Pros: A true objective overview of Islam - I doubt it's ever been done before
Cons: Manji sometimes crosses the line between religion, politics, and culture. (She covers herself, though.)
The Bottom Line: Those Muslim stereotypes are true in a lot of cases. Take those Muslim mouthpieces with salt.
Every orthodox Muslim on the planet will tell me Im going to Hell for writing this.
Frankly, I couldnt give a damn (pun intended) what traditional, devout Muslims think of my opinions and beliefs anymore. I converted to Islam three years ago, and my spiritual life since then has been nothing but a string of robotic movements, dumb rationalizations, and ideas which are demonstrably false. I discovered that to be a good Muslim, I have to basically sit down, shut up, and allow myself to be indoctrinated, cult-style, by religious folk whose only answer to any disturbing spiritual questions is because Allah said so! And he knows whats best, so we should never question him! I got fed up to the point where I dont attend mosque anymore. But while I sat on my laurels, a woman named Irshad Manji was standing up and challenging the entire Muslim community. Her result was The Trouble with Islam, a scathing critique of what Muslims loudly and proudly proclaim to be the worlds fastest-growing religion, and a call for the modern reform which the other two Abrahamic faiths have embraced and thrived on. Naturally, The Trouble with Islam has sparked a lot of outrage in the Muslim community, but that outrage has come mainly from kill the questioner types. The outraged crowd consists mainly of people who answer Manjis points by confirming them.
Aside from her skin color, Irshad Manji is far from a person who fits the stereotypical Muslim profile. Shes openly lesbian, and hosts a program called QueerTelevision about the homosexual lifestyle. She doesnt bother with hijab, the veil many Muslim women insist theyre supposed to cover their heads with. Shes pro-Bush and pro-Israel. However, it should be noted that the most important personality trait of Manji is her willingness to reconcile the good in Islam with the bad. Although she has not yet renounced her faith, its clearly hanging on by a string, and parts of the book read like shes grappling with the internal question of whether or not she should tell Allah to shove his revealed faith where the sun dont shine.
The Trouble with Islam begins with Manji introducing us to a self-brand which she invented to define herself: Muslim Refusenik. As Manji explains, that doesnt mean she refuses to be a Muslim, but rather refuses to join the army of automotons who use Allah to justify everything, good or bad. The first chapter is her personal chronicle of her journey to Freethought Islam. Its a very interesting story which serves the purpose of grabbing the readers attention and getting the reader to keep going. Manji makes it clear that she has a much more liberal vision of Islam than most, and its easy to draw parallels betweeen her and other Muslim liberal peers like Asra Q. Nomani (whose book I havent read yet) and Asma Gull Hasan (expect reviews of her stuff over the next couple of months). The main difference between Manji and the other two is that Nomani and Hasan both promote Islam as spirituality and reconcile it with culture, while Manji basically says that Islamic culture is a singular term which is causing the vast majority of problems in Muslim countries today.
The second chapter is a rousing round of Quran-bashing, if the title Seventy Virgins? is any indication. It doesnt take a genius to figure out what the chapter is about: It makes the argument that the highly touted perfection of the Quran is, at best, a case of false advertising. Manji is very straightforward about her skepticism as she makes statements like When abuse occurs under the aegis of Islam, a minority of Muslims know how to argue, reassess, or reform. Which is just as well, since abuse cant occur as long as we stay true to the perfect text. Aaargh! What asylum logic! Such circular conditioning of the mind is enough to turn the brightest bulbs into dimwits, and dangerous ones at that. While its bold of Manji to make such general statements because every religion has its apocalyptics, she backs herself by reasoning saying that Islam is the only religion in which the nutcases seem to be the majority. (Which, if it matters, is completely true in my personal experiences.) The oppression of Muslim women is a big topic in this chapter. To be fair, Manji starts off by introducing the reader to the Quranic version of Adam and Eve. She mentions how theres no reason for Muslims to assume that one was created from the other, or that one was tempted by the other. The Quran is very general on the subject, saying Adam and Eve were created and fell into sin together, and gives no other details. Manji then counters her own argument by pointing out various verses in which women are portrayed as being lesser, deficient beings. Just to be sure, she also mentions the ever-infamous Satanic Verses, and mentions that the first Quran wasnt compiled until many years after Muhammads death - which leaves plenty of room for human error.
A constant subject throughout The Trouble with Islam is the Jews. Two chapters of the book, Gates and Girdles, and Whos Betraying Whom?, are about the Jews, and there are various references to the Muslim treatment of Jews interspersed at countless points. The message is that, despite Muslims claiming Islam, and Muslims, as tolerant, the Muslim majority harbors an intense hatred of the Jews, their culture, and anything remotely connected - and sometimes not at all connected - to either. (Again, my personal experience says Manjis assessment is dead-on.) The former chapter is about Manjis trip to Israel and about how the Israelis really feel about their Palestinian neighbors. Manji compares the amount of pro-Arab media in Israel, which is rather significant, to the non-existant pro-Israeli media in the rest of the Middle East. In the Islamic countries in the Middle East, it seems that the media is so ardent about denouncing Jews that they invent wacky conspiracy theories like the one that proclaims Pokemon is Hebrew dialect for I am Jewish. The latter chapter explains that Muslim Arabs in the Middle East have no right to play victim as she tells us a history of Arab behavior and campaigning against Jews that most Muslims either dont know, or conveniently forget. Even the tolerant Muslim societies of Islams golden age were apparently imitating tolerance. And they completely lacked acceptance.
The Hidden Underbelly of Islam goes over the mindset of a typical Muslim, and the picture isnt the rosey one painted by Islamic organizations like CAIR (run by hypocrites, by the way). Manji makes references to the current situation for women and religious minorities in Middle Eastern countries, and mentions the ridiculous but religiously sanctioned laws in those countries. She also brings up the Quran again, and explains how a lot of Muslims are also hypocrites when it comes to hating the West.
Manjis reluctance to leave her faith in the dust seems to stem from an idea that she mentions in two chapters (When did We Stop Thinking?, and Operation Ijtihad). That idea is called ijtihad, Islams tradition of freethought. Manji explores, in light detail, the history of ijtihad and why Muslims suddenly decided to up and stop using ideas inspired by it. Later, she talks about ijtihad being a beacon of light for Islamic societies, and offers ideas on how we can bring about ijtihad. In the end, Manji essentially says we have to set aside our differences in religious practices in order to makes Islam the tolerant religion that the vast majority of Muslims claim it to be.
Irshad Manjis writing is done as if shes speaking to an audience. She strikes quickly and is equally quick to cover herself with the arguments she uses. Everything is simplified, and theres no un-necessary writing to fill in space. Her dialect, while in English, is just a little bit different then the kind many are used to, but thats mainly because she was brought up in British Columbia in a suburb of Vancouver, and currently lives in Toronto. There are times when she crosses the line between religion and politics and culture, but she also makes the argument that cultural customs have been lingering for too long when youre basing your lifestyle an such an encompassing religion.
Dont skip this book. In a day and age where Islam is under scrutiny, and Muslim mouthpieces do their best to make themselves look good, Irshad Manji challenges those mouthpieces to practice what they preach. Since I can use countless personal experiences to back what she says, The Trouble with Islam is a true insight into Islam. That makes it an essential read for anyone, be they wondering why Islamic society is the way it is, or a Muslim dissident (like me), or anyone wanting to know what the score really is.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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A Muslim woman takes issue with the contradictions of mainstream Islam and with such issues as anti-Semitism, Islamic imperialism, and the attitude toward women and offers a thought-provoking look at the essential reforms that Islam must undertake.