Irshad Manji

While searching for online material on Muslim feminists I have often come across Irshad Manji’s name. Manji is Muslim, believes in the emancipation of Muslim women, opposes stoning adulterers, doesn’t cover her hair, and above all lives without marriage with a partner who is a woman. Yet, she remains Muslim and calls herself a feminist.

Often when I have brought up her name when discussing feminism with Muslims I have only received negative impressions about her in return. She is called “loud”, “irritating””, and “promiscuous.” Manji is Muslim by birth; had she converted to Islam and shown the kind of opposition to patriarchal expectations that she does, I suspect she would have met greater hostility.

How do you, Muslim feminist, feel about Manji?  Do you think she is a Muslim feminist? Do you think that if a woman doesn’t cover her head, fights for LGBT rights and stands up against traditional sharia practices like stoning and whipping, then other Muslim receive automatic right to call them infidels? What kind of treatment do you think a woman like Manji would have received in early Islam?

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34 thoughts on “Irshad Manji

  1. Zuhura says:

    I believe many of the same things that Manji does, so I absolutely don’t think anyone has the right to call her an infidel. I only heard of her recently and have been following her blog for a few weeks. She is a Muslim feminist, and she speaks her mind on controversial topics which is why people find her “loud” and “irritating”—this is nothing new for feminists. However, I think she needs better timing or to make better choices about her audience. Recently she’s been interviewed about the Park51 cultural center and she has made the point that Americans need to know whether women will be treated equally there, whether or not there will be gender segregation there, etc. She implies that if women are not allowed to lead the prayer, then this is fundamentalist Islam and Americans should be wary. Although I would love to see women-led prayers there and an end to gender segregation, I worry that she is equating mainstream Islam with fundamentalist Islam and that ultimately this point of view may lead to more discrimination against Muslims in the US.

    • Metis says:

      I am so glad I asked this question because now I wouldn’t just be assuming that there are Muslims who agree with Manji on certain points! Thank you Zuhura!

      “I think she needs better timing or to make better choices about her audience.” – you hit the nail on its head.

  2. unsettledsoul says:

    Salams, nice to find your blog, I love being asked to think! 🙂 lol

    I read Manji’s book “the trouble with islam” and I think she had a hard experience in life, much of it she attributes to Islam. I think she is totally within her right, and should be able to call herself a Muslim without fear of her own safety. I disagree with much of what she says about Islam, because I think she has fallen into the same trap as Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She blames Islam, when she should be making an effort to apply her experience to a more individual level, not on a global scale against Islam itself.

    I read Ayaan’s book “infidel” also, and again, can see why she comes from where she does on an intellectual level.

    What I do not like is the media defaulting to Manji and Hirsi-Ali when they want a “Muslim Perspective” because unfortunately, much of their opinion comes out of bitterness from their own life experiences. Of course this has it’s place at the discussion also, but I do not like how their bitterness towards Islam is used by the media as a way to prove that Islam is a “bad religion.”

    As far as everything you mention about what Manji does and stands for (not covering her hair, standing up for LGBT rights, calling for reform and modern interpretation of the Quran, etc..) I totally agree with her and support her stance on these issues.

    How would a woman like Manji have been treated in earlier days? hmm, I am not sure about that one. From what I have read, Islam is becoming more rigid and intolerant today, than what it was in the past.

    • Metis says:

      Salaam alekum and welcome to Metis! And I am so glad too that you found me!

      Manji revised the title of her book to add the word ‘Today.’ I guess she doesn’t disagree with the Islam ‘that was’ (hence she is still Muslim), but doesn’t agree with what Islam is ‘today.’ I understand her most of the time and do think she is a feminist who is also Muslim.

      I asked the last question about how she would have been treated in early Islam simply because like she doesn’t find anything wrong with early Islam, perhaps (like you said) early Islam wouldn’t have had any issues with her either. After all, Hind was pretty bold and snappy with the Prophet when she pledged her alliance with Islam (even if unwillingly) and he accepted her smilingly. Manji is still a willing Muslim.

