Last week, as I was posting a roundup of books related to Osama bin Laden’s death, Irshad Manji’s Allah, Liberty, and Love: The Courage To Reconcile Faith and Freedom (Free Pr: S. & S. Jun. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9781451645200. $26) crossed my desk. The subtitle’s operative verb, to reconcile, struck me as just right for time: after a decade of fearfulness, with hardening attitudes on both sides of the Muslim/non-Muslim divide, we need to heal wounds, reenergize dialog, and look for the openness that best defines the American tradition. Though I’ve searched through forthcoming titles to find other books that might help carry us into a post‚ bin Laden world, I’ve had no luck yet except for Amin Maalouf’s Disordered World: Setting a New Course for the Twenty-First Century, which I recently featured. Undaunted, I plunged into Manji’s title.
A bit of background. Manji is a gutsy reformer from within Islam whose The Trouble with Islam Today brought her bestsellerdom and death threats. Published in more than 30 languages, the book is available in a free online translation in countries where it’s banned and served as the basis of the Emmy-nominated PBS documentary, Faith Without Fear. Manji also helped jump start (and now directs) the Moral Courage Project at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, borrowing from Robert F. Kennedy to define such courage as the willingness to speak truth to power within your community for the sake of a greater good.
Moral courage is a theme that defines Manji’s new work, which is dedicated to challenging the rigidity within Islam that too often equates layered-on culture with the Qu’ran’s teachings and ignores Islam’s own tradition of itjihad, that is, reasoned dissent and reinterpretation. Throughout, she asks Muslims and non-Muslims alike to avoid reductivism and instead respect the individual; as she says, Allah loves me enough to give me choices and the liberty to make them. Feisty and sharply reasoned‚ you’d want this woman on your side in any debate‚ her book will make people of all faith (or no faith) rethink both cultural and religious assumptions. For more information, go to irshadmanji.com; meanwhile, Manji has graciously consented to respond to the question, How might your new book be used as a tool of reconciliation for all concerned?
Let’s face it: Nearly ten years after 9/11, open-minded Americans are afraid ask questions about Islam and more afraid to question those of us who practice the faith: Muslims. Hell, even liberal Muslims are afraid to discuss our beliefs on the record. We fear being declared traitors by Islam-supremacists and terrorists by Islam-bashers. In such a polarized culture, is there hope for reconciliation?
Yes. Now that young Arabs are rising up and bin Laden has gone down, a new chapter is upon us‚ all of us. My forthcoming book, Allah, Liberty and Love, shows Muslims and non-Muslims how to navigate this unprecedented era with clarity, civility, and honesty. It tackles several myths that we need to bust if we’re going to reconcile faith and freedom, Muslim and non-Muslim. For example:
Myth: I’m just one person; I can’t make a difference.
In Allah, Liberty and Love, I tell the story of just one person who became Islam’s Gandhi. Never heard of him? Neither have most Muslims. That’s why, as one person, you can approach your local school to include the Muslim Gandhi in its curriculum. Allah, Liberty and Love offers many more tips to advance reconciliation, whether you’re an individual or joining hands with others.
Myth: I’m not a Muslim, so I’m not allowed to say anything.
Hooey. As I explain, Martin Luther King Jr. himself faced the charge of being an outside agitator because he dared to cross state lines. As Rev. King reminded the critics, We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Similarly, what takes place among Muslims today affects countless lives outside the fold. Non-Muslims have a right‚ and responsibility‚ to be part of this urgent conversation.
Myth: Interfaith dialog is the answer.
Too often, interfaith dialog degenerates into an exchange of platitudes. But Allah, Liberty and Love gives you the permission to ask uncomfortable questions, which shows faith in our capacity to think. Questions also show respect: You’re honoring me when you refuse to infantilize me.
Ultimately, Allah, Liberty and Love will equip readers to develop moral courage‚ the willingness to speak up when everyone else wants to shut you up. This can be fun: At the end of the book, I publish my recipe for spiced chai tea as a delicious incentive to get together with friends, share these ideas and support each other in the journey of moral courage‚ a journey that, taken by enough of us, will transport Muslims and non-Muslims to a peace worth having.