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11 May 2012

Lesbian Muslim activist Irshad Manji: Silence empowers bullies

Openly lesbian Muslim activist and author Irshad Manji spoke about her faith after she had one event at a university in Yogyakarta cancelled, and another in Jakarta stopped midway where she had to leave under heavy police escort as religious extremists violently protested the event. 

Irshad Manji, the prominent author of The Trouble with Islam Today which has been published in more than 30 languages, including Arabic, Malay and Indonesian is on a book tour in Indonesia promoting her most recent book, Allah, Liberty and Love found herself faced with angry mobs determined to prevent her from speaking or discussing her views at any forum.

Openly lesbian Muslim journalist, activist and author, Irshad Manji

Local media reported that the South Jakarta police forcibly ended the book launch and discussion which was held the at the Salihara Community's building, Pasar Minggu on May 4 after the event was protested by Islamic Defender Front (FPI) group and people claiming to be local residents. The Jakarta Post reported that the protesters rejected the author because she openly declared that she was a lesbian and that her viewpoint that Islam should accept homosexuality was “unacceptable”; and questioned the organiser’s permit to invite a foreign national.

Manji was born in Uganda to a Gujarati Indian father and an Egyptian mother but her family moved to Canada when she was four.

Tempo, a news website, reported that Manji who was accompanied by her lawyer exited the building around 9.58 pm under heavy police escort, some two hours after the venue's fence was pulled down by a several-hundred-strong group reportedly comprising Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) members and supporters.

On Saturday, Manji successfully attended a discussion hosted by the Alliance of Independence Journalists’s (AJI) Jakarta branch under the protection of Banser NU, a youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama.

Before her Salihara speech was interrupted by the police, Manji had mentioned that compared to her last visit in 2008, she felt that there were “more conservative groups in the country this year”.

On Wednesday, a planned talk at Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University – one of Indonesia’s most prominent universities – was cancelled by university officials citing pressure from a group of hundreds of people who showed up at the university on Tuesday night and demanded the event not occur. “[Gadjah Mada] deems it important to be extra careful, given the recent unfavourable security situations,” a university spokesman told The Jakarta Post.

Two high-end Jakarta hotels, named by Tempo to be Ritz Carlton Mega Kuningan and Kartika Chandra hotels, reportedly refused to house the author. She eventually checked into Hotel Ritz Carlton Pacific Place. 

Manji, during an interview with The Jakarta Post a few days after the incident on Friday, said that homosexuality was “barely” mentioned in her book.

Instead her book Allah, Liberty and Love is a “how to” book on the subject of moral courage, which she defines as “the willingness to speak your truth to the powers in your community for the sake of a greater good than just your community.”

She is currently the director of the Moral Courage Project at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

“This new book really comes from 10 years of conversations that I have been having with young people, young Muslims especially all around the world... After The Trouble with Islam Today came out in 2003 as you know it received a lot of international press and I began a book tour that I did not realise would become a 10-year global dialogue,” she said.

She related that she had attended a madrasa (Islamic school) in Vancouver, Canada, where her family relocated, but stopped when she was 14. 

“The madrasa teacher tells us that Muslims cannot take Jews and Christians as friends and I asked why not. And he says either you believe or you get out and if you get out get out forever,” Manji said.

She left the school but continued to study Islam on her own through the books available at the public library.

Ironically, she learnt more about her own religion through debates with an educator of a different religion at her new school.

“[The vice principal] would treat me with the respect that a young person would rarely get at, for example, a madrasa. So the fact that he treated me as an actual human being and that he himself was a devout Christian showed me that religion in the public space or people of faith in the public sphere are not always bad news and disagreeing with each others’ ideas doesn’t always mean denying each other’s humanity,” she said.

Manji said she remains a “faithful Muslim” and her “liberal” label is in fact compatible with Islam. 

“Liberal in its classical meaning equates with freedom of thinking. So that’s ijtihad. It’s not a political term, not an ideological term. It’s a philosophical term. And it means reason, freedom of thought, pluralism. Ultimately it coheres much more with the Koran’s call for humility than conservatism does,” she said.

