The noted blogger Fjordman is filing this report via Gates of Vienna.
For a complete Fjordman blogography, see The Fjordman Files. There is also a multi-index listing here.
Irshad Manji is a self-proclaimed Muslim reformist and author of the book The Trouble With Islam. As refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda, her family in 1972 settled outside of Vancouver, Canada, where she grew up.
I will give Manji credit for asking some sensitive questions. According to her, “Far from being perfect, the Koran is so profoundly at war with itself that Muslims who ‘live by the book’ have no choice but to choose what to emphasize and what to downplay. (…) What if it’s not a completely God-authored book? What if it’s riddled with human biases? (…) Having been hastily approved, what if the ‘perfect’ version was less than perfect? It stands to reason that the Koran has imperfections. The rapidity of Arab empire-building would have crystallized priorities, making religion a servant of colonization and not the other way around. Might some verses of the Koran have been manipulated to meet political timetables and goals?”
Yet her philosophies are not always consistent, and one sometimes gets the impression that she treats Islamic texts as merely a fashion accessory. Manji says that “I do not pray in the conventional Muslim way. I did that until my mid-twenties but I realised that this was nothing more than an insignificant ritual. And finally, I refuse to do the pilgrimage to Mecca as long as Mecca excludes Jews and Christians for being on its soil. I don’t need to be religious in order to feel very comfortable to be a Muslim.”
She also proposes that to “the hardier souls among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim university students, interfaith direct action could mean organizing an “Abrahamic hajj” [pilgrimage] to Mecca. If Mecca is too special to be pollinated by the presence of non-Muslims, I have only one question: Why?”
Well, actually this dates back to Muhammad himself, as stated in strong hadith, that no two religions should coexist in the Arabian Peninsula. If she wants to overrule this, it raises a host of questions, none of which she gives a satisfying answer to: Should we ignore the hadith in general, even those classified as strong? This is problematic since she relies on quotes from hadith elsewhere in her book. Or should Muslims ignore the Sunna of Muhammad? It gets more complicated by the fact that there is a prohibition of non-Muslims entering Mecca even in the Koran 9:28: “O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque.” Only the Hanafi school of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence interprets this verse as referring solely to the pre-Islamic Arabian pagans, and not to all unbelievers.
She wants a reformation in Islam, returning it to its ‘clever, fun-loving roots.’ According to the London Times, “Manji thinks Muslims should take tolerant parts of the Koran and ignore the hellfire. Does this, I ask, include Koranic references to ‘lewd acts’ of homosexuality? [Manji is openly lesbian] She offers counter examples of its tolerance but they seem faintly absurd — should it matter what a bunch of people over a millennium ago made of homosexuality, or indeed anything else? She, not unlike the fundamentalists, picks and chooses the bits that suit her.”
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In the eyes of Irshad Manji, “The problem with Islam today, in a word, is literalism. Literalism is a commitment to strict exactness of words or meanings in reading or interpretation. (…) Christians have their Evangelicals. Jews have the ultra-Orthodox. For God’s sake, even Buddhists have fundamentalists. But what this book hammers home is that only in Islam the literalism is mainstream.” Her solution to this is to re-discover ijtihad, the Islamic tradition of critical thinking and independent reasoning, to update Islam for the 21st century.
According to her, “Islam was not always so close minded. During the ‘Golden age’ — between the 9th and 11th century — there existed a tradition of critical thinking in the Muslim world.” She later expands this timeline, claiming that “Between the 8th and 14th centuries, Muslim civilization led the world in innovation precisely because it let all manner of outsiders in — despite the threats they posed to order. The result? Several hundred years of creativity in agriculture, astronomy, chemistry, medicine, commerce, math, even fashion. It’s when the empire became insular to ‘protect’ itself that the motivation to remain robust, and the talent to do so, disappeared.”
