorry, don’t have any dollars and I don’t gamble. Gambling is haram -forbidden strictly- in my religion anyway! :)) that Manji can’t speak Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Turkish, Malay, etc., native languages of the Muslim world so she has no or limited access to Muslim scholarship on Islam.
She refuses to cite any sources in her book on the grounds that she is ‘saving trees,’ (so why write a book?) however, she assures you that her sources are sound and can be found on her site. I didn’t bother looking up her sources or indeed her citations because I caught loads of distortions (or is it deliberate lies?) right in the book. Fortunately for me, she cited a few passages from the Quran here and there that gave me the heads up.
I may not be a scholar but I am indeed a practicing Muslim seventy five percent of the time at least. (Side bar for the non-Muslim folk who are reading this: majority of today’s Muslims maybe born in the culture of Islam but they are not necessarily all practicing Muslims so lumping all of them together and judging the religion of Islam by the various cultures of Islam or individual behavior of Muslims or by a particular sect of Islam is factually misleading because there is no official clergy in Islam, it’s all up to the individual – by analogy it would be like lumping Catholics and Protestants and other denominations of Christianity together minus the clergy and saying they are in practice all the same. All Muslims get that whatever their personal degree of faith in their religion. Unfortunately, Manji doesn’t even though a number of her fellow Muslims pointed it out to her on various occasions because she mentions it in the book and discounts it!) She persists with the narrow stereotype of Islam even if she finds rebuttals to the contrary.
So what distinguishes the practicing Muslims from the non-practicing ones you might ask? There is no way you can find out because Iman-faith- has three stages of belief – I quote but not from Manji’s book, “Belief is firm faith that does not waver under any circumstance or any condition whatever. It is, therefore, the very foundation for Iman bil Haq. But there can be differences in proportion to differences of grades of believers, and it is called, Ilum ul Yaqeen, Ain ul Yaqeen and Haq ul Yaqeen. If on any subject, knowledge against ignorance is derived by means of reason to the extent that there is no scope left for doubt or wavering, it is ilum ul yaqeen (belief by knowledge). And if such yaqeen (belief) goes beyond to witnessing and feeling it and fully corresponds fully with reason, the belief so achieved is ain ul yaqeen, (belief by seeing and witnessing). Having achieved ilum ul yaqeen as well as ain ul yaqeen, human nature sometimes desires more belief by seeing the reality of it. If this is attained to satisfaction, the stage is that of haq ul yaqeen (true belief).” Unquote, p 177, Stories from the Quran, Vol 1 by Maulana Hifz-ur-Rehman Sevharvi, Idara-e-Islamiat 2000, original language Urdu.
Most Muslims don’t get past the first or second stages of faith all their lives, speaking for myself, I have crossed to the third stage since a while back meaning Islam is a religion of choice for me, in Christian terms; you would probably call me a born-again Muslim! 🙂 – I have firm faith and belief beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a indeed a God who is the true Lord of the worlds, and Muhammad was indeed his last prophet and true messenger, however, its walking the talk every second of every day that is the problem, hence, my self-professed score of 75 percent. Probably, I am being too nice to myself; its hard work being morally upright all the time – nobody is that perfect or that consistent or you have to be a saint and I am certainly no saint! – It’s a game of inches. You win a few, you lose a few. God probably will give me a lower score. The point is; Islam gives you a complete morality code – Furqan– (criterion), there are no ifs and buts or maybes. There are only absolute choices. You have to make moral and ethical choices based on the Quaranic criterion all the time because God is indeed watching you and there will be accountability and a life after death – in other words, do the right thing no matter what, regardless if it’s a majority decision or a minority decision or is for or against the current society norms. Majority of Muslims obviously fall short, especially today’s Muslims who do not have access to formal education and therefore their intellectual heritage, have been under the colonial rule for the past two centuries and have stopped using their native languages for scholarship and research and therefore have lost touch with their history, heritage, arts and sciences traditions and are now under corrupt, secular democracies or dictatorships and fall in the world’s majority of poor, earning less than a dollar. On top of that, new fangled ideas imported from the west or invading cultures have also changed their cultures forever. Muslims don’t live in a vacuum. They live in this world too. Religion for them is a luxury now and is more of a culture thing than a religion thing. We all get that. Nobody has to explain it to us. I guess, an observer like Manji might not know it or get it in spite of being on the fringes of Islam.
