Interview with Irshad Manji


This morning’s Gazette has an interview with Irshad Manji, the Muslim-Canadian author of The Trouble with Islam (which, incidentally, is on my Amazon wish list – hint, hint). Manji, a 34-year-old lesbian feminist from Toronto, writes about how Islam needs a wake-up call to shake it out of fundamentalism that has become mainstream, and to modernize it:

Manji advocates a reformation she calls “Operation Ijtihad.”

“We have a glorious opportunity here in the West to revive Islam’s lost tradition of independent thinking. It’s a tradition called the ijtihad, which sounds a lot like like jihad (or holy war). And it comes from the same root, to struggle. But ijtihad is the very antithesis of violent struggle. It’s all about independent reasoning, independent thinking.”

Western Muslims must lead the way, she said, “because we already enjoy precious freedom to think and express and challenge and be challenged. All without fear of state reprisals.”

I’ve heard critiques of Manji’s writing style as overly prosaic and full of sweeping generalizations. I haven’t read the book myself so it’s hard to judge. But Manji herself seems fairly tough and thick-skinned to criticism – which, I suppose, one would have to be in order to withstand the inevitable barrage of criticism that’s sure to come her way for publishing this book. And that in itself, IMHO, makes it worth a look.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ginger 10.03.03 at 1:15 PM

That might be great to have such a life journal like this! People used to
have a paper diaries and now it’s electronics. Anyhow I wish you luck and all the best in your life and work!


2 Hanthala 10.03.03 at 11:07 PM

Christianity seems to be in need of the same, judging from the popularity of the fundamentalist and evangelical movements south of the border and West of Ontario. Not to mention Judaism…


3 segacs 10.04.03 at 4:39 AM

Once again, Hanthala, you’re willfully missing the point. Manji’s claim is that, while fundamentalism exists and is a threat in all religions, only in Islam is fundamentalism mainstream. And that there isn’t a strong mainstream movement against fundamentalism, like there is in Judaism and Christianity. But of course, as usual Hanthala, you ignore what people are saying because it’s easier to just blame the Jews.


4 Hanthala 10.04.03 at 5:35 AM

“only in Islam is fundamentalism mainstream.”

I think you’re missing the point Segacs because I am challenging that assumption entirely. And it is an assumption or an opinion based on no facts.


5 Hanthala 10.04.03 at 5:37 AM

And, of course, its easier for you to ignore that cuz its easier to just blame the Muslims.


6 segacs 10.04.03 at 6:13 AM

You want to challenge the assumption? Fine, challenge it. Present some facts to refute it. Don’t just launch a tirade against the Jews.


7 Eric 10.04.03 at 6:53 AM

Not to take sides on this issue, but it’s not up to Hanthala to prove something wrong, it’s up to the person making the claim to prove it right.

“When the authenticity of a quotation is in question, the burden of proof is on the user, not the questioner.” (George & Wilcox)


8 Hanthala 10.04.03 at 7:19 PM

Thanks Eric, but I was not challenging the authhenticity of that quote since those are Segacs words which can be plainly read above. All I was saying was that if she wishes to make such over-arching claims, SHE should back them up with facts. I don’t have to prove that her statement is false, she has to demonstrate its validity. Essay writing 101. I made similar counter-claims without backing them up to illustrate my point and I’ve successfully demonstrated that Segacs has blinders on.

Concerning Manji: “It’s a tradition called the ijtihad, which sounds a lot like like jihad (or holy war). But ijtihad is the very antithesis of violent struggle. It’s all about independent reasoning, independent thinking.”

Ijtihad is the practice of interpretation of the Qur’an without following “tradition” (ie. prior interpretations from such and such a school). Shia Muslims have kept the practice of ijtihad alive but for Sunni Muslims of all four schools, the “doors of ijtihad” were closed in the 10-11th centuries. This means that the interpretations made by the four theologians representing each school–Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali, Shafi’i–are not challengeable. This being said, it would be a mistake to believe that ijtihad in the Sunni world is non-existent. For instance, the work of Malaysian feminist Amina Wudud-Muhsin on women and the Qur’an is an example of ijtihad. Moreover, some form or another of ijtihad has continued both on an individual and collective basis in nearly all Muslim societies. These are collective struggles over the definition of Islam and they have historically surfaced in different societies during times of great social/economic/political upheaval. A quick look at Nigerian history over the last 200 years, particularly the periods immediately preceding and immediately following the oil boom, makes that plainly clear.

Finally, you’ve got to wonder at a writer who does not seem to know her subject too well. The word jihad does not mean “holy war” but rather “struggle.” It can be applied to inner struggles such as trying to make oneself a better person. Studying, or pursuing knowledge, is also jihad. In other words, ijtihad is not the antithesis of jihad or violence. Nigeria being a case in point, ijtihad there was not without violence between opposing groups. It is impossible to make generalized statements concerning the Muslim world and Islam. Different societies have had different histories and Islam is not the same throughout the Muslim world.


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