But as Hugh Fitzgerald of Jihad Watch points out, “The more one looks closely, at this or that supposed achievement coming out of ‘Islamic civilization,’ the less one finds that can be attributed to Muslims (rather than to Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, or those whose families were just a generation or two away from their original, non-Muslim origins, which was still their cultural sustenance), the more those achievements seem to be non-Islamic in origin. The Dome of the Rock is a Byzantine martyrium — there is nothing especially Islamic about it. (…) But a good-sized city in Italy contains more art work than all of Islamic civilization ever produced. As for calligraphy, those versed in the importance of calligraphy in Chinese art, and in the products of East Asian calligraphers, are the ones most competent to judge whether the examples of Arabic (chiefly Qur’anic) calligraphy that exist really can — or cannot — hold a candle to what, in China, Korea, Japan, have been achieved.”
Manji presents ijtihad re-interpretation as something bold and new for the 21st century, but it is in fact neither bold nor new. The French occupation of Egypt, led by Napoleon from 1798 to 1801, and the general advancement of European power of the age, triggered the first modern reform movements in the Islamic world in the 19th century. Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani was a political agitator who had a significant impact on Islamic thought of the time. One of Afghani’s favorite themes was that Islam needed a Martin Luther, and perhaps he saw himself as one. Some scholars reject his claim to being an Afghan and think he was a Persian Shi’ite. Whatever his origins, he acted as a pan-Islamic preacher and travelled widely, from Egypt to London, Paris, Istanbul, Russia, Iran and back again. In Paris, Afghani engaged Ernest Renan, the French philosopher, in a famous debate concerning Islam and science, where Afghani argued that science could find excellent growth conditions in Islam.
In 1871 Afghani went to Cairo, where he attracted a following, among them Muhammad ’Abduh. ’Abduh was later to become a leader of the movement to revitalize Islamic teachings. A mufti, religious legal counsellor, for Egypt from 1899, he also lectured at the famous al-Azhar University, by many considered the leading institution for learning in Sunni Islam, and introduced reforms in its curriculum. ’Abduh’s works include the Treatise on the Oneness of God, a polemic on the superiority of Islam to Christianity in its receptivity to science. ’Abduh advocated the idea of salafiyya (pious forefathers), that early Islam was rational but had been stifled by the rigidity of later generations. He interpreted certain things mentioned in the Koran, such as jinns, to agree with modern discoveries.
Both al-Afghani and ’Abduh stressed the importance of ijtihad, argued that “the door to ijtihad” had not been closed by medieval jurisprudence and that it was a right as well as a duty to apply the principles of the Koran and the Sunna to the problems of their age. Refusal of this duty meant being guilty of taqlid, imitation. ’Abduh meant that individual ijtihad was permitted, but that it should operate within the framework of what was not laid down clearly in the Koran or sound hadith, and should thus be applied where these sources were silent or only stated a general principle. According to him, when Islamic law is fully understood and rationally implemented society flourishes; when it is misunderstood or rejected society decays. ’Abduh’s imagination was fixed on the Golden Age of Islam and the wisdom of the early believers or “Elders” (salaf).
Syrian scholar Rashid Rida became ’Abduh’s biographer and a leading champion of his ideas after meeting him several times. According to him, the true essence of Islam could be found in the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and in the practices of the first generation of Muslims, before corruptions began to spread. The Islamic umma was at the heart of the world’s civilization as long as it was truly Islamic and can be recreated if Muslims return to the Koran.
The state of Saudi Arabia has its earliest roots in the 18th century, when regional ruler Muhammad bin Saud joined forces with reformer Muhammad Abd Al-Wahhab, who wanted to purify Islam by returning to the original principles established by the earliest generations of Muslims. For more than 150 years, the fortunes of this new political entity were subject to both advances and setbacks, but during the first quarter of the 20th century they managed to capture what is now Saudi Arabia, including Mecca and Medina. Rashid Rida welcomed the revival of Wahhabism, which he saw as similar to the Salafism of ’Abduh, in the Arabian Peninsula, the policies of its leader ’Abd al-Aziz ibn Sa’ud and establishment of Saudi Arabia.