“When people are doing violence and intimidating and bullying and harassing others in the name of Allah and moderates don’t like it and don’t say anything because we shouldn’t react, we should just keep the peace, all they are doing is empowering those bullies,” Manji said.

Read more of the interview at the link below.


Reader's Comments

1. 2012-05-11 23:26  
i am glad there is someone as brave as she in today's community. it is rare we get to learn that different religions could coexist by actually accepting each other's differences and work together to reach a common goal, which is to live in peace. Peace IS the common goal of all religions. all human race. this i believe. then why we, in this day and age, still argues about who's better and who doesn't belong? aren't we supposed to move forward? why are we seem to be moving backward? i do agree that there seems to be more and more conservative groups out there. more than ever. it saddens me to learn that our society today has yet to change for the better, due to the reluctancy of various religions to accept changes and be done with all sorts of discrimination.
2. 2012-05-12 07:43  
Silence empowers Islam. Because muslims are terrified of questioning any part of their religion the religion itself continues to peddle some of the most ridiculous crap ever committed to paper that is about as relevant to 21st century life as are dinosaur droppings. The Islamic practice of destroying the lives and minds of young children is an appalling abuse of the innate trust young children have in their carers... and the sole purpose is to support a greedy corrupt empire. Now that's what I call a beautiful religion
3. 2012-05-12 07:47  
"Peace is the common goal of all religions". #1 ... I think its time you went back and read whichever text of religous dogma it is to which you subscribe. The common goal of all religions is to separate you and your money
4. 2012-05-12 08:09  
Religion's biggest turn off is the bloody-mindedness is they insist that their religion is the only true religion. The fact that there are so many religions is evidence that there is no true religion. We can not know if any animals other than humans have religion. Certainly there are hundreds of animal species where homosexuality is natural but humans are the only species where their is the label the it is not.

I applaud any person raised in any faith to question that faith. And I feel that is especially important in such "savage" faiths as Islam where women are treated so badly and "infidels" are nothing more than a target to be converted or killed.

Well done Irshad Manji. I wish there were many millions more just like you.
5. 2012-05-12 14:03  
Bashing Islam is hardly a peaceful gesture in itself.
6. 2012-05-12 21:31  
It is not religion itself that is the issue. It is the religious group that poses the problem - the way the group interprets their religion. That is why I don't like Indonesia or any country that harbours many religious extremists.
7. 2012-05-12 21:34  
faith is related within a whole life of a muslim. She terrors her own faith. What a betrayal .
8. 2012-05-13 04:19  
yes shes brave to go through all that!
sometimes i think all of us gay people should find another planet
to live on only then will there be peace for us all and no discrimination!
9. 2012-05-13 04:21  
remember also catholic and muslim religions do not treat women as equal yet
what a fiasco right!
10. 2012-05-13 12:49  
stand together.. 100% support
11. 2012-05-13 12:49  
stand together.. 100% support
12. 2012-05-13 13:21  
islam is apartied
i cannot restep this doctrin of hate ever
no one understands religious books
no evidence of gods mekes religious people delusional
religiongs bring now more hate than good
and have been dismissed in nodern society as myths
13. 2012-05-13 13:40  
any muslim that does not support here view
shoul be stonned to death as islam does for us lgbt
religions are hate
gays are love
14. 2012-05-13 14:54  
At nenihs84 post #5. Firstly, this is not a debate about peace. Islam is not a peaceful religion by any stretch of the imagination. Futher, I hardly think that my pointing out of some of the faults of Islam could be considered to be "bashing" them. Indeed "bashing" is what many Islamic faithful do when confronted with anything which questions them. They cannot accept that they should be in any way held to critical scrutiny and many who have dome so have suffered jihad, bashing, and execution by them. Your taking exception to me pointing out some faults of Islamic adherents is indeed a concrete example of the mentality of many Muslims. Your reaction is doubly relevant and even more amazing when you consider the subtitle of this article "Silence empowers bullies". Your comment is a subtle attempt to silence my critique and that sir, identifies you as a bully.
15. 2012-05-13 17:50  

I'm not interested in being roped into a debate about:
1. The merits of Islam
2. The faults of Islam

There are no doubt many faults of Islam. Both non-Muslims as well as many Muslims themselves understand this to be true.

