The war next time

Is there a solution to the clash of fundamentalisms?

Although Irshad Manji starts her book, “The Trouble With Islam; A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith,” with the phrase “My Fellow Muslims,” the book is set to appeal to a far more global audience.

Manji is a self-proclaimed Muslim Refusenik, who “refuse[s] to join an army of the automatons in the name of Allah.” Her call for reform boldly proclaims that Muslims living in the West should embrace a more Westernized mindset that fosters freedom of expression and individuality.

Manji started to question her faith early in her childhood, when she would ask her madressa (religious school) teacher tough questions about anti-Jewish prejudice and the position of women in Islam. This attempt at independent thought resulted with her expulsion from the madressa, but it did not cause Manji to abandon her quest for the truth. As an adult, her questions led her to conduct research through interviewing prominent Muslim reformists and traveling to Israel and speaking with Palestinians and Jews there. Manji’s book is the culmination of twenty years of introspection in which she has tried to reconcile her personal identity with her faith.

Manji’s answer to the questions Islam faces today is simple. She wants to embrace her faith by resurrecting the ancient Islamic principle of ijtihad, independent reasoning, which allows every Muslim to “update his or her religious practice in light of contemporary circumstances.” By bringing back the practice of ijtihad, Islam can overcome the challenges of the present age, according to Manji. She calls her idea Operation Ijithad. The solution seems like it’s a bit optimistic, but she provides a fresh framework to try to tackle a problem that seems insoluble to many.

Manji’s book is charmingly written and neatly draws together arguments from Islamic reformists, especially feminists. She makes a strong point about the mistreatment of women in mainstream Muslim culture. The main argument Manji presents, however, is that the Quran is an inherently human document riddled with complexity and contradictions. Manji entreats her fellow Muslims to actively read the Quran rather than uncritically accepting what they are told is the correct interpretation.

“The Trouble with Islam” has received acclaim and criticism, which is precisely the type of dialogue that Manji cherishes. She pleads with her fellow Muslims to take another look at what their silence toward the autocratic Islamic states is doing to the world of Islam. “The Trouble with Islam” is a primer for those who want an introduction to this hot debate within Islam and the world.