For those who don’t know her, Irshad is a muslim reformer.

Her website is located here:  http://www.irshadmanji.com/

 

 

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090107.wcomanji08/BNStory/specialComment/home?cid=al_gam_mostview

COMMENTARY

It’s time for all of us to embrace ijtihad
IRSHAD MANJI


From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

January 8, 2009 at 2:44 AM EST

In Gaza a few years ago, I conducted an on-camera interview with the political leader of Islamic Jihad, Mohammed al-Hindi. With his finely trimmed beard and gracious manners, he symbolized the modern – and moderate – Muslim man.

But his interpretation of the Koran suggested something else. “Where,” I asked, “does it say that you can kill yourself for a higher cause? As far as I know, the Koran tells us that suicide is wrong.”

Through his translator, the physician assured me that the verses endorsing suicide operations could be found “everywhere” in Islam’s holy book. I challenged Dr. al-Hindi to show me just one passage.

After several minutes of reviewing the Koran, then calling for help on his mobile, then looking through companion booklets, he told me he was too busy and must go. “Are you sure you’re not pulling a fast one on me?” I asked. He smiled, clearly understanding popular American lingo. “I want to know that you’re telling me the truth,” I repeated.

 

Dr. al-Hindi summoned two assistants to the office and made another call. His translator shifted uncomfortably, hanging his head as my camera swung past him to film the assistants. Backs to me, they flipped feverishly through the Koran. Minutes later, they presented a verse glorifying war.

But it had nothing to do with suicide. So I asked Dr. al-Hindi yet again. He said Islam permits defensive aggression. “If a thief comes to your door and steals your money, isn’t it legitimate to protect yourself?” he said through the translator.

Still unable to draw the link between self-protection and suicide, I proposed this analogy: “If my boss steals my job and I kill myself because something that is mine has been taken away, am I a martyr?”

Horrified, the translator shook his head. “No, no, you can’t ask this.”

“Why not?” I wondered. “It’s important, theologically, to ask these questions.”

At that moment, my camera batteries died. This, the translator whispered, was a better outcome than me dying – which is what Dr. al-Hindi would have arranged if I stayed in his office much longer. The translator and I hurried out.

I’m reminded of this encounter as the world watches another Mideast crisis unfold, and otherwise liberal Muslims fall into the tribal trap of sanitizing Islamic extremism while condemning Israeli actions.

It would be far more helpful – to Palestinians, if nobody else – for Muslims to ask questions out loud. We have relied far too long on self-appointed “higher-ups” to do the interpreting for us. We have given them the ability to abuse passages and power. We Muslims have forgotten Islam’s own tradition of independent thinking: ijtihad.

For hundreds of years, three equations have driven mainstream Islamic practice. The rituals vary in Islam’s major sects, but the equations themselves apply across the board.

First, unity equals uniformity. In order to be strong, members of the worldwide ummah (Muslim nation) must think alike. Second, debate equals division. Diversity of interpretation is no longer a tribute to God’s majesty; it is a threat to the unity that Muslims must exhibit in the face of those intent on dividing us. And third, division equals heresy. Because division is the opposite of uniformity, whatever divides must be prevented. Which means that innovation must be stopped. Which, in turn, means that the spirit of ijtihad must be suppressed.

It is a pattern that persists to this very day. Not long ago, my mother’s imam in Vancouver preached that I am a bigger “criminal” than Osama bin Laden because my views on religious reform have caused more “division” among Muslims than al-Qaeda’s terrorism has. Apparently, he did not detect the irony in proclaiming that debate is worse than terrorism.


Nor did he see how he damned Muslims by acknowledging that literary expression divides us more than the use of violence does. If ever we have needed to spread the spirit of ijtihad, it is now.

Of course, most people – not just Muslims – could use more independent thinking. This point grabbed me at the Gaza office of Mohammed al-Hindi. As we left, I asked his translator why Dr. al-Hindi would give me an on-camera interview, knowing that he could not find a single verse to prove his claim that the Koran justifies suicide operations.

The translator replied: “He assumed you were just another dumb Western journalist.” Reporters from the West had never asked this veteran terrorist the most basic of questions: Where is the evidence for what you do in God’s name?

Maybe it’s time that the media joined Muslims in embracing ijtihad. I would be happy to supply both groups with security tips.


Irshad Manji, director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University, is author of The Trouble with Islam Today and creator of the documentary Faith Without Fear.

 

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