Local Muslims—Pakistani, Kashmiri and British-born—were rioting, burning a mysterious book. It was called The Satanic Verses and the writer, Salman Rushdie, was the real opportunity. An Indian-born, secular Muslim with the sensibilities of the London literary salon and a pointed pen, Rushdie became Khomeini’s political salvation. Within a few weeks, the bearded old satrap had declared his now infamous fatwa against Rushdie. The writer was doomed to years of insecurity while the Ayatollah spent the rest of his life basking in the flames of Muslim anger that resurrected his reputation in Iran and the Islamic world."
Irshad Manji is no Rushdie. But she might just be the Ayatollah. The Trouble with Islam Today is a vitriolic broadside against an entire faith and its Arabic followers. It’s a bitter, ill-researched and awkwardly written pamphlet that purports to be an open letter to Muslims. I hesitate to call this a book for that would give it a heft and substance it lacks. This is the work of an agent provocateur, and it suffers from so many shortcomings that listing them all would be pointless and as tedious as the polemic itself.
Not that books like this should not be written. Ziauddin Sardar, Stephen Schwartz and Bernard Lewis have all asked probing questions about Islam and the modern world and we’re the richer for it. No faith is sacrosanct, whatever obscurantists in Tora Bora or the Vatican would have us believe. Religion comforts and kills by turns and we need to constantly understand its role in our lives.
But to return to the late Ayatollah, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Manji isn’t just actively courting the wild attention that this publication has garnered so far. Its critics are many and frequently unreasonable. Often, they are Muslim. They point out that she’s gay, as she does countless times in her writing. They question her credentials as a member of an Islamic sect—Ismaili—that some orthodox Sunnis see as heretical, however much this proves her contention that modern Islam is mired in crises of resentment, intolerance and hate. None of these points matters a whit.
What does is her motive in producing these pages of anger and scorn. Is she generally interested in provoking a debate among Muslims about the very real problems of their faith? Or is she looking to be declared a heretic by some mullah somewhere and garner even more attention than she has already attracted, a martyr-in-the-making who might otherwise have languished in Toronto as an obscure TV personality.
Those who already hate the faith founded by the Prophet Mohammed will take great comfort from The Trouble with Islam. Muslims who believe in lurid conspiracy theories about Israel, Jews and the West are hardly likely to change their minds after wading through Manji’s erratic, often bewildering text. Her call for ijtihad, for Islam to be reformed and debated in the modern context, lack all credibility when it is served up in a sauce of glib, repetitive mockery of the faith.
Those looking for cogent critiques of Islam should avoid this book at all costs. In fact, I don’t think anyone should read it.