When Irshad Manji wrote The Trouble With Islam (later on renamed The Trouble With Islam Today) she was hailed by the media as a powerful voice seeking to reform Islam from within. But the Muslims were not convinced. Her pro-Zionist stance completely switched them off to some of the important issues she was trying to raise. Manji had written that Jews had a historical bond with Palestine and hence, they were entitled to establish a Jewish State in that country. And the Arabs were committing a big mistake by opposing Israel. The Muslims quite rightly questioned Manji’s right to talk about “Islamist terrorism” while endorsing the historical injustice meted out to the people of Palestine.
The trouble with Manji’s new book is that it is a continuation of The Trouble With Islam in terms of her refusal to treat the state terrorism of Israel on a par with the violence of Muslim terrorist organisations. She comes out as a ‘Muslim Zionist’ giving unsolicited advice to the Palestinians to shun violence without uttering a syllable against the murderous atrocities unleashed by the Israelis. She laments that in Lebanon, Palestinians are barred from buying property but fails to ask what the Palestinians are doing in Lebanon when they have their own country. She talks of outdated World War II Russian-made Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah. But not a word about the US made missiles used by the Zionists to wipe out scores of Palestinian homes including their inmates. And she has nothing to say to Netanyahu on the successful conversion of Gaza into the world’s largest open air prison.
But despite these shortcomings, which may be dismissed as the jaundiced biases of a diehard Zionist supporter, Muslims need to take Manji’s call for reform in the right spirit. In Allah, Liberty And Love she has highlighted certain aspects of Islamic culture that violate the very essence of Islam. She points out that the tradition of tribal honour (or “Islamo-tribalism” as she calls it) prevents Muslims from pursuing their dreams for fear of bringing shame on their families. As an example she cites the tragic case of Fadime, an immigrant Arab girl in Sweden, who successfully resisted her family’s efforts to stop her from marrying a Swedish man, Patrick.
But unfortunately Patrick gets killed in a road accident, and unable to bear his loss Fadime decides to leave Sweden. When she goes to bid farewell to her family she gets shot by her father who was lying in wait after being tipped off by his wife, Fadine’s own mother!
Manji rightly blames the neutrality of the Muslim moderates at times of moral crises and their “honour-induced silence” for the prevalence of such crimes in the name of Islam. She wants the moderates to stop being afraid of religious authorities, adopt a “countercultural” attitude, tap their capacity and “blaze the wide path of Islam.” She points out that it is the duty of the Muslim laity to prevent “tribal bullies” from assuming the role of God because according to Islamic monotheism the Creator is the final judge and jury. She believes that Arab culture — which is creeping into Muslim societies across the globe — is responsible for the dehumanisation of Muslim women.
Indian Muslims too may fall prey to the misogynist Arab tribalism if they are not alert to its dangers. For instance, some years ago this reviewer purchased a set of books containing Arab fatwas from one of Zakir Naik’s so called Peace exhibitions held in Chennai.
The books, titled Fatawa Islamiyah, have several pronouncements that demean women. In one such fatwa the Saudi cleric Ibn Jibreen says, “It is not an obligation upon the husband to pay the cost of his wife’s treatment, nor the cost of the medicines, nor the doctor’s fee, because this is not part of her normal essential needs; rather it is something temporary, so it is not required of him.” But if he pays “it would be an act of generosity, virtue, and righteousness.” (Volume 5, p.184).
Thousands of Muslims visit Zakir Naik’s exhibition in the hope of learning the “correct” version of Islam without being aware that the televangelist supports the killing of an apostate in an “Islamic State” if he propagates his new religion,and misinterprets verse 4:34 of the Quran to say that Muslims can beat their wives “lightly” if they misbehave.
Given these tendencies, Manji is justified in her efforts to bring about a complete change, through ijtihad (independent thinking), in the way Muslim scriptures are understood today. She is right in claiming that stoning to death, the killing of apostates, forced marriage, forced hijab and honour killing are not part of Islam. But what Manji must realise is that she cannot win the hearts and minds of the Muslims by presenting herself as an apologist for the Judeo-Christian Right.