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Panel Discussion: Irshad Manji

Caption: Panel participants at the Irshad Manji panel discussion (l-r): Steve Spreitzer, the Director of Interfaith Programs for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, Irshad Manji, Mrs. Mumtaz Manji, Sofia Begg Latif, and Prof. Saeed Khan. Photo by Allen Cann

By Dana Inayah Cann, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Detroit–March 1–Controversial speaker Irshad Manji, a frequent guest of anti-Muslim journalistic circles, appeared recently in the Detroit area before a skeptical crowd of local Muslims and others.

Through debates, lectures, a documentary and other outlets, this author, journalist, and activist has taken a no-holds-barred approach to Islam.

Last Thursday, Irshad Manji, the author of the book The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith was the topic of a discussion panel held at the Masonic Temple’s Scottish Rite Cathedral in Detroit.

Manji, a Canadian resident and well-known critic of Islam and orthodox interpretations of the Qur`an, was accompanied on stage by her mother Mumtaz Manji, Islamic scholar Saeed Khan, and activist Sofia B. Latif, a Communications Specialist who plays an active role in the Islamic community through her involvement with CAIR, CIOM, and other local Muslim organizations. Steve Spreitzer, the Director of Interfaith Programs for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, was the moderator for the panel discussion.

With nearly 70 in attendance, the audience first viewed Manji’s new film Faith Without Fear, which will air as a part of the week-long PBS series America at a Crossroads from April 15 to April 20. In Manji’s 60 minute film, which also includes her mother, she calls for revolutionary (she terms them evolutionary) changes in Islamic communities. In the film, Manji travels to the Middle East and back home to Canada, capturing images of women who she says has no identity after being completely covered and enduring the punishments Muslims go through for committing crimes. She also travels to different locations describing the different ways that Muslims practice their faith.

Following the film, Spreitzer had a few questions for the panel, and then allowed the audience to direct their questions to Manji.

“In order for me to discover the beauty of Islam, I first needed to have some very basic questions addressed. Questions like ‘Is religion the problem, or is it the manipulation of religion that’s the real problem? How much responsibility are mainstream Muslims to be taken for the horrific crimes that are so often happening under the banner of Islam? Does Islam itself contain the solution to the problem?’ And maybe most importantly, “What would the world be missing if Islam never existed?”

Manji stated that by opening herself up to these questions, she believes that she has undergone a transformation in this journey.

“I continue to speak out against unconscionable crimes, but my anger which is so evident in the book, and which is real and authentic in the book, has itself become transformed into respect, affection, [and] dare I say it, even love for my faith,” said Manji. “I guess you could say that I’m no longer criticizing Islam, I’m now challenging Muslims.”

Spreitzer then asked Manji’s mother, Mumtaz about her faith since being on this journey with her daughter.

“I have always had a very strong faith towards Allah,” said Mumtaz mentioning also that Allah has always helped her when she needed Him and has given her three beautiful daughters. “My faith is very strong from the very beginning until the day that I die.”

Spreitzer, focused his attention over to Sophia Begg Latif and Prof. Saeed Khan, asking them how they’ve maintained their faith living in America.

Latif stated that her parents and her community are supported of her religion and that wearing the hijab has made her a stronger person.

Khan said that he has lived in different parts of the U.S. and has been able to adapt to each situation where he has lived. He also stated that honesty is what helps him to maintain his religion.

Switching the panel discussion over to the audience, one of the questions asked of Manji was about her endorsement of the occupation in Palestine.

“It is quite the opposite,” said Manji, stating that she denounces the military occupation as well as the occupation “of the Palestinian people by their own corrupt leadership.”

Dawud Walid of CAIR Michigan asked Manji, “Don’t you think it could be troublesome for individual Muslims to say ‘I’m going to have my own independent Ijtihad?’ and not base it upon the Qur`an and the Sunna?”

Manji responded by saying that she has no problems with Islamic scholars, but Muslims should think independently on their own.

“We’ve got to give a wide spectrum of Muslims the ability of the opportunity to find their own voices,” said Manji. “I would argue that if we don’t do that then what we are winding up doing by default is reinforcing a pattern of submissiveness.”

Imam Abdullah Al-Amin asked Manji about her widely reported sexual orientation, and whether or not she consumes alcohol.

Manji said that she has never had alcohol and that she is a lesbian. She doesn’t think that people have to accept her as a lesbian, but she does feel that she and others who are lesbians should be harmed because of their choices.

“I don’t agree that the Qur`an is absolutely clear on the homosexuality question,” said Manji. “If God did not wish to make me a lesbian, why did He not use His unparallelled, unmatched powers to create somebody else in my place?”

A young Chinese American woman approached the microphone and asked Manji what was it about her that made anti-Islamic people attracted to her lectures and panel discussions. The questerioner also informed Manji that she had been outside the event’s venue passing out anti-Manji flyers (entitled The Trouble with Irshad Manji)

In a defensive tone, Manji told the woman that she should be glad that she has the freedom to hand out flyers that disrespect her without fearing getting arrested, unlike the Muslim women in Yemen who don’t have the freedom to speak their minds.

Kay Siblani, executive editor of The Arab American News asked Sophia Begg Latif her thoughts about the film.

Latif felt that Manji implied in the film that all Muslims are not trying to fix what is wrong with Islam. Manji disagreed, saying that she has a talk with an imam in the film who mentions finding solutions to correct the wrongdoings in Islam. To Latif, that simply was not enough.

At the end of the session, Manji stressed the need to liberate the entrepreneurial talents of Muslim women, especially in the Middle East as she talks about in Chapter 7 of her book.

“The multiplying affect of investing in Muslim women, and in women in general, cannot be underestimated,” said Manji.

Born in Uganda in 1968, Manji and her family moved to Canada near Vancouver in 1972 after 50,000 Asians were expelled by President Idi Amin. She earned an honors degree in the history of ideas from the University of British Columbia.

Manji has received Oprah Winfrey’s first annual Cutzpah Award for “audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction, while Ms. Magazine named her a “Feminist for the 21st Century.”


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