    • Sara says:

      “What I do not like is the media defaulting to Manji and Hirsi-Ali when they want a “Muslim Perspective” because unfortunately, much of their opinion comes out of bitterness from their own life experiences.”

      I totally agree! Why are they the only 2 women that can speak for all Muslim women – Ali isn’t even a Muslim anymore!

  3. mariam says:

    I am agree with what” unsettledsoul” said about her:-)
    mariam-Iran

  4. susanne430 says:

    I am not familiar with her, but I enjoyed reading the comments concerning her.

  5. Sophia says:

    I read her book, and while I thought her observations were insightful, I also disagreed with her conclusions. I feel she has a tendency to lump Muslims together, much as the US media has been doing. If every Muslim in North America fails to go to pieces when one Muslim on the other side of the world straps a bomb to his chest, it apparently means Muslims everywhere are guilty of enabling evil. I think it would be better to try to encourage people of all beliefs and nations to stand against oppression and bigotry, but perhaps thats too lofty a goal.

    On the other hand, I think it is very brave to so publicly stand up for such unpopular issues, and I admire her for that. I think she has some potential and I’ll continue to listen. Strangely enough, I find myself defending her quite a bit even though I disagree with many of the things she says. People commenting on my blog have accused me of leading people away from Islam, trying to corrupt Islam from within, and even starting a “Manji cult”… not because I did a post about her, made a comment about her, or claimed she was my most favorite person ever, but because I have a link to her blog. Thats it. That is all it takes, apparently, for people to think you’re starting an anti-Islamic-lesbian-feminist cult. 🙂

  6. Becky says:

    I’m not familiar with her at all (maybe because I don’t live in the US), but I basically believe that it is not up to us to judge who is or isn’t Muslim, only God has that right.
    From what I’ve been reading I also feel that the Islam seen today has generally become much more rigid and traditionalist than the early Muslim societies, which is such a shame.

  7. Lat says:

    I’ve not read about her either but have heard her name being mentioned in some blogs.About her hair not being covered,well most of the Sisters in Islam group in Malaysia don’t cover thier hair too.Sometimes they don’t get treated as well as sisters who do cover their hair.But they stand up strongly for everything that Islam gaurantees women for.The daughter of the former PM is also a member of this group.Since the group has someone famous the government takes extra care about commenting and taking action on SIS.Afterall her father is not someone to be trifled with 🙂

    Sometimes women had to be loud and irritating in order to be heard.That’s how I am sometimes 🙂

    • unsettledsoul says:

      Lat,

      I will eventually be moving to Malaysia after my masters degree, and have followed SIS for quite some time now! I love SIS, they are amazing, no? 🙂

      • Lat says:

        SIS is awesome! 🙂 I’m glad you’ll be settling in Malaysia,my neighbour country.Except for recent events,everything else is wonderful! I’m sure you’ll know by this now 🙂

  8. wafa' says:

    i had read parts from her book where she talks about her childhood and her early teaching at the mosque.
    I don’t think a lot will accept her in the Muslim world, not only because of what she fights for. I have read about some women in the Arabic world who would fight against suhc things. I guess mainly they will attack her sexuality. I have even read many Arabic articles about her which is the topic to be highlighted.
    In the early Islam, i guess the prophet might talk to her and discuss some of her issues but after his death, i don’t think she would be left to live. It’s easier to call for her excution even at the prophet’t time.
    But I guess what would freak anyone about her is not her sexuality, though they would have pointed out the most. It’s what she call for, the rights of women and being against some Sharia law.

    personally, i think she is one of the heros who is risking it all.

    • Metis says:

      “It’s easier to call for her excution even at the prophet’t time.
      But I guess what would freak anyone about her is not her sexuality, though they would have pointed out the most. It’s what she call for, the rights of women and being against some Sharia law.”

