Irshad Manji was born in Uganda, and at age of four migrated to Vancouver, British Colombia, in 1972. She’s lived in the West ever since, and much of her Western upbringing informs her attitude to Islam, or rather how she would like to see it reformed. This book is very pro-Western, and for the large part sees the answer to Islam’s current woes by adopting much of Western culture’s freedom of expression and free market ideology.
As a consequence, this book is highly polemical. Many will disagree vociferously with what Manji has to say. Especially with the way she lays blame not at the West, for its support of tyrannical Middle Eastern regimes, but rather with Islam itself.
One of the major themes of the book is what she calls ‘desert Islam’, that is, a belief that for Islam in any way to be valid or genuine it must be faithful, literally so, to the very historical beginnings of the faith. Imagine if all Christians wanted to live like Jesus’ contemporaries did. Even George W. Bush would baulk.
When Manji talks about laws for women in countries like Saudi Arabia, you can’t but agree. (Remember the recent case of two boys who were hung to death in Iran recently because they were homosexual.) The stoning of women? These aspects of Sharia law most in the West would find abhorrent.
There’s also a section in the book about Islam’s golden age of culture and achievement, between 750 and 1250. It was refreshing to read about when Islam was a world leader, a leading light in science and culture, making you realise Islam has not always been the Medieval religion it is perceived to be today.
I don’t know enough about Islam to give any kind of pointed opinion on this book. The author goes through a lot of Islam’s history (plus contemporary history), to point out where the faith has gone wrong. While she makes a lot of good points, a lot of points that can’t be refuted, I found she was too much of a cheer leader for the West. The way she dealt with problems seemed, to me, a bit too simple, too black and white. (At one point in the book she’s practically calling on Oprah to save Islam. One of her recipes to lift Islam out of the dark ages is to promote female entrepeneurs.)
Sometimes Manji also seemed to contradict herself. On the one hand she lauds to the skies the freedoms the West enjoys, then on the other hand she calls for less tolerance of Muslims (Muslims who transgress the law, or who are openly anti-social) in Western countries.
One thing that can’t be denied about her book though, it’s a very strong call for open discussion. Like a true democrat, she’s calling for free speech and open criticism of Islam, from all quarters. Despite her brassy – sometimes almost crass style – this should be commended.
Chris recommends you read this book. You might find yourself squirming in your seat sometimes, but if nothing else The Trouble With Islam is a breath of fresh air.