Rida held very traditional ideas about Jihad, which he viewed as a duty for Muslims, but one that could be fulfilled only when they are strong, and they cannot be strong until they acquire modern technology. Muhammad ’Abduh gave a series of lectures on the Koran which Rida later expanded. These lectures appeared in the periodical Al-Manar. After ’Abduh’s death in 1905, Rashid Rida continued Tafsir (Koran commentary) al-Manar, published in 1927.
Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood from 1928, frequented the circles of Rashid Rida in his youth and adopted much of his general outlook.
While studying in Cairo, he became familiar with the thoughts of Muhammad ’Abduh, under whom Banna’s father had studied at Al-Azhar. But ’Abduh’s disciple Rida influenced him even more through his writings in the magazine Al-Manar, which Banna tried to carry on after Rida’s death in 1935. Banna, too, believed that the Islamic decline relative to the West could be reversed only by returning to the original teachings of Islam, and supported with modifications ’Abduh’s ideas about Salafism.
Banna’s organization has influenced many leading Muslim thinkers. Sayyid Qutb was a central member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb wrote many of his works, which have later influenced Jihadists such as Osama bin Laden, while in jail for being a member of the Brotherhood. The expansive Islamonline.net website is owned by the highly influential scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who followed Hassan al-Banna during his youth and is now considered the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Banna’s grandson Tariq Ramadan is a powerful self-appointed “modernizer” of Islam. Writer Caroline Fourest thinks that “Ramadan is a war leader” and the “political heir of his grandfather,” and that his discourse is “often just a repetition of the discourse that Banna had at the beginning of the 20th century in Egypt.” Ramadan has stated that the decadent West will give way to an Islamized West and centuries of Islamic world dominance.
Why doesn’t Irshad Manji discuss the impact of Afghani, ’Abduh, Rida and the other reformers who advocated ijtihad already in the 19th century when she is trying to recycle the concept in the 21st century? Either she simply doesn’t know very much about them, in which case here knowledge of Islamic history is so poor that it is hard to take her seriously. Alternatively, she is silent about the issue because she knows that although ijtihad has being going on for a long time, it has produced very few tangible results so far, other than indirectly contributing to creating the “fundamentalist” organization per excellence, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Manji also praises the tolerance of the so-called Islamic Golden Age: “It’s layered, but at rock bottom, tolerance served as the best way to build and maintain the Islamic empire. (…) Didn’t we have a healthy precedent to emulate – ugh, imitate – in the way Muslims worked with Jews and Christians during the golden age of Islam?” But later she says that “I realized that Muslim tolerance of Jews and Christians has always been fragile. During the golden age, tolerance often resembled low-grade contempt, not acceptance.”
Not only does she paint a too rosy portrait of the treatment of Christians and Jews, she is suspiciously quiet about the treatment of other non-Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists etc. who hardly have any rights at all in Islam. Why? Are they not human? Has she read K.S. Lal’s The Legacy of Muslim Rule in India? If she is familiar with Bat Ye’or’s work on dhimmitude, which she quotes, how can she still go on with talking about the tolerance of Islam? In the essay Andalusian Myth, Eurabian Reality, co-authored with Andrew G. Bostom, editor of the book The Legacy of Jihad, Bat Ye’or dispels the myth of the alleged “tolerance” of medieval Spain under Islamic rule during the so-called Golden Age:
“Al-Andalus represented the land of jihad par excellence. Every year, sometimes twice a year, raiding expeditions were sent to ravage the Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, the Basque regions, or France and the Rhone valley, bringing back booty and slaves. (…) Society was sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines, with the Arab tribes at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Berbers who were never recognized as equals, despite their Islamization; lower in the scale came the mullawadun converts and, at the very bottom, the dhimmi Christians and Jews.”
When the Arab Muslims, a collection of backward, nomadic warrior tribes, conquered Egypt, Syria and Iran, they took control over some of the world’s largest centres of accumulated knowledge. If Muslims succeed in conquering much of Europe, this will probably be hailed in the future as a Second Golden Age of Islam. But it wouldn’t be a golden age of Islam, it would be the twilight of Europe, just as Islam’s much-vaunted “Golden Age” was in reality just the twilight of the conquered pre-Islamic cultures, a faint echo of times past.
