Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom by Irshad Manji

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I’ve been curious about reading this book for a while ever since all the hype about the book being banned and someone was arrested for selling it and another for publishing it and people of all sort being trying to demonize the book that I decided to pick this one up and see what was all the fuss about. Will I get in trouble for reading this? Well, they didn’t exactly ban the English version so I probably will escape scot-free and since I am not a distributor, no one can legally stop me from reading and unreading it anyway. Will I get in trouble with people for reading this since its being banned in the first place? I’m not even sure why was that a problem anyway since people who don’t read this book have a more louder opinion than those who did. Which explain the saddening state of the situation in the first place.

Why would you care to be held in high regard by any Muslim who won’t have a rational discussion with you about your questions of Islam? If he or she won’t make the effort to hear your views in the spirit in which you intend them, then what renders that person’s judgment of you worth your while?

Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom is a sort of autobiography and a supplement to Irshad Manji’s Trouble with Islam Today. It is readable on its own and is largely divided by several chapters discussing : Some Things Are More Important Than Fear / Identity Can Trap You, But Integrity Will Set You Free / Culture Is Not Sacred / You Define Your Honor / Offense Is The Price Of Diversity / In Times Of Moral Crisis, Moderation Is A Cop-Out / Lack Of Meaning Is The Real Death Threat.

If Muslims are more outraged by an unarmed dissident like me than by an extravagant murderer like bin Laden, doesn’t that tell you something already?

However, the content of the book varied and often out of topic by chapters since it is accompanied with emails she received and her replies which is disorganized in some ways. But the language is easy enough to read and understand though I had a feeling that I did lose myself between some of the references with her previous books particularly on the death threat part. The content is simple enough and isn’t that shocking for me since there are some contents that resonates with me and I did understand her confusion and frustration and most of the time I pitied that she was being targeted for just talking out loud about something she believe in. In a way, I did admire her courage or in her words “moral courage” and her fight for critical thinking and her push to the need to find a freedom to of expression and respect of other differing opinions. As in her words, “Offense is the price of diversity”.

Understanding is served by analyzing, not sanitizing. Bringing Islam into the analysis should be entirely legitimate to religious people because it’s not the Divine that’s being interrogated, it’s mortal interpretation and human judgment that’s being questioned.

But as for content, most of the things I like most about the book came from her citing from someone else. This book is also a sort of compilation of the readings she did and she did base her opinions on the journals and articles and there were a lot of times she explain situations derive from her readings more than her experience (which seem to center around her conversation with her mother or from her tours with other people). If you want more from the book, she did provide a lot of recommended readings along with the book and in her website.

Countercultural voices unmask the faces of moral courage within Islam: Muslims who own their community’s dysfunction rather than reflexively blaming the United States, Israel, Christianity, materialism, MTV, KFC and those perpetually kosher piñatas, “the Jews.”

What puzzled me the most was these emails she received and most of it was worded very harsh and juvenile and often, laughably trollish while the ones that threaten bodily harm on her seem to lack any form of rationality by the sender’s part.  In a way, this book is a reaction piece and also proof that cyberbullying happen in more way than not and its hard being Irshad Manji’s inbox. But it took a good amount of guts and opinions to incite this kind of response so whatever she did, even if she did poke into the hornet nests, at least she did get her words out and was received accordingly. 

What also scares me is when I hear Muslims (or any other religious people) tell me that I don’t have the authority to discuss religion. When a person tells that to another person, it creates an even bigger gap between cultures because the person who is trying to understand is suddenly not able to express questions. It is also giving the authority to a certain group of people who have the power to explain and interpret religious books the way they want. Slowly, Muslims become THEM and we are the group called US. History has shown that THEM is the cause of all troubles, and has to be eliminated by US. We need more people brave enough to ask real questions. We don’t need answers immediately, but questions are a necessity!

But one thing I notice was Irshad’s tendency to group herself and others with labels such as moderate, islamists, reformist, secularist, feminist etc. I don’t really find myself conforming into much of her ideals nor did I agree with the people who view her negatively but some of her concerns are reasonable and I do empathise with that. Maybe because some parts of her are more alike with me than I let on but there are some parts which she did stretch herself thinly like the matter of hijab and her own ways of practicing which I won’t egg about. But for all of this book’s worth, it does make a good reading if you didn’t antagonize yourself with everything the drama surrounding it.

“You cannot get reform without discussion, and you cannot have discussion without freedom of speech.”

The irony is, to ask for a ban on a book which detailed about how dangerous indifference can be in the name of protecting one’s sensitivity, it does seem counterproductive in this nation of multiculturalism where intolerance and segregation are actively being sought about, preach about and censored upon. On the scale of “gugat keimanan”, I find that the religious department does went a bit too far and overreacted with this book. There are more titles in local bookstore that stretch religious horror fantasy fiction as fact and there are even more ridiculous conspiracy theorist book that do more harm which wasn’t being scrutinize and they just have to pick this one up.

Every problem contains opportunities for understanding ourselves. By understanding ourselves, we understand why our Creator has faith in each of His creatures to lift up another.

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