Book Review: Allah, Liberty, and Love
By Irshad Manji
(Free Press, 2011)
The title may catch your eye, but don’t let it fool you. Irshad Manji’s book is not just for and about Muslims. Subtitled “The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom,” it is really about moral courage, or “the willingness to speak truth to power . . . for the sake of a greater good,” as Manji describes the term, relying on Robert F. Kennedy’s definition. In that sense, the book is for all who hope to make the world a better place.
As a reformer of Islam, Manji inspires people of all faiths who have questions. She promotes the Muslim concept of ijtihad, the “tradition of dissenting, reasoning, and reinterpreting.” But this concept isn’t just for Muslims. “All of us, Muslim and not, need ijtihad,” she writes.
Manji uses the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis to argue that culture is not sacred. Despite claims otherwise, accusations against the church are not necessarily anti-Catholic. Likewise, criticisms of Islam are not necessarily anti-Muslim.
Other references—being accused of “cherry-picking from the Qur’an” or being called a “Muslim-lite”—will resonate with Catholics who would like to reform the church.
Manji also challenges non-Muslims to help reform Islam. “Liberals enable the Muslim right,” she says, critiquing the reluctance to judge another culture, even when one disagrees with it. She asks that her non-Muslim readers have higher expectations of Muslims and defend individual human rights over those of a culture. In order to do so, we need to be willing to offend, she says.
Perhaps most inspiring about Manji is her own faith. She is openly gay, doesn’t wear a head-scarf, and approaches prayer in her own way, but she refuses to bow to critics who say she’s not Muslim. “Embracing ijtihad isn’t about leaving Islam, but about staying with integrity,” she writes.
Having a mission gives Manji moral courage. Her book invites readers not only to support her mission, but to discover their own.