New review: ‘The Trouble with Islam Today’

// 22 March 2009

Sabre reviews Irshad Manji’s controversial book which challenges some of the ways Islam is practiced

As soon as I saw The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change by Irshad Manji in Waterstones, I knew I was in for an interesting and controversial ride. The provocative title, splashed boldly over an image of rows of praying men, piqued my interest, yet I imagine it would probably cause most devout Muslims to turn away immediately.

They would be wrong to do so. The Trouble with Islam Today is a refreshing and honest examination of the way that Islam is practiced and enforced in many places today, written by a lesbian Muslim woman who has managed to reconcile her identity with her faith by constantly questioning conventional beliefs. The book hurtles though a vast number of issues – education, anti-Semitism, desert tribalism, women’s rights and interpretations of the Quran – at breakneck speed. Manji is a well-known author, journalist and public speaker, and her writing is full of sharp criticism, humour and personal experience. I found myself unable to put the book down for days.

I should declare my personal interest here; like Manji I was born into an Asian Muslim family in east Africa, and as a child, moved to a Western country. I too questioned my culture and Islam, and felt the same frustrations at the unsatisfying answers I was given. I know the struggle to reconcile a religious faith with feminist and humanist principles. Where I differ from the author is that she has resolutely stuck to her faith and I have been agnostic since my teenage years.

Irshad Manji calls herself a Muslim refusenik. “That doesn’t mean I refuse to be a Muslim,” she writes, “it simply means I refuse to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah.” These automatons, Manji argues, include many so-called moderate Muslims in the West who do not dare to openly question the conventions of mainstream Islam. The book is written as an open letter to Muslims and non-Muslims, calling for a revival of Islam’s lost tradition of independent creative thinking, known as ‘ijtihad’.

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