ALLAH, LIBERTY & LOVE: THE COURAGE TO RECONCILE FAITH AND FREEDOM by Irshad Manji (Random House), 293 pages. $29.95 cloth. Manji does an onstage interview June 27 at the Toronto Reference Library. See listing Rating: NN
The follow-up to her runaway bestseller The Trouble With Islam Today, Irshad Manji's new book, Allah, Liberty & Love, wants to give Muslims and non-Muslims the courage to reconcile faith and freedom. She calls on Muslims to be more accountable to themselves and their community.
But while this impulse is admirable, Manji's writing too often flattens out the complex realities of 1.5 billion Muslims. She claims Muslims are stuck in a crippling form of groupthink (Islamo-tribalism) that has changed little in centuries.
The best aspects of Allah, Liberty & Love are the countless blog, chat and email messages Manji reproduces throughout. These include plenty of death threats, but there are also fascinating and thoughtful questions and responses from Muslims around the globe.
The writer spends a lot of ink distinguishing between authoritarian cultures and Islam itself, and yet puts forward the bizarre and contradictory idea that "individualism runs counter to centuries of Islamic practice."
She knows that most of her non-Muslim readers will take this statement for granted, no citations needed. It's hard to imagine a Jewish or Christian writer making such a vast generalization about millions of people and being celebrated for it.
Manji is personally offended by the proximity of the proposed "Ground Zero mosque" (Park51, a Muslim community centre to be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site) to the graveyard of 9/11. She doesn't bother to tell us why, and she can't imagine that its existence might represent a key conciliatory moment.
When she suggests that local authorities should tell Muslims to act like individuals and not the product of an assembly line, she pays scant attention to the power relations involved in such interactions or to the complicated social, political and economic realities of Muslims. She dismisses the niqab worn proudly by many Muslim women in the same spirit.
Is Manji unaware of the long history and tradition of reform within Islam itself? She sometimes sounds like she thinks she's the first or only reformer Islam has ever seen.
Asam Ahmad is a Toronto-based writer. Manji does an onstage interview June 27 at the Toronto Reference Library. See Listings at nowtoronto.com/books/listings/. For a Q&A with Manji go to nowtoronto.com/books
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