The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change

The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change

by Manji


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679312505
Publisher: Random House of Canada, Limited
Publication date: 09/16/2003
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.64(d)

About the Author

The New York Times describes Irshad Manji as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare.” She takes that as a compliment.

Irshad is the best-selling author of The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change. Her book has been published internationally, including in Pakistan. The Arabic and Urdu translations are posted on her website and can be downloaded free-of-charge.

Irshad hosts “Big Ideas,” TVOntario’s weekly show that features innovative thinkers in fields ranging from science to spirituality. She is also a mentor to young scholars at the Pierre Trudeau Foundation in Montreal.

As a volunteer, Irshad sits on the inter-faith editorial board of Seventeen magazine, based in New York. Above all, she is working with young Muslims throughout the world to launch a leadership center that will promote the liberal Islamic reformation.

Recognizing Irshad’s own leadership, Oprah Winfrey has honoured her with the first annual Chutzpah Award for “audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction.” Maclean’s put her on its 2004 Honour Roll of “Canadians Who Make a Difference.” And Ms. magazine has named Irshad a Feminist for the 21st Century.

Read an Excerpt

My fellow Muslims,

I have to be honest with you. Islam is on very thin ice with me. I’m hanging on by my fingernails, in anxiety over what’s coming next from the self-appointed ambassadors of Allah.

When I consider all the fatwas being hurled by the brain trust of our faith I feel utter embarrassment. Don’t you? I hear from a Saudi friend that his country’s religious police arrest women for wearing red on Valentine’s Day, and I think since when does a merciful God outlaw joy -- or fun? I read about victims of rape being stoned for “adultery,” and I wonder how a critical mass of us can stay stone silent.

When non-Muslims beg us to speak up, I hear you gripe that we shouldn’t have to explain the behavior of other Muslims. Yet when we’re misunderstood, we fail to see it’s precisely because we haven’t given people a reason to think differently about us. On top of that, when I speak publicly about our failings, the very Muslims who detect stereotyping at every turn label me a sellout. A sellout to what? To moral clarity? To common decency? To civilization?

Yes, I’m blunt. You’re just going to have to get used to it. In this letter, I’m asking questions from which we can no longer hide. Why are we all being held hostage by what’s happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis? What’s with the stubborn streak of anti-Semitism in Islam? Who is the real colonizer of Muslims -- America or Arabia? Why are we squandering the talents of women, fully half of God’s creation? How can we be so sure that homosexuals deserve ostracism -- or death -- when the Koranstates that everything God made is “excellent”? Of course, the Koran states more than that, but what’s our excuse for reading the Koran literally when it’s so contradictory and ambiguous?

Is that a heart attack you’re having? Make it fast. Because if we don’t speak out against the imperialists within Islam, these guys will walk away with the show. And their path leads to a dead end of more vitriol, more violence, more poverty, more exclusion. Is this the justice we seek for the world that God has leased to us? If it’s not, then why don’t more of us say so?

What I do hear from you is that Muslims are the targets of backlash. In France, Muslims have actually taken an author to court for calling Islam “the most stupid religion.” Apparently, he’s inciting hate. So we assert our rights -- something most of us wouldn’t have in Islamic countries. But is the French guy wrong to write that Islam needs to grow up? What about the Koran’s incitement of hate against Jews? Shouldn’t Muslims who invoke the Koran to justify anti-Semitism be themselves open to a lawsuit? Or would this amount to more “backlash”? What makes us righteous and everybody else racist?

Through our screaming self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We’re in crisis, and we’re dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it’s now. For the love of God, what are we doing about it?

You may wonder who I am to talk to you this way. I am a Muslim Refusenik. That doesn’t mean I refuse to be a Muslim; it simply means I refuse to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah. I take this phrase from the original refuseniks -- Soviet Jews who championed religious and personal freedom. Their communist masters refused to let them emigrate to Israel. For their attempts to leave the Soviet Union, many refuseniks paid with hard labor and, sometimes, with their lives. Over time, though, their persistent refusal to comply with the mechanisms of mind-control and soullessness helped end a totalitarian system.

Not solely because of September 11, but more urgently because of it, we’ve got to end Islam’s totalitarianism, particularly the gross human rights violations against women and religious minorities. You’ll want to assure me that what I’m describing in this open letter to you isn’t “true” Islam. Frankly, such a distinction wouldn’t have impressed Prophet Muhammad, who said that religion is the way we conduct ourselves toward others -- not theoretically, but actually. By that standard, how Muslims behave is Islam. To sweep that reality under the rug is to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our fellow human beings. See why I’m struggling?

As I view it, the trouble with Islam is that lives are small and lies are big. Totalitarian impulses lurk in mainstream Islam. That’s one hell of a charge, I know. Please hear me out. I’ll show you what I mean, as calmly as I possibly can.



Like millions of Muslims over the last forty years, my family immigrated to the West. We arrived in Richmond, a middle-class suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1972. I was four years old. Between 1971 and 1973, thousands of South Asian Muslims fled Uganda after the military dictator, General Idi Amin Dada, proclaimed Africa to be for the blacks. He gave those of us with brown skin mere weeks to leave or they would die. Muslims had spent lifetimes in East Africa thanks to the British, who brought us from South Asia to help lay the railways in their African colonies. Within a few generations, many Muslims rose to the rank of well-off merchants. My father and his brothers ran a Mercedes-Benz dealership near Kampala, benefiting from the class mobility that the British bequeathed to us but that we, in turn, never granted to the native blacks whom we employed.

In the main, the Muslims of East Africa treated blacks like slaves. I remember my father beating Tomasi, our domestic, hard enough to raise shiny bruises on his pitch-dark limbs. Although I, my two sisters, and my mother loved Tomasi, we too would be pummeled if dad caught us tending to his injuries. I knew this to be happening in many more Muslim households than mine, and the bondage continued well after my family left. That’s why, as a teenager, I turned down the opportunity to visit relatives in East Africa. “If I go with you,” I warned my mother, “you know I’ll have to ask your fat aunties and uncles why they practically enslave their servants.” Mum meant the trip to be a good-bye to ageing relations, not a human rights campaign. In order to avoid embarrassing her, I stayed home.

While Mum was away, I thought more about what it means be “home.” I decided that home is where my dignity lives, not necessarily where my ancestors originate. That’s when it dawned on me why the postcolonial fever of pan-Africanism -- “Africa for the blacks!” -- swept the continent on which I was born. We Muslims made dignity difficult for people darker than us. We callously exploited native Africans. And please don’t tell me that we learned colonial ruthlessness from the British because that begs the question: Why didn’t we also learn to make room for entrepreneurial blacks as the Brits had made room for us?

Table of Contents

The Letter How I Became a Muslim Refusenik Seventy Virgins?
When Did We Stop Thinking?
Gates and Girdles Who’s Betraying Whom?
The Hidden Underbelly of Islam Operation Ijtihad In Praise of Honesty Thank God for the West Recommended Readings Acknowledgments

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The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing 25 days ago
What a book! Passionate, honest and powerful. The author who is a Canadian lesbian Muslim says it is time to start asking questions of her faith and stop taking Koran literally.
jwilder on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Well written open letter to fellow Muslims. I agree with the premise that Islam, to the world, appears as reactionary and fundamentalist. Moderate, practising Muslims are not represented in the dialogue. Irshad makes a call to her fellow Muslims to show the fringe for what it is (i.e. not representative of the religion). I was particularly interested in her visits to Isreal and her appreciation of the religious and political dialogue in that country where many divergent views are represented.