      Wow Wafa! That was an honest comment. You know, I have something on lesbians in Islam and I will post on it someday, but the thing I want to point out here is that some Arab Muslim scholars don’t even understand the term ‘lesbian’. LOL! They can’t imagine it and hence the lack of clearly laid out punishment for lesbians. So after reading your comment I am thinking – perhaps what is so shocking to Arab Muslims (like you mentioned the Arabic articles against her) is the thought that a woman – a Muslim woman – has made decisions about her sexuality. It is not merely being a more powerful partner in a marriage; not even simple “toying with yourself”, but full-fledged rejection of Muslim men for another woman. A Muslim woman can only pair with a Muslim man and Manji does exactly the opposite. So interesting!

      Also, do you think it is bad in the eyes of Muslim men for a Muslim woman to “call for the rights of women”?

      • wafa' says:

        Also, do you think it is bad in the eyes of Muslim men for a Muslim woman to “call for the rights of women”?

        Of course it’s. But let’s be honest about why?
        Mostly they are going to claim that Islam is the best religion out there for women,Islam protect women ,Islam handed women all her rights. Islam doesn’t discriminate against women. The prophet said this and that about women.
        But most of all they are going to point out some poor example of mistreatments of women anywhere in the world and claim that “this wont happen in Islam” . t

        hey will aslo mention that Islam is completed before the prophet’s death so any other rights women ask for is simply coming from the “west” who wants to destroy “muslim soceities” since the west have tried its best to get inside the Muslim soceity and couldn’t so it will go for its “weakest link” aka “women”, so how can we were given it all and still be inferior !!

        The most troubling thing is the mix between tradition and religion and the inferiority of women is a world wide thing but mostly in the Arab world and mostly Saudi Arabia. The unfortunate thing is that most Muslims still look at Saudi Arabia as the source of Islam, and that they know Islam better since they are in the place where Islam was born and they speak Arabic, plus we told them we know better and they believed us. So they took this inferior look on women from the Arab. And believed it to be “Islamic”.

        thanks god we are seeing others getting out of the spell of Arabs and know their religion better.

      • Metis says:

        Thank you so much for your further comment Wafa! It has been very helpful. I can understand a little better now why men don’t want things to change. Reagarding what you said here:

        “Mostly they are going to claim that Islam is the best religion out there for women,Islam protect women ,Islam handed women all her rights. Islam doesn’t discriminate against women. The prophet said this and that about women.”

        Do you, as a Muslim woman living in the KSA who knows her religion and what it offers women, think that this assertion is true or false? Do you think that Islam protected women and handed them their rights and doesn’t discriminate between genders? If yes, then how do you argue against men who make this argument?

  9. Metis says:

    Mariam, I do too!

    Susie, I think you’ll enjoy her perky disposition! She is hyperactive and even her words seem like she is on a sugar rush. Her book The Problem with Islam Today puts forth some interesting points. Maybe on your next trip to the library?

    Sophia, I so know what you mean by people being quick to attack even if you have links to people they don’t like! So what is your overall opinion about her status – do you think she is a Muslim feminist earnestly working towards improving the status of Muslim women? And what are the reasons for your answer – I am looking at what makes a Muslim woman a Muslim feminist.

    Becky, that is an interesting observation. A friend I was talking to a couple of days ago thinks it is the other way around – that Muslims are moving away from tradition and embracing modernity. IMHO, religion is what people make it to be in every particular era and people in the 7th Century Arabia were very harsh by nature so their law, practices, traditions were also very harsh and rigid. Plus, early Muslims had a chip on their shoulders – they had to prove themselves to be different from the heathens they were moving away from very quickly and hence they were obsessed with details about everything from how to wage war to how to use the toilet. This, IMO, was the reason for their obsession with detail and rigid behaviour that we today translate as piety and devoutness. I don’t think I am even making sense here but…

    Lat, good that you are loud – it would be hard to ignore you! SIS are actively working towards banning polygamy, right? Yay!

