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Allah, Liberty & Love by Irshad Manji, July 19 2011
I wasn't sure what to expect when I began Irshad Manji's "Allah, LIberty & Love," although I knew that her career as a public speaker was controversial because of her unconventional views on current issues facing Muslims in North America. Initially, the book seemed to be a collection of tweets and email chats with critics and supporters. Not being a fan of this form of communication, I wasn't entirely impressed. However, considering the number of young Muslims in the west attracted to the fundamentalist version of Islam found on numerous websites, I can understand why she might want to use some of the conventions of social media to provide an alternative interpretation of Islamic beliefs and encourage a dialogue among believers on what it means to be a Muslim in the world today.
However, Manji's intended readership is not limited to her fellow Muslims -- she also takes aim at good, well-meaning people in the west who are afraid to criticize the extremist voices within Islam for fear of being taken as intolerant. She makes the point that it was only through the moral courage of people like Martin Luther King (and she might have mentioned Gandhi and Mandela)that real societal change can take place. But it is the statement of a Muslim colleague of Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, that "true freedom comes from disciplining the self, not others" that contains the core of her message to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. That, and her assertion that Islam (and other religions) need to shed the cultural baggage that hides the true message of their holy scriptures. While some may be put off by her "in your face" approach, the issues she brings up are too important to be ignored. Unlike many books on Islam today, Manji's work doesn't dwell on the differences between various groups within the faith, but rather the importance for today's Muslims to become part of a true Islamic reformation, based on the Qur'an's vision of Allah as "the compassionate and merciful."