Manji by her own account assimilated and integrated in the host culture pretty quickly. Her native so called Muslim culture had no role to play even in her earliest memories. She lived in Uganda (Based on Wikipedia, “according to the census of 2002, Christians made up about 84% of Uganda’s population. The Roman Catholic Church has the largest number of adherents (41.9%), followed by the Anglican Church of Uganda (35.9%). The next most reported religion of Uganda is Islam, with Muslims representing 12% of the population” maybe in the 70s, Muslims might have been in majority, (the question is where did they go?) because she says, “I can only guess that unyielding hierarchy would have been my lot if we’d stayed in the confines of Muslim Uganda”) till she was four and in Canada after that. Both are predominantly non-Muslim countries if you look at the demographics. Her father was a bigot and an abusive man. He beat servants (in Uganda) and was frequently abusive to her (in Canada). Once, he pulled a knife on her, though she ran away before any damage could be done. However, there is no evidence to support that God, Quran or indeed Hadith played any role in their household or everyday life.
She says her mother is a “devout Muslim” but again she offers no evidence to support this statement. Devout Muslims don’t leave the teaching of religious values to dubious teachers or churches or schools as it happened to her, (the first four years she was enrolled in a Church – Rose of a Sharon Baptist Church because they offered free babysitting services and then when she was eight, she got switched to an Islamic madressa –school- because she won the award of most promising Christian!) The devout and religious parents lead their kids by example and teach them the basic moral values, concept of right from wrong, their concept in God, they offer the Quran and Hadith in case they are Muslims and teach the ritual prayers to their children to get them familiar with their religion from their early childhood. They also make sure their children get a well-rounded education. The children take it from there. It’s up to them if they will follow or not when they grow up. That’s all you can do as parents.
Today, she is a proud lesbian, (figures, gruesome childhood and abusive father!), a TV journalist and a published writer. By the way, God (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) doesn’t approve of homosexuality. He reportedly destroyed Prophet Lot’s people because of this sin. She calls majority of Muslims hypocritical but isn’t it a case of pot calling the kettle black? (I am no homophobe. I believe in freedom of religion(s), beliefs and individualism. I am just making a point here) – only one who is prefect can throw stones. Since she is defying God herself by her openly defiant (gay) behavior when it comes to her ‘ice-thin’ non-existent religion, she has no leg to stand on when she says, quote “when non-Muslims beg us to speak up, I hear you gripe that we shouldn’t have to explain the behavior of other Muslims. Yet when we’re misunderstood, we fail to see it’s precisely because we haven’t given people a reason to think differently about us. On top of that, when I speak publicly about our failings, the very Muslims who detect stereotyping at every turn then stereotype me as a sell-out; a sellout to what? To moral clarity? To common decency? To civilization?” unquote.
I found her book boring, long winded, superficial, inaccurate, flimsy and yes politically-correct but only if you happen to be a fully integrated, assimilated Canadian or secularized westernized liberal Muslim who has no clue about your religion or history. In an effort to not sound anti-Semitic, she sounds anti-Muslim – if she didn’t make her “thin-ice” “hanging by her finger nails” religion clear, I would be forgiven for taking her for a non-Muslim Missionary-orientalist journalist bent on discrediting Islam in comparison to New Testament and Old Testament! Most of the criticisms she levels at Islam are usually raised by those particular set of non-Muslims. However, they are usually trying to discredit Islam and are in direct competition with it when it comes to converting the faithful!