    • Sophia says:

      To answer you better: Yes, I think she is a Muslim, and a feminist. I personally believe that no one can be considered “outside of Islam” – except by God and the person in question. I think a feminist is anyone who stands up – through words or deeds – for gender equality. A Muslim feminist does that within the theological/social/cultural/political sphere of Islam. Irshad Manji is living the rebellion against patriarchy and other injustices. I think some of Manji’s more inflammatory rhetoric may hurt her cause, but maybe there is a place/need for that in the Muslim feminist movement, its just not what I’m generally attracted to. I do believe she is intelligent, driven, and sincere in her desire for a better tomorrow for Islam.

  10. sarah says:

    I am not familiar with her work but she is free to follow her own path and Allah is the ultimate judge. I am not familiar with her work but two issues catch my eye
    1) She is homosexual. According to Islam these relationships are not preferred by God. But i believe that it is a private issue and she is free to chose her orientation as she likes. In today’s clikmate no doubt Islam seems antiquated and bigotted in its attitude but should the core values of a religion be changed to fit in with changing times or should they be defended as correct in their basis? Christianity has struggled with this issue also and I feel personally by chnaging values and begining to include what was deemed unlawful previously that Muslims would tread a very difficult path. By changing attitudes towards lawful and unlawful concepts you set a precedent where any law is up for change. At what point should a believer of any faith stand firm by their principles and when should they change? Having said that I do not support homosexuality I also believe absolutely that every person should still be treated with respect and dignity regardless.

    2) Covering her hair. That old chesnut!! Honestly it would make my life so easy if I just took off my scarf and said that it wasnt an important aspect of my faith. But for me it is important and it is part of my identity as a woman and a Muslim. I chose to wear a scarf – no culture or person pressured me to do so. I am proud of this and I do not feel that it opresses me at all. It causes the odd stare and comment and it is definately sometimes a disadvantage in the job market but it is my badge of honour and pride. For me (not being familiar with her work) I would like to think that there are more significant issues for Muslim women, access to adequate healthcare and family planning, education and literacy, being able to financially support yourself from home so as not to be dependent, basic first aid and health knowledge to reduce infant mortality, etc. Raising awareness on these issues is far more important than scarf or no scarf for me.

    And if she really was a feminist she would believe in the woman’s right to chose.

    • Metis says:

      “should the core values of a religion be changed to fit in with changing times or should they be defended as correct in their basis?”

      Core values – No. Other values – Maybe.

      I don’t know that the belief that homosexuality is incompatible with Quran and Islam is a core value. It well could be. I have only studied lesbianism within the Islamic context and compared to male homosexuality I couldn’t find anything concrete about it. However, majority of Muslims will say that homosexuality is bad, but there are many Muslims, especially men, who practice it openly as well as secretly. The men in North Pakistan, Afghanistan, various parts of Gulf countries, parts of Yemen, Lebanon and even Iran are actively gay. Lesbians are very much part of the hidden life of many Arab households. This aversion to homosexuality is more a theoretical part of the Western Muslim belief who are often shocked (like I was) when I was exposed to this side of the Muslim society. Sara had something very interesting on her blog about this.

      Yes, hijab is such a long debate, isn’t it?!

  11. sarah says:

    Metis, yes I think Muslim women should stop judging about hijab on both sides. A scarf is not the woman who wears it or who does not and should not be the only defining aspect of a woman.

    As for homosexuality I have always been taught that it is not allowed. A marriage is between a man and a woman and it is certainly (to my knowledge) not a practice of the companions. Islam always defines marriagee in terms of a husband and a wife. In a homosexual marriage (and I know in the UK some Imams eprform nikkah for same sex couples) which partner takes which role and is accorded which right? If it is two women then presumably they are not to spend on each other as this is the mand’s job. I know that homosexuality is a reality of life for many Muslims but to my knowledge it is condemed by the Quran.

  12. sarah says:

    Sorry, as another note, there are lots of muslims who drink, gamble and have sexual relations before marriage but these things are also against the teachings of Islam.

