First of all, some background. A while ago, I wrote about Rowan Williams’ comments about introducing Sharia law into the UK. Whilst I was doing some research for this blog post, I read Irshad Manji’s comments about the issue, and was pleased to find that I share her point of view. I decided to let Irshad know my thoughts my emailing her directly:
Hi Irshad, I am a regular reader of your blog, and thought I would send you a quick note to say that I like what you are doing here. I don’t agree with everything that you write, but I like that you challenge existing viewpoints and create dialogue. At the very least, you give people something to think about. I think your approach is refreshing, because as a British Muslim, I feel the media only gives a voice to fringe elements: either those who vehemently oppose the West, or to Muslims who vehemently oppose Islam. Like the saying: “they kept the shell but forgot the essence,” I think people forget that the essence of true Islam is to bring us closer to God through our shared sense of humanity, truth, and justice. I have read your writings on your blog (although admittedly, I’ve not read your book yet) and in my humble opinion, I think that you are sincere and really believe what you write; i.e. You don’t do it just to create controversy. I just started my own blog, partly because I was frustrated with how the media writes about Islam. We know that we have a lot of crazy people in our religion, but for my part, I’ve never met any of these types of extreme Muslims. Most people I know are just like other Westerners. At the same time, I think as Muslims, we can’t just blame the media, we need to incorporate a greater degree of reflection and look to the problems within our own community. If we take the first steps to demonstrate that we want to integrate ourselves with the West, then surely greater rights and equality will follow, inshallah. I also wrote about Rowan Williams comments before I read your opinion about his statement, and I found that your opinion to be similar to my own. I write about everything, not just religion, but I thought you might be interested in reading about my comments on Sharia law: https://evolutionlondon.wordpress.com/2008/02/08/who-wants-sharia-law-in-the-uk/ Yours sincerely, Aliya Zaidi
Later on, I wrote a rather mixed response to Irshad Manji’s interview with David Frost. Today, I received a personal response from Irshad herself:
Dear Aliya, Salaam alaykum. Thank you very much for your message. I appreciate you taking the time to write and share your thoughts. Because of all the work on my plate, it’s taken me a while to respond to you. Perhaps that’s for the best because I’ve just visited your blog and am very confused (let me be more honest — disappointed) by your assumptions in regards to my work. This is not an attack on you; it’s a candid explanation of why it’s important to read, as the first word of revelation to the Prophet advised, **before** you proceed to judge the author as “mediocre.” You say below that you have not read my book. But in your blog you criticize as hypocritical my “staunch defense of Israel.” Yet if you haven’t read my book, how do you know what I say about Israel, Palestine, the two occupations that must end and why we Muslims can’t blame all of our ills on this regional conflict? If you’re basing your analysis on what others have said or written, how is this any less “simplistic” than what you accuse my worldview of being? Above all, what would you think if I proceeded to analyze the Quran without having read it? Wouldn’t you dismiss my work out of hand? In all sincerity, don’t you think that’s what you’ve done here? As I say Aliya, I’m not looking to be contentious. I appreciate your ambivalence toward me and my work. You have every right to be ambivalent — even hostile. But doesn’t it behoove you to educate yourself before judging? I leave you with these questions. Perhaps you’ll find it in your heart to post my entire response, inshallah. I look forward to hearing back. In peace, Irshad
I really appreciate that Irshad took time out of her busy schedule to respond personally. First of all, I’d like to say that I really do like what Irshad is doing. I think it’s refreshing to analyse and challenge conventional beliefs, and I agree with her sentiments that Muslims need to be self-critical. At the very basic level, she asks difficult questions, which make people, think about why they believe certain things. Fundamentally, she creates dialogue and discussion, which I definitely appreciate. At the same time, when I read something, I have to try and be objective and see the wood for the trees, as it were. I have visited Irshad’s site many times to read what her opinion on various issues, and get an alternative point of view. Although I have not read her book, my “assumptions” are based on her blog, her interviews with the media, clips of her new film, and transcripts of her speeches. With respect to Irshad’s point being confused: let me say that by no means have I formed an absolute opinion on her writing. I agree with her on some issues but not others. Simply put, I’m learning all the time and have not made up my mind about her yet. I base my opinion on what I have read so far, but I’m definitely open to being convinced. I humbly concede that yes, I need to read Irshad’s book, but nevertheless, I defend my position based on what I have read that’s been quoted from Irshad herself. If that’s wrong or misleading, then sure, I’d love to be hear another point of view on that. Here is my response to Irshad.
But in your blog you criticize as hypocritical my “staunch defense of Israel.” Yet if you haven’t read my book, how do you know what I say about Israel, Palestine, the two occupations that must end and why we Muslims can’t blame all of our ills on this regional conflict?
