CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008
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.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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