Manji writes that: “‘Operation Ijtihad’ centrals around liberating the entrepreneurial challenges of Muslim-women through micro-business loans. These are a sort of micro-investments. The whole idea here is to give women the resources to start businesses, so that they will earn their own assets, and with those assets they can teach their own children. They can start their own schools, what’s happening now in some parts of Kabul. The bottom-line to all of this is that when women have their own assets, they can read the Koran by themselves. Then they will discover verses in the Koran that imams will never tell them about. For example, the Koran says that women have the right to negotiate the conditions of marriage. But women are never told about those verses. This would allow them to interpret them themselves. (…) Imagine if the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, Japan, and other rich allies launched Operation Ijtihad by recasting part of their national security budgets as micro-enterprise loans to creative women throughout the Muslim world.”
I’m not against micro-credit per see. I know Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and others have had some success with this. But I am deeply skeptical of having non-Muslims paying for this, if the objective is supposed to be an Islamic Reformation.
Islamic texts encourage terror to a far larger degree than other religions according to Danish linguist Tina Magaard, who spent three years on a research project comparing the original texts of ten religions. “The texts in Islam distinguish themselves from the texts of other religions by encouraging violence and aggression against people with other religious beliefs to a larger degree. There are also straightforward calls for terror. This has long been a taboo in the research into Islam, but it is a fact that we need to deal with.” Moreover, there are hundreds of calls in the Koran for fighting against people of other faiths. “If it is correct that many Muslims view the Koran as the literal words of God, which cannot be interpreted or rephrased, then we have a problem. It is indisputable that the texts encourage terror and violence. Consequently, it must be reasonable to ask Muslims themselves how they relate to the text, if they read it as it is,” she says.
I’m not a feminist, and I’m not buying the assertion that Islamic aggression will disappear once women re-interpret the Koran. The problem with Islam isn’t the patriarchy, it is the violence in its core texts. Exactly how are the more than 100 Jihad verses of the Koran, the dozens of aggressive military raids by Muhammad and his companions as contained in the Sunna, the hadith and the Sira going to go away because they are read by women?
What about the Koran 8:12: “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers, Smite ye above their necks and smite all finger tips of them.” Or 5:33: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.” Do these verses only need a women’s touch to advocate peace?
If women will make a difference, it will be in bringing Islam down, not in reforming it, which I seriously doubt whether is possible. Iranian ex-Muslim Azam Kamguian states that “Islam is a set of beliefs and rules that militate against human prosperity, happiness, welfare, freedom, equality and knowledge.” According to her, “When I came to the West in the beginning of the 1990s, I was faced by the fact that the majority of intellectuals, the mainstream media, the academic world, and many feminists, in the name of respecting other cultures and religions, were trying to justify Islam by dividing it into fundamentalist and moderate, progressive and reactionary, Medina’s and Mecca’s, folksy and non-folksy, poisonous and edible. For people like me (…) it was suffocating to listen to and to have to refute endless tales to justify this terror, atrocity and misogyny.”
Wafa Sultan, a Syrian woman now living in Los Angeles, made waves after she appeared on satellite TV channel Al Jazeera to debate an Algerian cleric, an appearance that was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI, and watched by millions on the Internet. According to her, what is going on is “a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. (…) The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.” She does not believe that Islam can be reformed, but rather has to be transformed: “Muslim women have everything to gain by a transformed Islam and nothing to lose.”
Yet Sultan has met little enthusiasm for this in the West: “I haven’t received the kind of support I expected from women in the US. Recently, I gave a speech at the University of California, and during the question period, an American woman told me she didn’t believe the things I was saying about Muslim men’s treatment of women. She said: ‘Muhammed was the first man on earth to give women rights.’ I responded, ‘Would you please tell me what some of those rights are, so I can tell Muslim women to be aware of them?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, but I was invited to a mosque in LA, and that’s what the mullah told us.’ Can you believe how naive these women are?”
