My friend Irshad Manji, whom I have blogged about before (“Catalyst in Chief: A Voice Worth Listening To” and “The Catalyst Strikes Again”), wrote a great piece in the Washington Post and Newsweek’s On Faith column yesterday. As usual, she is thoughtful and and respectful, and ultimately reassuring in her insistence on a reasoned dialogue within Islam about what it means to be a Muslim.
She and her colleagues have formed Project Ijtihad, which seeks to encourage discussion, debate, and independent thinking about what Islam should and should not mean to its believers. Ijtihad (Arabic اجتهاد IPA: [ iʤti’hæːd]) is originally a word of technical legal origin for the process of reaching a legal conclusion by direct interpretation (i.e. independent analysis) of legal sources, as opposed to blindly following the decisions of others (its opposite is, tellingly, Taqlid (Arabic تَقْليد IPA: [ taqlīd ]) which means “immitation”). Interestingly, the word ijtihad shares is etymologically related to jihad (Arabic: جهاد IPA: [ ʤi’hæːd]), which means struggle. The mission of Project Ijtihad? Incite debate. (“Struggle!”)
Irshad (lower right) with Craig Kielburger, President,
FreeTheChildren and StudentsEffectingChange
|Irshad (right) with Bono|
No sooner does Irshad’s piece run on line than the bigots and pedants come out in droves to comment. We’ll start with the pedants, who mindlessly quote mid-millennial Muslim conservative thinkers (mostly writing after the twelfth century, a.d.). Nobody actually pays attention to arguments Irshad is making that it was pre-twelfth century Islam that was the seat of open and honest debate and intellectual curiosity. They (her critics) just blindly post quotations from all of these reactionary, conservative voices as if she never made her argument in the first place. It’s almost amusingly pathetic.
And of course there were several crackpot posts from people attacking Irshad for being a woman. Or for being a lesbian. Or for having a brain. Or an opinion. There was, in short, the usual display of small-binded bigotry for which the whole of Islam is occasionally mistaken. They (the bigots) give Islam a bad name and a bad reputation, and every time they attack as they have on the Washington Post’s website in response to Irshad’s column, they further prove the point that debate and introspection is what is most desperately needed in Islam today. (“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.)
Since the Washington Post’s commenting system is running several hours behind, I’ll copy the comment I made here–especially because of the irony of the tagline of Islamica Magazine (which supposedly is “Opening Minds Everywhere”), where a scathing review of Irshad’s book recently ran.
Why is it that anyone who bravely raises her voice to seek reason, discussion, or tolerance within Islam immediately becomes the target of such vitriol? I suppose I don’t object to the reasoned (if intensely verbose) review of her book by Haroon Moghul, which someone was “clever” enough to cut and paste above (thus flagrantly violating US copyright law :-). Twice. (Incidentally, the review was originally published in Islamica Magazine, whose tag line reads “Opening Minds Everywhere.” Irony.) But the intense desire of the others who speak out above and insist on flinging mud at Ms. Manji for her person
Update: my colleague Pascal Levensohn, whom I’ve blogged about before (his own response to Irshad’s column and the attendant reader response. (Full disclosure: although we knew each other long before, and indeed participated in an Aspen Institute seminar on Islam with Irshad long before, Pascal now sits on the Board of Directors of ShotSpotter.)