Yeah, you guessed it- missionaries on a mission. Essential newsflash -the Muslims are already technically Jews and Unitarian Christians – no need to convert the converted! They already believe in one God, his prophets including Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus and Virgin Mary including host of others, the ten commandments, sacred texts including Torah, Psalms, Gospel or as they call it Injeel, angels including the holy spirit or archangel Gabriel, life after death, concept of heaven and hell, and Judgment day. The problem is the Jews and the Christians respectively. They don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah or Muhammad was the last prophet and messenger when it comes to Jews. The Christians on the other hand believe in Trinity – The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and they don’t believe in Prophet Muhammad. The Jews are not interested in converting the Muslims – they are into ruling the world since they are the chosen ones and God chose them to be the natural leaders of the world. They’d rather keep their lineage and tribe pure, thank you very much, while they wait for the Messiah, in the meantime, the Christian missionaries go on missions all over the Muslim world, trying to convert the converted to their version of Islam – correction – Christianity. Unfortunately, Muslims are still not buying it. As far as Muslims are concerned, it’s all good. They have nothing to prove. You don’t see Muslim missions setting up or going on religious missions all over the world to convert the hordes (of Jews and Christians) – do you?
The gist of her thesis being that the problem with Islam is the Quran! There are numerous distortions (deliberate or because of ignorance – I leave it up to you to decide) to do with the Quran and its dissemination, its “contradictions” and “imperfections,” (not my personal experience with Quran, I don’t find contradictions or imperfections in the Quran plus I know my Islamic history so I know Quran was available and accessible in living memory form –hifze Quran- numbering in hundreds and on parchments since its revelation onwards, the chronology and numbers were assigned to each verse (ayat) and chapter (Surah) according to God’s instructions in the prophet’s time, the third caliph Usman recalled the various parchments and issued a single unified written script in book form with official copies -there was no printing presses at the time, it had to be done manually- to all regions of Muslim empire as a lot of non-Arabs were getting converted to Islam and he was worried the faraway Muslims might not get the correctly collated version of the holy book!), she also objects to Islam’s monotheistic roots shared with Judaism and Christianity (she forgets Zoroastrianism!-or maybe she didn’t know about it?- And countless other religions of the world too because Islam contends that it’s the original religion and has been around since the beginning of time – Adam onwards!) And the prophet most certainly borrowing from the Jews and Christian traditions according to her meager understanding, (God refutes this in Quran by saying that the Prophet was not a madman or a sorcerer or indeed a poet – she should read history of Islam and Surah Kahf – chapter no. 18 again. The Jews set a test for the prophet – they asked three questions that they were sure only they knew the answer to and God replied to them, giving them obscure details that shut them up forever!), the unfairness of tax (Jazia) earlier Muslims charged non-Muslims especially Jews in their lands (who broke peace treaties, aided and abetted enemies in times of trouble and wars and even fought wars with the Muslims and were defeated eventually at Khaybar and ended up being tenant farmers for Muslims –instead of being slaughtered as was the medieval practice before Islam- they had to pay 50% in harvest as tax especially when they didn’t even own Khaybar anymore, Muslims did! (Boohoo) Maybe by the same token, Canada shouldn’t tax her because she is a Muslim?!), the role of women in Islam (for example, she asks why can’t women lead prayer? I found the question so silly that I felt like banging my head against a wall. This was a pure Mr Bean moment – Because of their biology obviously, women of child bearing age are exempt from ritual five daily prayers on certain days every month (menstruation), the imam (prayer leader) has to lead the prayers 24/7 without getting time off, besides, women would require a chaperone on certain occasions as they can’t be left alone with single marriageable men including cousins for reasons of safety and protection and because men can’t help being men, you don’t have to separate or segregate the sexes, only chaperone them so there would and should always be mixed groups at the workplaces or at the hospitals or in the armies or any other situation of that nature where it involves both sexes of single marriageable ages! – So preaching and prophet hood was out obviously! If Virgin Mary had been a man, she definitely would have been a prophet – she has been given the same reverent