According to Irshad Manji, “Muslims share in Western civilization. They acted as midwives to the European Renaissance, all the while employing Jews, Christians, and others, who, in turn, borrowed heavily from Greek, Byzantine, and surrounding traditions. Our global responsibility now is not to determine who owns what identity, but to convey to future generations what we all owe each other.”
This is an old and tired myth. The Byzantine Empire, which upheld the Greco-Roman civilization for a thousand years after the Roman Empire collapsed in the West, played a crucial part in the transmitting the classical heritage to Renaissance Italy, especially after the Ottoman Muslim conquest and the many Greek scholars fleeing to the West. It is interesting to notice how closely Manji’s view on this mirrors that of Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ramadan has said that Europe doesn’t have a Judeo-Christian past, that “Islam is a European religion” and that today’s Europe will give way to an Islamized Europe.
On pages 160 – 162 of her book, Manji writes that: “September 11 is a searing reminder of what can happen when we hive ourselves off from the problems of ‘others,’ the lesson being that good global citizenship has colossal benefits for domestic security. Regardless of whether Westerners want to accept this fact, Westerners have to accept it. And we have to accept it now because Arab Muslims are experiencing a baby boom. (…) Whoever denies these kids economic and civic participation will incite a degree of chaos capable of convulsing much of the planet. The Arab baby boom is as much the West’s problem as it is the Middle East’s. (…) Why wait until millions more Muslims show up at Australian, German, and North American checkpoints? Isn’t it a basic matter of security that Muslims heading to these places arrive already knowing that Islam can be observed in ways that complement pluralism rather than suffocate it? (…) the West can’t advance without immigrants. (…) In short, the West needs Muslims.”
Do we? Muslim immigration costs vast sums and has seriously destabilized our nations. She wants us to continue Muslim immigration while France is already close to a civil war because of Muslim immigration. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi told an Africa-Europe conference on migration that “Political borders, official papers and identities set for every group of people are new, artificial things not recognised by nature. Land is property of everyone, and God commands all human beings to migrate on earth to seek a living, which is their right.”
Frankly, I’m sick and tired of the entitlement mentality displayed by Muslims, be that Gaddafi or Manji. Professor Sigurd Skirbekk at the University of Oslo points out that we rejected the Germans when they used the argument of lebensraum as a motivation for their foreign policy. So why should we be obliged to surrender our countries as lebensraum for the excess population of the Arab world? We have every right to preserve our own cultures. We should run much stricter immigration policies, and if we do need immigrants, only accept non-Muslims. I don’t see any reason why we should allow a single believing, practicing Muslim to get permanent residency in our countries. And we invest in India, China and other countries because we believe they have a future. It’s the duty of Muslims to fix their problems, not ours. We’ve done enough, and what we have done hasn’t helped. If anything, Muslims have become more demanding and aggressive.
Muhammad ’Abduh, Rashid Rida and other early reformers, even Wahhabists, hailed the Golden Age of Islam and wanted to return to the “true Islam” of the earliest generations, just as Manji is doing. Jihadists want the West to give money to Muslims and keep the doors open for continued Muslim immigration. Muslim reformists such as Irshad Manji want the West to give money to Muslims and keep the doors open for continued Muslim immigration. So, what’s the big difference here?
The best thing I can say about her book is that Manji is incoherent and vague. She does admit some problems with Islam, and she should be credited for questioning the Koran, but she stops short of dealing with the full implications of this. Her historical knowledge is poor and she ignores some tricky issues. In my view, she brings absolutely no new insight into the question of whether or not Islam can be reformed. Irshad Manji wants to recycle an idea that has been preached since the 19th century, which Westerners should pay for when we are bleeding from the cost of Muslim immigration and while rich Arabs are sponsoring terrorism in our countries. Thanks, but no thanks. The most annoying aspect of this is that her writings have got much more attention than more deserving candidates. Buy a book by somebody who actually understands Islam, such as Understanding Islam and the Muslim Mind by Ali Sina, books by Ibn Warraq, or Wafa Sultan’s upcoming book.