The issue here has to do with adopting the mentality of hatred toward groups of people who share views different from ourselves.

When Muslims do this, we are, understandably, up in arms. How DARE they silence us. How CAN we keep silent at their bullying?

So similarly, I state:
When we do this toward groups of religious people, not all of whom are fundamentalist, and indeed, many of whom are committed to justice, well inspired by their own religious convictions, then how DARE we silence them by bashing them in turn?

I will defend the right of people to make blatantly ignorant statements. Whether they are Muslim fundamentalists or anti-Muslim. I'm not interested in silencing your critique.

Like you, I am simply invested in "pointing out some of the faults" of fundamentalist, ill-conceived views conveyed through a particular method of argument which involves presumptuous denunciation of entire groups of people who we do not fully understand.

As it is true for anti-gay Muslim fundamentalists, so it is true for anti-Muslim gay secular fundamentalists.
16. 2012-05-13 17:53  
Incidentally, my original criticism of bashing Muslims was directed at denseaus' words, not andy370's...
...though yours are clearly not exempt from this criticism either.
17. 2012-05-13 17:59  
I like nightingale's words:
"It is not religion itself that is the issue. It is the religious group that poses the problem - the way the group interprets their religion."

I would add,
we can create enemies out of the little material we are exposed to...

For example, some Muslim extremists, likely exposed to very few gay people in person, may envision gay people as sex-crazed, disease-ridden, family-destroying, selfish hedonists (with some element of truth to this statement, though CLEARLY not the case for a majority of us). It is understandable why so many gay people are legitimately pissed off about this mischaracterisation...

So similarly, many of us on this forum envision Muslims as delusional, psychopathic, violent, irrational, abusive, etc. etc... There are obviously elements of truth to this... though it would be equally irrational to not consider why some people would, in turn, be legitimately pissed off about this (mis)characterisation.

And frankly, there are way too many examples of NON-religious people also behaving in delusional, psychopathic, violent, irrational, and abusive ways to think that these are characteristics that are either unique to Islam, or that Islam has some special power on its own in producing these in its adherents.
Comment edited on 2012-05-13 18:05:16
18. 2012-05-13 19:49  
My final point:

Irshad Manji is a phenomenal inspiration. As a non-Muslim, I empathise with other non-Muslims' angst about the role of Islam in the league of global communities (indeed, a concern I suspect I share with many Muslims themselves).

At the same time, as a person whose heart is tethered to the callings of justice for us all, I am truly inspired by the amazing voices of Muslims who draw power from their faith to advance the interests of our common humanity.

I look forward to learning more about Manji, and to reading her books.
19. 2012-05-14 01:41  
I totally admire and applaud her courage to try to change things especially given the the personal price. Bashing a religion doesn't change a thing; not to forget there likely are gay Muslims reading this thread, how are those negative/hateful comments helpful to anyone?
Comment edited on 2012-05-14 01:44:56
20. 2012-05-14 16:05  
I think she should have just avoided countries like Jakarta and Malaysia. Modern Muslim uses common sense. Where else those who are born to be Muslim are force not to think but rather to follow that is where the real problem arises.

She did a great job and as human we all have our own right to say how we feel and what we think. Not everyone will agree with how an individual will think or express one self. Neither will god, Muslim world have changed tremendously, to what is actually written in the Al-Quran to what the leaders of the Muslim world dictates it tobe.

Muslim only encourage both male and female to do what they believe in but now so many countries like Pakistan decline educations to Muslim women. Which is wrong becuase that's not the Mulims way of teaching...

Well I guess every religion will have thier pro and cons to what one believes and to what one have been told to do.

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