treatment as some of the greatest prophets in the Quran – Don’t forget that according to Islam there were 124,000 prophets and messengers in total sent to humanity -all nations- of the world at various times in history between Adam and Muhammad. Duh!) the role of slaves in Islam (so what was Hadrat Bilal and his special place in history of Islam, or for that matter, Hadrat Zayd who was more like an adopted son to our prophet than a slave before he freed him when he accepted Islam or countless other stories that litter Islamic history – are they all anomalies?), the role of dogs in Islam (I had never even heard of the stuff she narrated as pure Islam! “Dogs are dirty creatures. If you must use as guards, hold your nose. Under no circumstances should you pat one…” page 80.), the rise of arts and sciences and the renaissance of Europe being all down to Jews and Christians employed in high places by Muslims but that too apparently reeks of Muslims intolerance to Jews and Christians according to her since the renaissance of Europe or the golden age of Islam would not have been possible without them! (On page 65 she says, quote “let me highlight a handful of Islam’s contributions to western culture. The guitar. Cough syrup. The university. Algebra. Mocha coffee. And the expression Ole! Which has its root in Allah!” unquote. Furthermore, she should name a few Muslims sitting in highly influential and visible places in non-Muslim lands and then tell me western cultures believe in pluralism and freedom of religion and human rights. It’s popularly known as a double standard, she probably won’t be able to think of a single instance – but hey, it doesn’t apply to them, only us. I can name one highly influential non-Muslim sitting in highly influential place in recent history for example. Saddam Hussain’s foreign minister – Tariq Aziz. He is an Arab Christian. I am no fan of Saddam Hussain. I think he was corrupt and played traitor to his own people and therefore, was no poster child for Islam. I am again making a point here and just saying the worst of the worst Muslims (majority, exceptions are there in every culture and religion) don’t discriminate non-Muslims on their religion when they are in a position of power – indeed, why would they? They believe humanity is all created equal in the sight of God. God doesn’t care if you are a man or a woman, rich or poor, intelligent or dumb according to Islam; He only cares about the degree of pure heartedness (Taqwa, Qalb-e-Saleem) you bring Him.
She also objects to women having to wear a girdle over clothes to visit dome of the rock – again, I had never heard of that one before, maybe it’s only the Arabs or Palestinian Arabs who came up with that one? The interfaith conflict with Jews and Muslims or in other words, Israel and Palestine conflict is because of Muslims’ anti-Semitic tendencies -Chapter 4 to 6 – (by the way, another essential news flash for Manji – Judaism officially doesn’t recognize Prophet Ishmael. According to the Old Testament, Hager was a slave girl and a concubine to boot of Prophet Abraham and Ishmael was his illegitimate son and therefore, Arabs who trace their lineage from him to Abraham don’t actually count and are not included in God’s promise and don’t deserve the promised land! Hence the natives -Palestinian Arabs- having to leave their homes for Israel and the current forcible Jewish settlements on originally Palestinian territories – I don’t know who is the real bigot here – Muslims or Jews – do you? Besides, Muslims revere the prophet Abraham and don’t consider Hager a concubine but a much loved wife. They also believe the practice of polygamy was acceptable in Prophet Abraham’s time – in fact, polygamy is still acceptable in Islam provided you confine yourself to just 4 and not take limitless wives or girl friends as was done before the advent of Islam – by the way, there is no room for pre-marital or extra-marital relationships between men and women in Islam – you have to tie the knot legally and secure all heirs’ inheritance regardless – women have great respect in Islam and toying with their affections is simply not permissible. All such relationships have to be out in the open in the full glare of society and legally tied), and countless other distortions I have forgotten to list here. There is no point refuting each and every distortion point by point. It will require another thesis and professional scholarship- Unfortunately; I am no scholar, just an ordinary Muslim plus I have never written such a long article before! I am getting kind of tired of her so called facts. You must be too. All I know is, any good journalist worth her salt knows any story she files under her byline better have rock solid sources and her story can only be as good as her sources. Unfortunately, she only consulted non-Muslim sources to look up Islam in her quest to understand it. It’s like you going to the potter to learn the art of painting portraits! They might both technically be in the same profession – arts, but the specialty is hardly the same. I don’t get it. Do you?
