Canadian Muslim Calls for More Critical Debate in Islam


  • Faiza Elmasry report voiced by Faith Lapidus -- download (mp3)

Rediscovering her faith has been a quest for . The Canadian Muslim calls herself a "refusenik," because she refuses to join what she calls 'an army of robots in the name of God.'

"The trouble with Islam today is that literalism is the mainstream worldwide," says Ms. Manji. "We, Muslims, even in the West, are routinely raised to believe that because the 'Koran' (Muslims' holy book) comes after the Torah and the Bible, historically and chronologically, it's the final and therefore the perfect manifesto of God's will. Even moderate Muslims embrace as an article of faith that Koran is not like any other holy book and none shall come after it. This is the supremacy complex."

Ms. Manji, 33, says that's a dangerous attitude. "Not because I believe that moderates will suddenly become radicals," she says. "No. This supremacy complex is dangerous because when abuse happens under the banner of Islam today, most Muslims -- even those of us with fancy titles and education -- don't know how to debate and dissent with radicals. That's not because we are stupid, it's because we've not yet been introduced to the possibility of asking questions about our Holy Book."

But that sort of dialogue is not unknown in the religion, and in her book, The Trouble with Islam Today, Ms. Manji calls for a new emphasis on Ijtihad to bring about reform. "Ijtihad," she says, "is Islam's tradition of independent thinking and independent reasoning. Ijtihad is all about critical debate."

In reviving this tradition, she suggests setting up a leadership center for young reform-minded Muslims. This center, she told VOA, would achieve many goals:

"(First,) help them get educated and develop the confidence of debate and dissent," she says. "Second, learn about the golden age of Islam when Muslims, Jews and Christians worked together in relative harmony. And finally, give these kids a physical space, in which they can network with one another face to face."

Irshad Manji suggests New York City as the ideal place to set up the leadership center. "We reach out (to) the first and second generation of immigrant Muslims," she says, "who in turn take what they're learning at the center and create conversations at their dinner tables, in their mosques, and in their madrasas (schools), so that real people are hearing these ideas. "

Ijtihad is a great Islamic concept that has always been practiced, according to Wahida Valiante, Vice President of the Canadian Islamic Congress. Adapting to the requirements of modern life has been an ongoing task for Muslims for the past 1400 years. And in that sense, she says, Irshad Manji's call for reform is not new.

"The Koran's message consistently says you read, reflect, understand and apply," Ms. Valiante says. "Using independent thought is part and parcel of Islam. This is the religious book, in which faith and rationality ultimately find a perfect fusion. So it really doesn't say that the interpretation of this book is carved in stone. It's guidance to people in history and society and it will be. So you need to reflect, renew and find new ways."

Ms. Valiante sees political conflicts as the real trigger of tensions between Muslims and followers of other religions. And to Ms. Manji's charge that women's rights have been violated in the name of Islam, she says social traditions, not the Koran, are to blame.

"I'm a North American woman," she adds. "I lived my entire life here and we fought very hard for our rights as women in this part of the world. What's wrong with the Muslim women? They should get up out there and fight for their rights. If they choose not to, you can't blame the Koran and say what's wrong with this book. There is something wrong with those who are practicing it."

Confusing social traditions and political decisions with religious values is a dangerous approach that, Ms. Valiante says, will not solve today's problems. She says the title of Ms. Manji's book, The Trouble with Islam Today, puts the blame in the wrong place.

"If she had written a book saying, you know, 'The problem with the Muslims. I'd say, 'Wow, Irshad, thank you so much, you've done a great job,'" Ms. Valiante says. "But she's going after a text book, which provides guidance for the last 1400 years and will continue to do so, based on our understanding of what it's saying."

Irshad Manji welcomes the debate. She says everyone has the right to express his or her ideas, and everybody else has the right to accept or disagree.

"Two weeks after the book came out in Canada," Ms. Manji says, " my mother went to the mosque. She fully expected criticism and she got it from the Imam who gave a 'Khutba' -the sermon- about why Irshad Manji is worse than Bin Laden. Afterwards, she got something she didn't expect, individual members of the congregation coming up to her to say, 'I've read Irshad's book and what she's saying absolutely needs to be expressed.' They didn't say, 'we agree with everything she's written.' Even my mom didn't agree with everything I've written. That's fine."

Ms. Manji says today's technologies make it easy for her to reach young Muslims around the world, spread her ideas and receive feedback. Positive or negative, she says, it doesn't matter. What matters to Irshad Manji, is that she practiced her religious right as a Muslim to think, ask questions, and initiate debate.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs