Irshad Manji has plenty of enemies

Reza Aslan has been making rounds on the talk show circuit recently to hype his book “No God, but God.”

In No god but God, Aslan challenges the “clash of civilizations” mentality that has distorted our view of Islam and explains this critical faith in all its complexity, beauty, and compassion.

Irshad Manji (born to Indian and Egyptian parents) on the other hand takes a different approach. USA Today reports:


Irshad Manji has plenty of enemies among her fellow Muslims. Her critique of Islam is frank and fierce. She defends the invasion of Iraq. She sympathizes with Israel. She’s a lesbian and doesn’t try to hide it.

“Then there is the hair,” she adds, referring to the spiky highlights that sharpen her live-wire manner.

What has brought this Uganda-born Asian-Canadian to prominence is her book, “The Trouble With Islam Today,” just out in paperback in the United States where she has been touring and talking.

As you can imagine, a practicing Muslim with such unique views might be a product of an unusual background.

The events that shaped Manji’s views date to her childhood.

She was born to parents of Indian and Egyptian descent who were among thousands of Asians expelled from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin in 1972, who saw them as outsiders imported by the country’s British colonialists.

Her family landed in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, where her mother first sold Avon products and then worked as a cook for an airline. Her father was a carpenter, then a real estate agent. The parents divorced 19 years ago and she has had no contact with her father since. In her book she describes him as physically abusive.

Manji was 4 when her father put her in a free baby-sitting service at Rose of Sharon Baptist Church. She said her stream of questions about Jesus were met with encouraging smiles by the woman who supervised the Bible study.

“She made me believe my questions were worth asking,” Manji writes. “Maybe that’s what motivated me, at age 8, to win the Most Promising Christian of the Year award.”

Manji often finds herself in the unenviable position of defending herself both against liberals and “mainstream Islam.”

She recently showed off her two-fisted style on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” going up against liberal co-panelists to defend the invasion of Iraq as a human rights issue — the only way Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime could be toppled. To the argument that Iraq was never a threat to the United States she replied that this was the kind of reasoning that ignores the suffering of people living under Middle East dictatorships. “In the last 100 years alone,” she says, “more Muslims have been tortured and murdered at the hands of other Muslims than at the hands of any former imperial power.”

I am sure you are wondering the same thing as me, right? When is the Fatwa coming?

She says that when she met Rushdie in Toronto, he told her: “Whenever a writer puts out a thought, it can be disagreed with — vigorously, vehemently, even violently. But it cannot be un-thought. And that is the great, permanent gift that the writer gives to the world.

A professor of religion at San Diego State University says the following about Manji:

“She threatens my male authority and says things about Islam that I wish were not true. She has a big mouth, and fact upon fact to corroborate her analysis. … She is a lesbian, and my madrassa training has instilled, almost into my DNA, that Allah hates gays and lesbians. I really should hate this woman.

“But then I look into my heart and engage my mind, and I come to a discomfiting conclusion: Irshad is telling the truth.”

81 thoughts on “Irshad Manji has plenty of enemies

  1. “But one thing that I have noticed over and over… which is that anytime a bit out of the box and reformist view comes out of Islamic write/thinker their background is from India in someways. I think the cultural diversity in India could be a cause of this. I also think that the Indian Muslims will be the force for reason in the entire Islamic world.”

    Not sure if this is connected but no Indian Muslim has been found among the Al-Qaeda cells — lots of people from every country in West Asia, Pakistan, Indonesia.. but no Indians..

  2. “i’d agree with you if her statements weren’t made from the us or canada. if she were on a tour of pakistan or iran and went about “reforming” islam(excluding her political beliefs) i’d give her much respect” says anand.

    This has to be one of the most laughable claims I’ve come across.. Rusdie’s fatwa sentencing is of course the most extreme example. In this, as in so many other instance, VSN was remarkably prescient —

  3. Saurav and Razib, I also dont have any more respect for Gay Christians or Gay Jews. There are religions in the world which do not condemn homosexuality. So a better choice for religious minded queers would be to convert to one of the more tolerant religions instead of making ‘creative’ interpretations of Abrahamic faiths. I guess as I have gone from being a practicing Muslim to being a Non Muslim, I dont fully appreciate why some people continue to be Muslims and ending up making creating interpretations to justify their lifestyle. For people living in the West, it might be easier to just leave Islam.

  4. Btw, AM, kinda ironic that you’re imposing your version of Islam, or whatever you make of Islam, on Irshad Manji, while hypocritically accusing her of doing the same to the Muslim mainstream.

  5. PS : Just to clarify, AM’s version of Islam here being a queer-free one.

  6. Saurav – step away from the post-modern well and take a drink of ‘real’ water. Is it a ‘fact’ or a fact that water will make you wet?

    *Joke, joke, please take that in the light in which it was intended! I do enjoy your comments.

  7. Oh, and Saurav? I’m with you on respecting IM for being open about her sexuality. I think she is brave to be so honest.

  8. Saurav and Razib, I also dont have any more respect for Gay Christians or Gay Jews. There are religions in the world which do not condemn homosexuality. So a better choice for religious minded queers would be to convert to one of the more tolerant religions instead of making ‘creative’ interpretations of Abrahamic faiths. I guess as I have gone from being a practicing Muslim to being a Non Muslim, I dont fully appreciate why some people continue to be Muslims and ending up making creating interpretations to justify their lifestyle. For people living in the West, it might be easier to just leave Islam.

    well, though raised in a muslim family i’ve never really believed and have been an explicit atheist since i was 8, so to me all religions are (more or less) equally groundless. as a matter of practicality zen buddhism is less onerous to me that conservative christianity or normative islam (that is, islam as it is practiced by 90% of muslims), but all are grounded upon metaphysical or theistic assumptions i do not find myself agreeing with.

    so, is irshad manji’s interpretation of Islam nonsensical? based on a “literal reading” of the Koran it is, but, i would argue that all the abrahamic religions are nonsensical based on a literal reading of their texts, you can find errors and confusions and contradictions in them all. so, if we are going to make gays/queers/homosexuals/tatoo artists/etc. examine the text and hold them to the standards or implications of that text we should do that for abrahamists as a whole. there are serious questions about the Nature of God and the Koran in islam that were “resolved” (at least in the sunni world) in the 10th century-but the very fact that those questions were mooted suggests that the Koran at its base is not nearly as clear and precise as its believers presume it to be. i would argue that the interpretation of the Koran, Bible, etc. is strongly culturally mediated. 100 years ago the Bible “naturally” justified white supremacy, but today Western Christians, Right to Left, would find the Bible as a wellspring for aracial universalism. there are many Christian literalists today who see in the Bible plain condemnation of racism, just as a generation ago they saw plain support for segregation.

    in other words, texts and dogmas are culturally mediated. my atheist side says “you are all rubes,” but my practical/human side says that humans are humans and it is hard to judge what variables people are weighing in their head when they come to a particular decision.*

    on the specific point about homosexuals: there are obvious and explicit edicts against that sort of activity in the foundational texts, but, in the Bible god is clearly implied as lord of a flat earth, and the Nature of God as transmitted in the Koran offers up a lot of fissures that any philosophical mind could slip in to to create havoc (Averroes ended up at the bizarre position of “two truths” as some of you know). so the difference is only one of degree, not kind, when it comes to the mental gymnastics that a Muslim conservative makes in his belief and practice and that that a queer must make. and i think even the difference of degree is to some extent a function of communal/historical consensus and not something axiomatic.

    p.s. can anyone else make a sense of my tendency to capitalize and not capitalize? i can’t, so i’m giving up attempting to standardize.

    • AM, you yourself would be under severe sanction as an apostate in many Muslim traditions, but you have also asserted that your ties to Islam through family mean that you have to treat with Islam and attacks upon it even if you didn’t want to. i think many queers feel the same way about fill-in-the-blank.
  9. also, i do not mean to imply that religious “traditionalists” must accept queers (or any other group). i do find that some gay activists do behave as if other groups within their religious group need to “update” their interpretation to make room for them. that being said, i think the history of religion strongly suggests that change is quite likely possible if you wait long enough, so gay religionists are not fighting in vain (though they might not succeed for a while).

  10. “”? Are you kidding? Talk about crass opportunism.

    Minority rightist du jour…yawn…next

  11. Wow, a Manji fest. I guess the Americans have discovered her.

    Irshad is old news in Canada. She was a hotshot leftist Lesbian Feminist in the 1990s (yes, being a Lesbian Feminist is a career in itself!). She was also the host of the TVOntario show ‘Ideas’ for a few years.

    From what I remember of her, she was an extreme example of a condescending leftist identity-politics intellectual (and Canada has a lot of those). Quite obnoxious.

    After 9-11, she made the same journey Christopher Hitchens did, but Manjified. She is now a professional Lesbian Muslim feminist. At this pace, in 2015, she’ll be a Lesbian Muslim Vegetarian Feminist, and in 2025 a Lesbian Muslim Vegetarian Objectivist Feminist.

    Along with Tarek Fattah, she founded the Muslim Canadian Congress to represent ‘progressive’ Muslims and to act as a counterpoint to CAIR Canada and the Canadian Islamic Congress.

    However, she broke with Fattah and tnd the MCC gang after her book was published. Fattah is an ordinary liberal Muslim Desi, hostile to religion but faithful to pro-Palestinianism (similar to Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star).

    Before 911 Manji had no connection with Islam. Afterwards, she engaged in what she describes as a “2 year intensive study”, which culminated in her book.

    To be honest, I’m not sure why she wants to be a Muslim. She doesn’t believe in the inerrancy of the Quran, she doesn’t pray five times a day, and her beliefs seem to amount to an airy ‘spirituality’ with no focus. Why not be Buddhist or Wiccan?

    Naturally, she has a lot of critics. The most cogent criticism I have read came from Sheema Khan (the best muslim op-ed writer in Canada), and can be found on Manji’s website (which is a credit to Manji).

    I’m more sympathetic than Khan is. Manji is mostly harmless. And it’s damn hard being a Lesbian Muslim Feminist (I don’t speak from personal experience, of course). And who cares if she hearts Ariel Sharon. She’s about as influential on middle-east politics as Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.

    But since the book came out, I’ve been very dissapointed with Manji. On the important issues on Islam and Canada, like binding arbitration and Sharia, or gay marriage, or subsidies for religious schools, Manji has been silent. Rather than focusing her efforts on where she could really make a difference — by creating progressive, if idiosyncratic, Canadian Muslim institutions — she’s chosen to bolster he personal celebrity.

    I suppose she could argue that by taking the Manji show global, she’s making a difference in Sudan and Saudi, where Muslim refusniks need more help than in suburban Toronto. But I think she’s deluding herself if she thinks the Lesbian Muslim gospel will find adherents in Sialkot or Sidon. She should speak out where she can make a difference.

    In any case, there are more influential speakers for progressive Muslims in Canada thatn the globe-trotting Manji. Fattah, who’s been fighting against headscarves and binding arbitration. Or hijabi twenty-something NDP candidate Itrath Syed, who bravely came out in favour of gay-marriage in the last election, and took a lot of crap from conservatives for it. Or the folks who brought Tariq Ramadan to Ottawa last month.

    There are real progressives who are also Muslims working on issues that matter to real people. Manji, like the pope-fighting Hitchens, is good light entertainment; not to be confused with the real thing.

  12. Ok, I read the Tucker Carlson transcript. This bit is really stupid

    Even though the Koran says that no matter which way you turn, east or west, there is the face of god, why are we told that the only direction in which we can pray, when we do pray, is the direction of Mecca?

    Of all the issues to champion, she chooses this? I liked her anti-anti-semitism bit though.

    (I had no idea Tucker Carlson was back on TV. Is he still hurting America? Did he ever respond to Jon Stewart? Or is this show an attempt at penance?)

  13. Am I the only Indian American here who actually agress with Dinesh D’Souza on most accounts?

    He came here, liked what he saw, and stayed. Is that unlike most of us here? Sure, America has problems (which place doesn’t?), but it seems we are benefitting from the place alot more than we are suffering from it. And at any rate…. we all know we have another “home” we can go back to at any time, right? So how come none of us are going?

  14. The trouble with Irshad is that instead of creating her own religion she just decides to hijack another to gain maximum popularity and dollars. It is inconceivable that shes a Muslim. Ive yet to meet a Muslim who thinks and says otherwise. She is an embarassment to the Muslims especially those from India. We Muslims of India have nothing whatsoever with cheap gay trash like her.

  15. cheap gay trash like her

    you can state your dislike for a person, your disareement with whom or how they love and your opinion on their character without resorting to shit like this. just a thought.

  16. I found Irshad’s book “The Trouble with Islam” thought provoking but also somewhat hectoring and proselytising – I guess she is north American though. For all Irsahd’s good work at pointing out things that Muslims need to start addressing which I agree with – such as misogyny, terrorism, anti Semitism and homophobia – she does make a lot of sweeping generalisations about Muslims from her own experiences which aren’t necessarily true for all or even the majority of Muslims, e.g. she claims that all the Muslims in Uganda beat their black servants. Irshad needs more balance.

    Whilst I agree with some of her religious analysis, her political analysis was incredibly naive. Western imperialism might not always have the same observable callousness as Islamic fundamentalism (although it is worth remembering the slave trade, the building of the Suez canal by western powers which cost hundreds of thousands of Muslim lives, the fact that the worst famine in India’s history costing millions of lives happened as a result of Britain’s dogmatic adherance to the free market system which she seems such an uncritical champion of) but it does affect and screw up quite as many (if not more) lives than Islamic fundamentalism.

    I’m not for Islamic fundamentalism at all (being gay and apostate) but let’s not have a love affair with western imperialism either. Open both your eyes Irshad not just one of them!

    Particularly appalling was IrsahdÂ’s love affair with the U.S.A, the country which has so much contributed to all that’s wrong in the Muslim world – by supporting the taliban, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and now religious fundamentalists in Iraq, a country it has blown to pieces and is now making a lot of money from rebuilding. Oh and don’t forget the Halliburton oil pipelines….. Irshad does not deal with any of these points!

    Remember that the USA was built on the attempted genocide of the indigenous American Indians. What does that tell you about American values?

    We all need to get beyond the binary way of seeing the world of Islam VS the West in which you have to side with one or the other. Unfortunately I often found Irshad every bit as crass and ill-informed as the idiot village mullahs she so derides.

  17. I dont know much about Manji but from what i have been reading on this page:

    “According to Ms. Manji, more or less every arab/muslim man has deeply held, positive views on wife-beating, suicide bombings, enforcement of “fatwas”, and on and on, but will publicly denounce these views when questioned by a westerner. nevertheless, according to her these are core values that are dear to even the most common muslim.”

    I can relate her to Ayun Hariri of Netherland. She blamed her old primitive african customs on islam and called herself an ex-muslim. Even in Pakistan we have old customs more or less indian as we share a common history but these customs are not pronounced by islam they are there and we still follow them. The problem with this lady is that she is seeing the world with someone else’s eyes and speaking in a foreign language. I dont think this will affect muslims as these sort of characters have been used by other religions for a long time and will die out with the passage of time.

  18. I do not think Irshad Manji is half Egyptian, as this has not mentioned until recently. This could very well be a not-so-clever fabrication of sorts, to increase her rather limited credibility as anything more than the South Asian version of Danial Pipes or Robert Spencer…

  19. Irshad Manji’s ideas have become so threatening to the the Muslim world because she forces Muslims to look hard at their own hypocrytical double-standards. Many Muslims educate themselves in the western world, and enjoy all the freedoms the west has to offer, but ultimately root for their motherland – which in itself is an illusion. Why? If the west is such a terrible place, why are they here? If the west is so corrupt,immoral and tolerant of homosexuality, why do they bring up their children in such an awful place? You see, if the western governments were just as racist and intolerant as the ones in the middle east, Muslims would never be here in the first place. Never. So it is only in such a “corrupt” and “morally bankrupt” society that Muslims will be accepted – that Muslims will be allowed to live in peace, to pursue their goals in freedom, and also to criticize the west without being stonned or jailed.

    Irshad Manji speaks the truth…that must be so upsetting to you.

  20. “Human” and other supporters of Irshad are only fooling and exposing themselves as the narrow minded morons that they are by supporting a charlatan like Irshad Manji. Brave? Courageous? By repeating the same old Zionist bullshit line we’ve been hearing in the West for decades? By supporting the war in Iraq? By supporting Israeli terrorism and occupation against the Palestinian people? By supporting Yankee terrorism all over the world? Thats not courage, its called being a sycophant. Now we find it she was NEVER a Muslim, but a non-practicing Ismaili who got into the religion reformation racket post 9/11….and look who’s made millions since. “Human,” you’re a shallow minded hypocrite and liar…and deep down you know it.

  21. John Coelho said

    Irshad is a heroine to me and millions. She is brave beyond belief. And, above all, she is a truth teller. Without truth we all perish.

    Thats true, humanity is doomed to perish without truth, but much to our dismay, she isn’t being truthful. Infact, there are many Muslims who openly condemn extremism and violence in every form, however, she goes a step further to justify US invasions in the Middle East.

    It may be difficult for you to comprehend this situation, because you’re not Muslim, but when an individual supports the killing of innocent civilians whom are his/her people, it can be difficult for the rest of us to support that individual.

  22. This article is so unprofessional and disgusting that not even the name of the alleged ‘professor’ who were are, I guess, meant to assume is a pious Muslim, is not even given.