    • Metis says:

      What I have gathered is – what is happening these days – is that people are arguing that as long as you are not harming the society by gambling, having sex before marriage or drinking then it is not a crime – it may still be a sin. Now there is this differentiation between sin and crime which wasn’t the case in ancient worlds. So there is the haraam and the eib.

      Adultery is then a crime because it harms the emotions of at least one person in the group of three. Violence after getting drunk is a crime. Gambling and it leading to crimes is bad. I think that is what most Muslims don’t like about Manji, that she openly claims to be gay. It is seen as promiscuity and sadly all is ok if you practice whatever you do in private but quite different when you come out with it because at least in early Islam anyone who confessed their sin had witnessed against themselves and were stoned/whipped/maimed etc. Perhaps that is how people see Manji?

  13. sarah says:

    I think the issue with Manji openly declaring her sexuality is that people fear it will spread. If it is openly discussed it may become socially accepted and the stigma removed. I suppose that this is what Maji wants to achieve. I do believe in freedom of speech so I do not believe in supressing her views, she is entitled to air them without retribution.

    I agree with your assessment of sin and crime but then the question would be – what role should individuals have in upholding the moral principles of their religion and what steps can/should be taken to combat sin as presumably safeguarding from sin is one of the main aims of life.

  14. Zuhura says:

    Maybe it’s time to start a new post on homosexuality?

  15. Sara says:

    I agree with her ideas and outlook but I find her personality REALLY annoying. Her ego is pretty big and she also strikes me as a Muslim apologist at times. For example when discussing 9/11 it always seems to be the fault of Muslims, and never US foreign policy etc.

  16. wafa' says:

    Metis,

    Thanks for allowing me to comment over and over again 🙂

    Do you, as a Muslim woman living in the KSA who knows her religion and what it offers women, think that this assertion is true or false? Do you think that Islam protected women and handed them their rights and doesn’t discriminate between genders? If yes, then how do you argue against men who make this argument?

    I think we first have to agree on what a “religion” is. Is it really that holy and divine that people got nothing to say in its teaching ? or is a “message” with its political ,traditional, geographical …etc backgrounds. i believe it’s both. didn’t Islam and all other religion was designed for its people ( the language and the steps it took to allow and prophibit something). So before that we have to see and examine the statue of women before Islam which will leads us to her statue during Islam. the same with slavery for example, Islam didn’t prophibited it at once and there is no evidence that it did at all, but it clearly state to people the good rewards they will have by freeing people. So Islam can not come and announced immediately that women should have it all. Again, the propblem is not with Islam, it is with its scholars. We have move forward in so many aspects but not in women’s rights.
    And i still believe that “igtehad” must be rise again and look deeply into the life of women before Islam, and how did it changed -if it’s- during the time of prophet Muhammad .And i guess it did. Anther propblem is that Islam is faily a new religion so if it’s going in the same direction that other divine religion went by, we might see big changes in women’s right in the future-maybe the long ones-
    does it discriminate between genders? I guess beside mother Earth , every religion is discriminating between genders,maybe the religion itself doesn’t say so or ask its followers to do so,but those who explain it do so and since most of them are men then they are going to be in favor of their genders.
    Argue? who would listen to me if i argue ? i have not been able to say most of my ideas but here and in some few other places. Arguing which is another topic you may discuss is not for women,not Arabic women and espeically not Saudi one. We still living in the middle ages here , believe me

    • Metis says:

      Thank ‘YOU’ Wafa for entering into this dialogue with me. I am learning so much from you. I really wish more people, Arab people, thought like you. You are an amazing breath of fresh air. I never thought I’d ever get the chance to talk to a Saudi who makes so much sense.

      I can’t say anything besides that I agree with you completely and I like very much how you define religion.

      One question though, do you think that feminists like you can bring about some change in your ‘Middle Aged’ society? Do you see any future for your hard work?

  17. wafa' says:

    Thanks for your kind words and sorry for not responding earlier 🙂

    And to answer it, it’s YES and NO.