To give you a taste, here is one example of her various distortions (or genuine misunderstanding because of ignorance and limited access to Muslim sources on Islam): She quotes the Quran on page 46 of her book, quote – “Go, then, into your fields, when you please. Do good works and fear God” Unquote. She doesn’t give you the chapter or verse but I can give you that. Its 2:223, the translation I consulted is by Saheeh International, as follows: quote “Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers” Unquote and by Yusuf Ali as follows, quote, “223. Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe,” unquote. I also happened to listen to an Urdu translation of the same verse which actually reaffirmed the first translation I gave you. I added the bold on all three translations, (one given by Manji, two given by me) basically, “when” and “how” means two different things in English and the context of the verse changes entirely if one or the other is used or if it’s used together. On top of that, each verse of the Quran has a reference to the context in the Quran and hadith; God explains the same concept at least twice in the Quran so the best reference to context is Quran itself – hadith is the second most important document in the religion of Islam. (another side bar for non-Muslim readers who are reading this – Hadith is the tradition or history recorded of the event by countless narrators who witnessed that particular event as eye witnesses and retold them to their families and friends so a chain of recordings or narrations can be linked to the original source by multiple sources – a hadith is deemed weak if the chain breaks or we are missing multiple sources that link the narration to the original eye witness accounts). This particular verse has reference to the context too. The companion of the prophet who raised this issue was worried about his particular methodology, (not the timing or frequency) and he asked the prophet if he was doing the right thing, before the prophet could reply, this particular verse was revealed to him by God. Most of the educated practicing Muslims understand that. Also do read “Translating the Untranslatable: A Survey of English Translations of the Quran by A.R. Kidwai.
Manji without doing full research launches into her rant as follows, quote “are women partners or property? Partners, insists Jamal Badawi, a renowned Quranic scholar. He assures me that this ‘sexually enlightened’ verse serves as a defense of foreplay. Like fields, women need tender, loving care in order to turn sperm into real human beings. The farmer’s seed is worthless unless you have the fertile land that will give it growth,’ Badawi says, looking quite satisfied with his progressive explanation. But he has only addressed the words, ‘go into your fields.’ What about the words ‘when’ you please’? Doesn’t that qualifier give men undue power? The question remains: which paradigm does Allah advocate – Adam and Eve as equals, or women as land to be ploughed, (excuse me, stroked) on a whim?” unquote. So by the same token, Manji, does that mean the farmer can plant anything at any time and the planting seasons don’t matter in the larger scheme of things? And it’s not really important to prepare the land before the planting? Besides, we all know the legends of farmers loving their lands to the exclusion of everything else. Most farmers love their lands, take care of them and never part with them if they can help it. Still think it’s a bad analogy? Let me answer this question for her again, wives are considered as partners and not property in Islam, hence the warning at the end of the verse she cited (2:223) – exploitation and abuse of power is not allowed. There will be accountability and God is indeed watching and waiting for us to return to Him. All she had to do was consult all verses on the subject and connect the dots to form the correct picture.
Also let’s put another issue at rest for Manji right here. Islam doesn’t consider a man and woman equal. It considers them of the same species and complementary to each other, however, one could be superior over the other depending on whichever quality you are looking at when examining the relationship between the sexes. In other words, women are better at some stuff and men are better at other stuff. It depends. They have reciprocal rights on each other. “Husbands and wives are like each other’s dress ensemble” according to another ayat in the Quran. This time I am leaving it up to you to look it up. 😉 (Sorry, can’t remember the verse number(s) and Chapter(s) right now.)
