________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008


Faith Without Fear: Irshad Manji’s Quest.

Ian McLeod (Director). Irshad Manji & Ian McLeod (Writers). Gordon Henderson & Silva Basmajian (Producers & Executive Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
48 min., 15 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 0107 099.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

***½ /4



Irshad Manji, well known as the author of The Trouble with Islam, certainly challenges any stereotypes anyone might have about Muslim women. She is articulate and outspoken – so much so that the windows of her dwelling place (kept secret for her personal safety) are bulletproof, and death threats appear regularly in her e-mail inbox. She is openly gay and wears Western clothing, although her wardrobe is modest by anyone’s standards. Yet, she has unshakable faith in Islam. Her mission, detailed in Faith Without Fear: Irshad Manji’s Quest, is to find a way to reconcile the essence of Islamic belief with the horrible acts of terrorism and oppression associated with Islam in recent times. She believes completely that her mission is supported by the Koran, and she quotes from it: "Believers, conduct yourself with justice, and bear true witness before God, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, or your relatives."

     She traces the history of Islam, highlighting its origins as a 7th century religion which "spoke up for justice," which was liberating and enlightened, and which united disparate tribal groups into a community, an "Ummah." Debate was originally a fundamental aspect of Islam; now, debate is equated with division, and conformity is seen by many Muslims as the only way of maintaining Islam’s integrity. Particularly interesting is her exploration of women’s issues; the Prophet saw modesty of women’s dress as a way of eliminating "competition" amongst and for women. Irshad asks "why do women always have to adapt?" as she heads off to shop for a burqa in Yemen. As the clothing vendor helps her try on an appropriately modest burqa, complete with facial veil, she is reminded to remove her glasses so that the veil can be affixed, and she comments, "Talk about blind faith." Once garbed like any other Yemeni female, she finds herself stifled, both by the all-inclusive garment and by the lack of individuality it enforces.

      Raised in a very traditional Muslim environment, Irshad Manji was expelled from her Islamic school for challenging rules and her teachers. Her mother, who accompanies her on this quest for answers, is open about her worries for her daughter’s safety, and it is clear that Irshad is torn between fulfilling her own need to find the truth and her love and respect for her parent. Manji’s exploration of faith without fear takes her to the Middle East where she interviews a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, to Yemen (and her burqa-buying expedition), to the Netherlands where she meets with another dissident, and to the U. S. where she participates in an open forum on western freedom and Islam. For her, a liberal and free society is one in which Islam can flourish, and she encourages those who enjoy the benefits of such a society to see it as a gift which can strengthen faith, rather than weaken it.

      Faith Without Fear offers an examination of Islam which is witty, intelligent, and challenging. It is definitely targeted at a mature audience, simply because religion and politics are two topics guaranteed to galvanize opinion and spark debate. In addition to the main feature, the DVD also contains five special features, each of which explores other dimensions of Islam in the contemporary world. Teachers of World Issues or Comparative Religion classes at the upper grades (Grades 11 and 12) will find this to be a thought-provoking supplementary resource, certain to challenge student perspectives on a world religion which is having increasing impact on contemporary events.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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