    Yes the change will come but it’s not easy and wont be easy.

    It’s not easy to talk about politics and religion in KSA, we have been very polite and obeying the rules for years and years. People who talk will either go behind the sun as we say in Arabic , tortured or died in a strange way.

    What we need, and it may sound funny, is “the internet” !!! because only through it we can read things beside our daily dose of “we know better”. Sending people out side the country for education was not good, books can be taken and education is probablly the worst idea in here.
    But when we teach kids the basic write and read and how to use the computer, later on they can use their skills to learn more. Yes the internet is not 100 % truth but if you know where to find and the basic rules of reasearch then you can get it. we also need to plant the seed of “suspecition” in women and men’s mind.
    Yes there will be a change but not now, right now we are probably in the same position where the early feminisim start.

    We have been taken out of life, that we are not alive anymore. you wont believe the shallowness we swim in. We wants our rights but we can shut up in seconds if the authorities gave us a dime to buy a brandnew shoe or bag.
    I have history teachers who still think that Shi3a are the khawarg !!!, people who still look at me with wide open eyes when i say that this hadith is not true , if i say that all those Islamic armies went to “spread Islam” were not peaceful ones. Myself can not do a lot, but i am so optimistic.

  18. luckyfatima says:

    Salaam,

    I recently saw Manji speak on ABC.com’s 20/20 Islam program hosted by Dianne Sawyer. (I think you might be Scottish or something,so u may not have seen this show, but 20/20 is a popular US Friday evening news magazine program and if you care to, you can check out the episode online to see what Manji has to say and also because the episode is interesting for other reasons). Years ago, I really disliked Manji for some of the reasons outlined by other commenters. She seemed to conflate Islamically informed misogyny with terrorism, she was a songbird singing the tune that Islamophobes love to hear and “informing” non-Muslims about Islam at a time when we needed more positive representation of a religion that they didn’t know much about, and she equated her negative personal experiences with the entirety of Islam, sometimes she said things that made me suspect that she didn’t really know “what Islam says…” about a topic, etc., etc., However, in this 20/20 special, it seemed that she had matured a lot. She seemed less gonzo-esque and more well-spoken. She affirmed her Muslim identity, and ultimately she wants the same thing that many of us here want: an Islamic movement that takes another look at our texts and comes to modern, women empowering conclusions compared to previous Islamic exegesis. She did throw me off a bit when asked about “72 virgins” in the Quran and she answered that it didn’t say 72 virgins, it said 72 raisins…when I saw her years ago, I got the feeling that she didn’t know much about normative Islam, and this made me suspicious of her again. It never mentions anything at all about the number 72 or virgins in the Quran at all and every person who has read the Quran knows this. All she had to say was “That isn’t mentioned in the Quran.” Raisins? That was just too weird. (I think the virgins thing comes from something in Tirmizi, if you know more, maybe you could shed light on why Manji may have said ‘raisins’.)

    I don’t have any problem with homosexuality and I don’t believe that Islam does, either. The Quran talks about and condemns homosexual rape, not normal gay people. I have no issue with Manji as a lesbian. I realize that my opinion is a marginal view, though.

    I don’t know how the community would have dealt with a person like Manji in the times of our Prophet, pbuh, but I know that there were other Muslims in the first community, and many women at that, who openly questioned and sought answers from the Prophet saws. The Prophet had fora in which he addressed such people’s questions. So maybe she would simply been one of those questioners during that time.

    I had avoided getting to know more about her since the time of her being a media darling for Islamophobes. However, I see that perhaps they were using her for their own agenda and she was young and opportunistic and less critical about where the public interest in her views came from…I plan to look into her more after seeing her recently on 20/20.

    • Metis says:

      Welcome to this blog, LF and thank you for your comment!

      “I see that perhaps they were using her for their own agenda and she was young and opportunistic and less critical about where the public interest in her views came from”

      That is such a wise way to look at things.

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