Most of the mainstream Muslims have continued to ignore her book since its first edition back in 2003, let alone debate or pass on her message to their fellow Muslims. Before I picked it up by chance at Readings on August 19th, 2010, I had never heard of it (comment no. 18, dated August 20th, 2010). What made me buy the book was its title. It made me curious. My initial impression had been that she was another mercenary who had cashed in on the popular trend of Islam bashing in the west to move her book off the shelves- a purely commercial book containing plenty of controversy. (I wasn’t far wrong – was I?) She calls for reform and (western intervention!) without understanding the religion, history or indeed the various cultures within the world of Islam. Islam is not a static, locked in a vacuum religion or a culture – it’s a living phenomenon and is practiced by a vast majority of humanity based on their various degrees of faith. Singling out the Wahibi sect (the literalists) based in Saudi Arabia or Osama Bin Laden’s version of Islam based on a couple of obscure Muslim scholars that had modest following in their own times and now because of various “reform” cult movements as a result of direct western intervention on Islam (Al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden’s leadership was started and funded by non-Muslims like CIA -this is a documented fact, there are no two opinions about it. Everyone agrees that Al-Qaeda was CIA’s brain child. – Quote “ Ms. Clinton accepted that the U.S. had created certain radical outfits and supported terrorists like Osama bin Laden to fight against the erstwhile Soviet Union, but that backing has boomeranged. “Part of what we are fighting against right now, the United States created. We created the Mujahidin force against the Soviet Union (in Afghanistan). We trained them, we equipped them, we funded them, including somebody named Osama bin Laden. And it didn’t work out so well for us,” she said.” Unquote. The Hindu.com. — Come to think of it, CIA still might have some assets in the cult like they accuse Pak army of having them in the Talibans!) now taking the sinister form of terrorist movement, 9/11 incident, the invasion of Afghanistan and the war against ‘terror’ and lumping all that with mainstream Islam is no less than slander and requires an apology from the western world to Muslims, not the other way around.
Instead of Muslims apologizing to the west like Manji does in her book, we should be asking for an apology for the Islamophobic, hate material that’s coming out of the west on daily basis which seems to be causing the problem- radicalizing western Muslim youth in a strong backlash to the treatment they are getting over there; this was even before 9/11 incident. Newton’s third law of motion, action and its opposite and equal reaction or in other words, cause and effect theory. In fact, I seriously think after reading her book, that even her writing of it was a reaction to the unconscious or open Islamophobic vibes the western Muslims are getting from their non-Muslim countrymen since and before 9/11 incident onwards, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the so called war on terror being waged on various sets of Muslims.
Muslims in Muslim countries are very insular in the sense of not realizing what’s happening outside their immediate vicinity because we are fighting for our very survival due to poor economies and corrupt governments. On top of that, since we belong to the same culture, there is a wide spread acceptance and tolerance for our differences, pluralism she speaks of in relation to the west (it might not seem so to the outside world since all they see are the seasonal sectarian clashes between Shia, Sunni, or Qadianis Islamic sects or the occasional ones with minorities like Christians if you take Pakistan as an example but all of it is usually funded by some outside force and is usually political and never for spontaneous indigenous hate causes anyway), however, the fact remains most religious communities in Pakistan live and let live and only fight with each other over politics – not over religion. (Muslims all know, whatever sect they might belong to, that they have a fair chance of ending up in heaven provided they do not commit one sin that God will never forgive – a denial of Him, or shirk in other words, so why would they fight? Also they think believing in the prophet Muhammad practically promises them some corner of heaven, even if it’s a lowly borderline inch of it because as holy folklore has it, the Prophet will pray on judgment day for deliverance of his people even if they are the worst of sinners and will not get up till God frees the majority of them. They have full confidence that God will not reject his plea. So again, they have nothing to prove to each other. They are all self-righteous and think they are already on the straight path and they already have a ticket to heaven if they play their cards right – know what I mean? It’s all good. Intellectually there is no reason to fight who is right on this particular point or that particular point or if you are Shia or Sunni or what have you because it’s all minor academic, intellectual debate anyway. We already know through Quran God will settle all disputes of intellectual nature anyway on judgment day.) I don’t see any indigenous movement started by any religious or political leader to reform or suppress one sect over the other in Pakistan by and large for example. The only phenomenon in recent memory is Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization campaign and we all know who installed him in government and arranged to have Bhutto hanged and who used Islam to fight the soviets. It’s an open secret or popular conspiracy theory depending on your viewpoint. We also know now about the ‘clash of civilizations’ doctrine, China’s so called ‘string of pearls strategy’ also floated by USA, and that USA is currently operating under it when it comes to their foreign policy, we also know that USA’s main manufacturing industry is the arms industry and fueling wars and security threats in the world is their main business; that’s how they earn their money. So Bush’s famous question, ‘why do they hate us?’ sounds extremely naïve. Well, we don’t hate Americans or the west. Manji agrees. She seems to think we like the west – in fact a lot. (We dislike their policies when it comes to the Muslim world – they operate under a double standard and majority of Muslims don’t like it). However, her contention, the misunderstanding -its all our fault.
