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 Exclusive interview with Irshad Manji

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R A S S E G N A     A R G O M E N T I
Pamela Lawi
"I am a Muslim refusenik. That does not mean I refuse to be a Muslim; it simply means I refuse to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah"

Meeting with Irshad Manji

The 35 years old canadian writer speaks about her new book The trouble with Islam now published in most of Europe, Usa, Australia, New Zealand and very soon in Italy by Guenda under the title Quando abbiamo smesso di pensare.

Irshad was born in Uganda and arrived near Vancouver in 1972 at the age of 4.
After graduating at the British Columbia University , she became legislative aide to a member of parliament then producer and host of the succesfull “Queer Television”, program that explore the lives of gay and lesbian people.
In 1997 the first book “Risking Utopia: On the Edge of a New Democracy"(Douglas & McIntyre).
Her second book Trouble with Islam will be out in Italy very soon, exploring themes as the treatment of women, the Jew-bashing, slavery.

While in Berlin I was sitting in the hall of my hotel for the breakfast with a friend and Irshad, a charming woman, approached our table and asked if she could sit with us and soon we started to speak and two days and many interesting conversations later, I took the opportunity to interview Irshad Manji for the Concerto News System.

How came the idea of this book?
I wrote issues about reforming Islam and after 2001 I had a major essay in Canada "Muslims Plea For Introspection" which issued flood of reponses, positive and negative, and publishers were interested.
When you approach, half of the battle is the people to care, so I took the opportunity and now the book will be published in 20 country.

What do you wanted to become when you were a child?
I wanted to be a lawyer, I studied at the British Columbia University "intellectual History", History of Idea, I had to be practical, then I decided to take a year off and I had so much fun, I worked as the assistant of a member of the Parliament so I continued with this job and to write, the tv.

Did you have the support of your family?
No particular incouragement but never say "not", only "take a risk".

What about the book?
Actually the Trouble with Islam is the second book, the first book was out only in Canada, four years of nightmare to write, part of the book changed in dealing with publishers,"Risking Utopia: On the Edge of a New Democracy " is about how young people are re-defining democracy in an age of media, networks, and shifting social values and flexible personal identities.

And what about the Trouble with Islam?
This is an open letter from me to all the worldwide citizens, how the Islam can be updated in this century, I didn't have expectations, I know that there was anger, every two three days I checked in the emails but what I really did not expect was the support from
young muslims and women around the world, this is how we can change and trasform the challenge.

The new generations?
They need to take confiance, so many do not need to be convinced, what needs to happen is not having fears. Change can come from people in the western countries.

Why the western countries?
Muslims in the west have a position because their need of freedom expresses a challenge, all without fears and one of the idea is to have confiance, is to create an institution, a new leadership
center where young muslims leaders can act and debate, so you are not alone, I cannot do it alone but we all can.
One of the ideas and a very good suggestion was to translate the book in arabic and to put it in my web site where people can download it and read it at home with privacy and safety because outside you are scared to be arrested and at home in your own you can discuss with friends.

What about muslim women?
In the Koran they are treated as second class persons, sometimes as beast, the Koran can be hostile and very progressive at the same time, it depends about the interpretations.
The Koran for example encourages young women to make a contract before getting married for protecting their rights, it is full of contradictions.
Nowadays for women the best thing would be with 50 $ to start a continuity bussiness, a Microcredit movement to start a community so you have to learn to read and to write, you are independent and you also can read alone the koran by your own.
A little bit of this seems to happen now in Kabul: when you educate a boy the education is only for him, when you educate a woman it is for all the family.

Is Your way of thinking influenced by your living in Canada?
I had freedom in North America, the west saves my faith, the west allows me to be Muslim and I know it can be considered as a paradox.

Projects for the future?
Well, the institute for traning leaders, working on a documentary
in 2004-2005, my book published in arabic, Undu and Farsi and I think this will be a very important step and then the next book of course.

[i[What is your interpretation of Islam?
We urgently need an 'Operation Ijtihad'. Islam’s tradition of independent thinking, independent reasoning. Islam was not always so close minded. During the 'Golden age' - between the 9th and 11th century - for example in Spain, Cordoba was a very important and open minded city with many libraries. In Western countries there is the big opportunity to update Islam because there is freedom to think, express, challenge.
Are you religious?
I am spiritual. There are certain rituals that I do because they speak to my integrity. For example I fast during the month of Ramadam because it helps me build character, discipline and empathy with the poor. These are values I believe in. I give 'Zakat', the system of charity under Islam, I do not pray in the conventional Muslim way and I refuse to do the pilgrimage to Mecca as long as Mecca excludes Jews and Christians for being on it soil.

Why do you write often about the jews in your book?
Upon the appearence of my articles in the press, I have been contacted by some jewish groups in America and after that I have been invited to Israel. I was unsure if to accept or not, then I made my conditions : to be able to talk with everyone even in the streets and decide freely where to go and how to schedule the trip.
The first surprise was in the plane where all indications were both in hebrew and arabic and in the airport I noticed that the El AL employee was of Indian origin, you know, before this I have been under the impression that all the jews looked like americans!
I was moved in Jerusalem where I saw muslims people praying freely in the Mosques.When I see things I do not like such as the settlements, I talk about it freely. When they wonder why I defend Israel, some people suggest that it is only for vengeance against Islam and I put this question to myelf, but the ansewr is that I defend Israel because I defend the diversity, it does not mean becoming defensive.
I like the freedom to think and the democracy of Israel.

Pamela Lawi - Concerto News System @2004

More info about Irshad Manji and her book can be found in her website:

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