Religious rights – and wrongs

The description of the lecture given by Irshad Manji last Thursday gave audience members the impression that they were going to hear from a heroine who has battled adversity in a selfless effort to rescue her faith. Instead, the actual lecture consisted of the self-righteous Manji bragging to the audience about the challenges that she has overcome and spoken up about. Manji claimed to be a faithful Muslim in an attempt to lend credibility to her voice, but proceeded to misinform the audience about what Islam truly is and prescribes. With Western perceptions of Islam already skewed, people like Irshad Manji, who cuddle up to the West and tell critics of Islam exactly what they wish to hear, further contribute to the disparity between what Islam actually is and what others perceive it to be.

Manji boasts about the fact that she has infuriated Muslims all over the world and also claims that she appeals to young Muslims and women. As a young Muslim, I can tell you that she is neither appealing nor admirable; she alienates Muslims instead of unifying them. “Nothing you have said tonight has angered me, so exactly what have you said that has angered these people?” asked one student. Manji danced around the question and never really answered it, saying that she did not know. Taking a closer look at the views she expressed in her book, however, it is easy to see why she excluded certain criticisms from her lecture.

The fact that Manji couches her criticisms in the guise of “dissent” and “multiculturalism” is ironic. Having read her book, it is easy to see that her brand of multiculturalism means that, in order to protect freedom, “we may have to be less tolerant,” and that freedom of speech is “almost everybody’s right.” The qualifier “almost” is used because, for Manji, the problem exists with the periphery that is not “reform minded” – all Muslims, moderate and conservative, who don’t share her views. She continually cites human rights violations as if every Muslim is complicit, making absurd arguments about Muslim complicity in the Holocaust. How are any of these actions rooted in Islam? For Manji, the “trouble with Islam” is Islam. She seems intent on remolding the religion into a version that will cater to her views, but will cease to be Islam.

The condemning of Islam by the West has become all too common, so Manji attempts to give her words greater weight by claiming to be a faithful Muslim. Strange, then, how she attacks the most sacred Islamic scriptures and doctrines in her book, alienating 1.4 billion people around the world by attacking their shared fundamental beliefs. During her talk Manji continuously mocked and belittled Islamic practices in an effort to extract some giggles from the audience. Manji theatrically shifted her focus from human rights abuses in the Muslim world to the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book) and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet (PBUH)). In doing so she blurred the line between Islamic scripture and the separate cultural problems of the region, a tactic used by opponents of Islam to imply that the cause of these problems is the religion itself. When asked whether the source of her contention was the Islam or cultural practices, Manji claimed that the tribal culture and customs are the problem. This leads one to wonder: why has she waged a crusade against Islam and not against the political institutions that give it a bad name? Manji’s motives do not seem to be to “save” her religion, but rather to vilify it.

In making one of her most ridiculous proclamations, Manji claimed that moderate Muslims are a huge problem in today’s world because they are somehow cowardly and complicit. Having alienated conservative and moderate Muslims, who is then left to induce change besides the pseudo Muslims such as herself ? It becomes apparent that, contrary to what she claims, Manji has a specific audience and, ironically enough, it does not include the Muslims who she calls upon for change.

Manji is not trained in classical Arabic or the centuries of Islamic scholarship that are essential to provide an accurate and informed view of Islam. Instead, she makes unqualified generalizations about the faith. This type of uninformed, misleading information is not something that belongs in an institution of higher learning without some sort of panel to challenge the assertions made. It is extremely easy to access biased, inaccurate information (just turn on the news), but the real challenge and reward comes with a genuine attempt to inform and initiate positive change. I hope those that attended the lecture will make the effort to study the actual issues and to come to their own informed conclusions, because those of Manji are certainly inadequate and detrimental.

Samim Abedi ’10 is from Brentwood, N.Y., and lives in Brooks.