She also mentions her boss passing on a very judgmental note to her about a remote incident somewhere in Nigeria and implying her religion is backward and stands for such practices. She writes on page 37, quote, “In December 2000, an interoffice envelope arrived on my desk at Queer Television. The envelope came from my boss, Moses Znaimer. Scrambling to complete as many episodes of the program as possible by Christmas break, I felt at once drained and in need of distraction. So I opened the envelope and pulled out a newspaper clipping. It featured a brief report by AFP – ‘Girl coerced into sex to receive 180 lashes’ – in vibrant red ink, Moses had circled the word Islamic twice underlined the number 180 and penned a comment, Talmud-style, in the margins. It read: IRSHAD, ONE OF THESE DAYS YOU’LL TELL ME HOW YOU RECONCILE THIS KIND OF INSANITY, AND FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION, WITH YOUR MUSLIM FAITH. M.”Unquote.
On page 233, she says, “instant gratification wouldn’t have gratified me during the watershed moment when my boss asked me how I reconcile my Muslim faith to the flogging of a young, raped woman in Nigeria. As someone who treasures freedom of thought, I accepted his right to ask. Would you? Or would you have filed a harassment suit against him? Was he silencing me or signaling his faith in my ability to think this through? In taking up his challenge, was I self loathing crypto-imperialist or a partisan of the examined life? As a Muslim, how would I have grown if I’d insisted on my ‘right’ to be free of reflection?” unquote. I guess, by the same token, Muslims should start sending out memos to their colleagues each time something bad happens to one of them because of the west’s political and religious policies, (I have many such colleagues including two locals – Americans, British, Hong Kong and Singapore Chinese etc), maybe we should start asking them to re-affirm their faith in Christianity after each drone attack, each loss of innocent life because of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, their biased attitude to Palestinians in relation to Israel, Kashmir and India in relation to Pakistan and the stalled Middle East peace process and each time there is a rape, or a murder or stabbing or worse in the west! (Sounds Outrageous -huh?)
West’s Islamophobia has been exposed recently by the western media – the banning of veil, minarets and mosques, stabbing of innocent cabbies because of their religion and incident of almost ceremonial Quran burning are some of the incident we all know about. These were hot issues debated here and abroad just in the last few months, also reported by CNN, Fox News, Sky News and BBC.