My references are: Linda Belanger’s article Jewish Post & News Q News From Occupied Palestine Article from The Times, written by Irshad herself. I agree with Irshad that Muslims cannot blame all their ills on Palestine. However, I am deeply disturbed by the fact that Irshad has said that she is impressed with Israel’s “democracy” and “freedom of expression.” I ask her, what does she think of Mordechai Vanunu, who was imprisoned by the Israeli government? What about Israel’s policies that forbid Palestinians who are married to Israelis from living in Israel? It just seems to me, that there are a lot of inconsistencies with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You could argue that Israel has freedoms the Muslim world does not, but surely we have to take into account that Israel receives some $3 billion in US aid every year? As Amartya Sen explained in his book, “Development As Freedom,” economic freedoms bring political freedoms. Israel, however, has a bit of a head start, with the most powerful nation in the world propping them up. As Malcolm X said: “They cripple the bird’s wing and then condemn it for not flying as a fast as they.” Malcolm X actually said this in direct reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My problem is not that Irshad criticizes Muslims, but that she does not criticize Zionism or Israel at all. Surely, nothing is ever black and white, to criticize one party but not the other seems to me to be rather perplexing. With reference to The Times article, I agree that Muslims need to speak out against crimes committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. But, truth and justice is absolute. We should not side with people just because they are Muslim, but similarly we should not only criticize our own brethren. Rather, we should speak out against oppression wherever it occurs, and if that includes Zionism, then so be it.
Wouldn’t you dismiss my work out of hand?
I’d like to reiterate at this point, that I have not dismissed Irshad’s work “out of hand.” I humbly concede that I need to read her book, but at the same time, I’ve been reading what she has written for quite a while now. I really want to believe Irshad is sincere, and that’s why I have given the benefit of the doubt so far. At the same time, it is important to have some degree of cynicism. Everyone has their own agenda; that’s human nature. It would be highly foolish of me to simply take everything that she has said on good faith; that is why my approach is to try and analyse different points of view as much as I can. As a strong believe in the diversity of ideas, I love hearing alternative points of view, as they always bring up questions. I am constantly undertaking analysis and truth be told, I haven’t made up my mind about her work. But it definitely raises questions. My favorite Muslim authors and journalists include Tariq Ramadan and Ziauddin Sardar. If I’m truthful, Irshad, I like Tariq Ramadan’s approach because he is not afraid to criticize Muslims, but at the same time, he believes that Islam is not incompatible with the West. Zia is not afraid to criticize Salman Rushdie either. This is another issue that I find perplexing and have not found a satisfactory answer to. By no means, do I agree with the fatwa against Rushdie, but at the same time, I believe we have to condemn his views. Irshad, it’s one thing to be against his fatwa, quite another to befriend him. I do believe that the Muslim reaction to such provocation is highly damaging, but I think we should also criticize Rushdie‘s views, which at the end of the day, are tantamount to lies and slander. Rushdie’s views are part of a wider set of misconceptions about Islam, which we need to address. I agree that the victim mentality is dangerous. Many people are equally critical of moderate Muslims are much as extremists, and it is partly for this reason, that I started a blog. However, can we really completely ignore the media bias? Like it or not, it has a role to play, and I can cite many examples of this, but one in particular:
- Tariq Ramadan, a moderate Muslim, is not given a voice. Rather, the media chooses to report on Muslims that neither you, or I have most likely ever met: i.e. the other 95%. Furthermore, he is discredited as being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, banned from entering the US, and lies are spread about him being a supporter of extremism. Justice? Surely, we have to speak out against this, too.
As I say Aliya, I’m not looking to be contentious. I appreciate your ambivalence toward me and my work. You have every right to be ambivalent — even hostile. But doesn’t it behoove you to educate yourself before judging?
I am not passing judgment or nor am I hostile; as I have said, I am constantly changing and re-defining my views. Irshad, if you want to send me a copy of your book, sure, I’d love to read it! 🙂 I’m not hostile, because I sincerely do like a lot of what Irshad has written. It’s just I’m critical of her position on other issues, and I am trying to weigh up both sides of the argument. On one hand, I admire Irshad because I think it’s refreshing that she has not turned away from Islam despite her earlier experiences. However, the cynic in me, asks would I have really paid attention to Irshad’s views, had she condemned Islam (itself, as opposed to Muslims) outrightly? Probably not. The fact that she refers to herself as a faithful Muslim is what gives her some credibility, unlike someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who calls herself an ex-Muslim, or Rushdie. I’ll end this rather long post here, but in conclusion: I give Irshad the benefit of the doubt, that she is truly sincere. I really want to believe it. However, that does not mean that I won’t question her position on certain issues. And, I’m open to having my mind changed. My email response to Irshad:
Hi Irshad, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to reply to my email. I’m sorry that you were disappointed by my blog. It’s just that I sincerely agree with you on some points, such as Rowan Williams’ comments but not on other issues. I appreciate that I need to read your book, but I base my opinions on what I have read so far, some of it from your own blog, articles and transcripts of your speeches. Also I humbly concede that I need to read your book, but wouldn’t it be foolish not to read articles from other sources before forming a complete opinion? That being said, I have posted your response on my blog, as well as some of my own thoughts. By no means have I formed a complete opinion on your work. I’m open to being convinced. May I say, I hope that you continue doing what you’re doing. It’s refreshing to have another voice raising these sorts of issues and creating dialogue. You have given me a lot to think about, and the fact that I disagree with you on certain issues does not mean I will condemn all of your work in an off-hand manner. Disagreement is good and surely the essence of your message. Sincerely, Aliya
Do you think I’m being too cynical? What do you think of Irshad Manji’s work? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.