    You crooked women should be ashamed of yourselves.

  23. I read the comments to your post with a lot of interest. I come from a fairly conservative religious Indian Muslim family. But that had never stopped my grandmothers and grandfathers from both sides of my family (my parents are from completely different backgrounds and cities) to have been schooled and university educated. At the same time, we followed quite strictly our religion. And when I look at people like Irshad Manji, I am shocked, because that is in no way the Islam I know and the islam that my ancestors have been following. Wife-beating, atrocities on women etc, are not because of Islam. Its common knowledge that men exert their physical strength on women and abuse them. It has nothing to do with religious beliefs. If a Hindu or a Christian man tortures his wife, why isn’t that behaviour attributed to be because of a flaw in his religion. Is there any verse/scriptire in those religions saying that women should not be abused ? I doubt.

    I can understand the media’s craze with giving bad press to Islam after terrorism. But there are many many families like mine where women have been highly educated because it was Prophet Muhammed ‘s (pbuh) instruction to educate women. The trouble is that a large majority of the Muslim population around the world is poor. Very poor. They have no access to any kind of opportunity that would lift them out of their poverty and achieve greater heights. Wife beating is one of the worst crimes but one that is not sanctioned in islam. These are very typical of cultural behaviour. Its ingrained in human society.

    Covering heads is not an oppressive thing. Allah instructs women to wear outer garments when we venture out of our homes so that we may not be molested. I’m a girl and I have seen the difference when I cover my head, and when I don’t. I feel safer because there are fewer comments passed on me on the road, and not many would dare to touch you. Maybe they keep away because I look visibly Muslim, but I would prefer to be safe. The fact is that the world is not safe for women, and there is nothing wrong in Muslim women protecting ourselves. If someone would argue that women are raped in Muslim countries, its because of the man who is the kind of vile man he is, not because of Islam. If he were to follow even a bit of islam, he would know that it is not permissible to even touch a strange woman or look at her lewdly. All I can say is that I am very disappaointed by the kind of image Irshad Manji and her ilk portray of Islam. I agree that there is a lot of more freedom and a better life outside Muslim countries, and its a very sad fact, and one I feel owes to its origins in political Islam and religious fanaticism.

    I don’t know why the article mentioned her spiked hair. Is that a sign of secularism and modernism ? Islam isn’t against women stylign their hair. Lots of practicing Muslim women I know have spiked highlighted hair though it never shows under their scarves. I don’t know why she came out with a book on Islam when in all probability she has based her claims on lives of Muslim families she has only seen and experienced from afar. There is always a point in your life where you struggle with your religion, but that does not mean, you go and criticize a religion which you haven’t followed or even tried to follow. She was an Ismaili Muslim (not currently an Ismaili as I have read), a sect of Shia Islam who follow Islam in a very different manner, as in, not exactly from the Quran. You cannot take an example of the actions of a few Muslims and say that they represent Islam.

  24. I know sum1 who is half desi half Arab. Great mix. He’s a great person.very respectful. If we gotta mix, it should be with more Arab lok -they r closer to our culture n have more respect for our ways than the west.

  25. And that monthly deposit of cash into her Luxembourg banking account by her MOSSAD sayanim helps cover the cries of the millions of Arabs we’ve murdered based on a Big Pack of Lies?

    But first, one must have a conscience.

  26. Let’s at least show some respect to Irshad Manji- the lady is under threat from Islamists. She needs bodyguards wherever she goes. Many of the anti-Manji comments here are whitewashing that reality. Incidentally, there is no comparable person in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism or Zoroastrianism, that requires constant protection because of critical remarks made about the religion.

  27. Hell, I can’t blame her for capitalizing on her viewpoints. I am no expert and if someone offered to pay me money for my views I express on sepiamutiny, maybe I would jump at those offers too.

    I do confess that I find her really annoying in her demeanor on Maher’s show. She interrupts others way too much, talks too frenetically, has that Marcy of Married With Children chicken hair cut. And she is looked upon as some kind of expert when she isn’t. Is she a dumbass? Not really. Her shilling for the iraq war makes me question her insight. Of course, most of us think it would be nice to get rid of Saddam . That has no major bearing on the US”s decision to go there.

  28. What we should criticise Manji is her total absence of references to Hindus and Hinduism, very strange considering her ancestral roots are there. Hindus are never favourably contrasted with Moslems, despite Hindus having been discriminated against and killed or expelled in Islamic majority countries. This is a major gap in Manji’s public comments and observations.