Friday, September 30, 2011

Irshad Manji: Ijtihad

"Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the recognition that some things are more important than fear."
Irshad Manji is anything but predictable. A Muslim who supports same-sex marriage, she consistently finds herself on the outside of her faith. She was in Edmonton last week as part of LitFest appearing at the historic Garneau Theatre where she was interviewed by the Edmonton Journal's Sheila Pratt and fielded questions from the audience.

Manji was promoting her recent book, Allah, Liberty & Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom, and doing what she does best - upset expectations and provoke critical awareness around issues of moral courage and changing the world. At the heart of her endeavour is the concept of Ijtihad (pronounced “ij-tee-had”), which she defines as "Islam’s own tradition of independent thinking" that gave the world "inventions from the astrolabe to the university."

She also spoke eloquently about the Moral Courage Project she directs at New York University and of the need for individuals, in Bobby Kennedy's words:
" brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change."
Manji practices what she preaches - she condemns dogma wherever it surfaces and praises some unlikely practitioners of moral courage like New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, who dismissed sharia law fearmongering, and Starbucks' CEO Howard Shultz for challenging his fellow CEOs and politicians to put citizenship above partisanship.

But most provocative is her activism within the Muslim community. She enlisted Dr. Khaleel Mohammad, an iman and professor of religious studies, to interpret/translate a verse in the Koran in support of interfaith couples. It has since been translated into 20 languages. As a result, she risks harm, even death - earlier this year she collapsed from exhaustion and for the entire duration of her Edmonton appearance two police officers stood silently on either side of the stage keeping eye out for any wingnut who might cause trouble.

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