If I was her boss, would I behave differently? Yes, definitely, because, I wouldn’t dream of it to begin with, besides, it’s rude and bad manners to pick on someone’s religion- even if there is my right of freedom of speech blah, blah, blah. Secondly, I don’t stereotype people and I am no bigot, even if there are loads of isolated incidents that make up one scary picture! I wouldn’t hang my Christian colleagues for their religion because of what their governments are doing here and elsewhere in the Muslim world. So yeah, it’s the attitudes like these that is probably breeding people like Manji (in the west who completely disown their religion and ‘hang on by their finger nails’ because the society they live in refuses to consider them full blown citizens in their own right, and continues to label them as that immigrant with South Asian origins but from Uganda and a dreaded Muslim in Manji’s case so she can never shake-off that cultural identity even if she wants to and even if she has lived with them all her adult life and is a fully integrated and assimilated citizen within their culture, and has to write a book to say, hey, I am not one of them. She even has the gall to ask that Arabs should leave their tribal identity behind – (define irony, why don’t you?) And people like Dr Afia Siddiqui or for that matter Faisal Shahzad or Jihadi Jane who is not even a Muslim but apparently believes in the Islamic cause, whatever that is, or even David Headly implicated in Mumbai 26/11 incident…or alleged Germans killed in Pakistan recently in a drone attack or those five American youths who were picked up in Sargodha by Pakistani police who were looking to be recruited by Al-Qaeda. All these radical Muslims are being churned out by the so called western civilization including England, USA and Canada. Maybe it’s time for some introspection over there too. Somebody should ask a similar question there as well Manji. May be it should be you again. Please write another book titled “What are you doing to immigrants and native Muslims here in the west? A wakeup call for honesty and change!”
Another interesting nugget in the book – she also reveals that after publishing of her first edition, she found out about the process called Ijtehad in Islam, one of her readers wrote to her disgusted with her rant (first edition). When the Quran and the Hadith is silent on any subject, the Muslims go through a process of Ijtehad. How do you think the first four Caliphs were elected immediately after the death of the prophet? How do you think the current crop of Muslims have decided that the current democratic form of government is most compatible with Islam? Muslims were a practicing democracy fourteen hundred years ago when the western world had not even invented the word yet! The trouble with Islam today to use Manji’s term according to our Muslim scholars is not a need for reform. It’s getting in touch with our fundamentals of religion or going back to basics. Today’s Islam is like 2oo, ooo Xerox copy of the Xerox copy. It needs to be copied from the original text to make sense of it. Are they wrong? Looking at Al-Qaeda, I don’t think they are. They are very right. There is no room for such terrorist organizations in Islam – there is actually no precedent for it in Islam in its entire history – this is pure innovation. Innovation in the criterion (Furqan) is strictly forbidden (which Manji opposes in her book!).
She is again mixing up the word innovation with ‘innovation in religion’ – a bid ‘at. Innovation, discovery and new ideas were actually encouraged in Islam. In fact, in the Quran God asks you to ask questions, observe, travel in the lands; study past cultures to see what made them successful and what destroyed them and learn, learn, learn, and reflect. This made Islam great and kick started the civilization of Islam which believed in offering peace treaties to the vanquished and those who were willing to let the Muslims live peacefully without setting out to destroy their ideology and were receptive to peace treaties and synthesis of sciences and arts. Early Muslims had no interest in needless fights. However, ‘innovation in Islam’ is totally out. The morality code is complete. Nothing needs to be added or subtracted to make decisions in today’s world. Where the Quran and Hadith are silent, the doors of Ijtehad remain open to Muslims of all times which allows Islam to renew itself for each period in history. Why would you need reform for a complete code of life?
Let me end this post with the same quote she uses in her last chapter, on page 243 she writes, quote, “Let me explain,’ Rushdie said. ‘Whenever a writer puts out a thought, it can be disagreed with vigorously, vehemently, even violently. But it cannot be un-thought. That is the great, permanent, gift a writer gives to this world.’ Words to live by.” Unquote. By the same token, the Quran is a reality – God as a writer has given you a great, permanent gift. The world needs to appreciate it and if they can’t, they need to learn to deal with it peacefully instead of persecuting the followers of Islam by fighting intellectual and armed crusades with them, or trying to invade and colonize them again and again, or asking for reform in the Quran or saying it contains “contradictions” and “imperfections” and “Islam is a silly religion” and offering to have ceremonial burnings of the Muslim’s Holy Book publicly. My advice to the world, get a sense of proportion and learn to live peacefully with differences instead of trying to create clones. Diversity is beautiful. Celebrate the fact. And yes, practice what you preach. Learn to live with pluralism. ■