I bought this book a fair while ago but never got around to reading it. Recently a few of my relatives borrowed the book and have begun raving about it, so I decided to give it a whirl myself. While I am not as besotted with the book as my family is, I must admit it is certainly thought provoking.
The contents of The Trouble with Islam Today by Irshad Manji is pretty much what would would expect from the name. The author, Irshad Manji, is a self-described Muslim and “Muslim Refusenik” (you can read the book to find out exactly what she means by that), and the book she has written is part memoir and part open letter to “all concerned citizens worldwide”. In keeping with its by-line “A wake-up call or honesty and change”, the book examines Islam, and calls for honesty, criticism, and open debate over many aspects of modern day Islam. Manji takes the Muslim world to task for what she sees as the poor treatment of Women, a propensity for victimization, widespread “Jew-bashing”, the “dictatorship of desert Islam”, Foundamentalism (not a spelling mistake), innate tribalism, and the lack of critical thinking and open debate (among many, many other things). But what was especially noticeable to me was Manji calling for a greater operation of “Ijtihad”, a concept I had never heard of (and I am quite sure many others had never heard of), which means to practice the Islamic faith independently of religious authorities. In short, the book is a call for wider introspection and reform in the Muslim World.
There has been plenty of criticism of this book based on the religious and historical veracity of many of the claims Manji makes (just as there has been lots of praise of her work). Personally, I do not have the expertise to critique on those grounds, but I do think this book is lacking in other areas. For starters, Manji falls into the trap that often befalls those who wish to critique religion from the inside; she has failed to outline the liability of God. In her criticism of the fallibility of the Quran, of the Desert Centrism, of the Lack of openness and debate, of the maltreatment of Women and other outsiders; the fault always lays with us lowly and petty humans. Never is God questioned, never is his divine plan questioned. It is a discussion of religion without a discussion of God. Maddening. Secondly, there is really very little groundbreaking done in this book, apart from the earth shattering revelation that it was authored by someone claiming to be a practicing Muslim. Many (if not all) of the Criticisms leveled will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has read even the most reverential atheist’s book, and many of the suggestions are also similar, with a little Islamic spin. And finally, the book is often hard to follow. As it is written as an open letter it is understandable that the writing is informal, however, Manji often goes on wild and long tangents, breaking her train of thought and causing the reader to have to backtrack in order to understand what is going on. The tangents themselves are often interesting, but it does lead to a very unsettling reading experience. This is one of the reasons the book took me so long to read, I kept having to double back.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good and important book. It has a great and important message, and I can understand how it will be more meaningful coming from a Muslim than an atheist (although that kind of fly’s in the face of the book’s overarching message). This is a book many people should read, especially non-muslims who have very little idea of the depth of opinion within Islam, but also Muslims who need to realize that pluralism, debate, criticism and openness are the only paths to progress. On the whole my criticisms and reservations with this book are mere nitpicking. I would (and will) recommend this book to one and all.