Irshad Manji

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Irshad Manji
Irshad Manji 2012.png
Irshad Manji, 2012
Born1968 (age 49–50)
near Kampala, Uganda
Education"History of Ideas" graduate at The University of British Columbia, Winner of Governor-General's Medal for Top Achievement in the Humanities
OccupationEducator, author and founder of the Moral Courage Project
Years active1990–present
Spouse(s)Laura J. Albano (m 2016)
AwardsHonorary Doctorate, University of Puget Sound
Honorary Doctorate, Bishop's University;
World Economic Forum, "Young Global Leader";
New York Society for Ethical Culture's Ethical Humanist Award;

Irshad Manji (born 1968) is a Canadian Muslim author, educator, and advocate of a reformist interpretation of Islam. She is a well-known critic of traditional mainstream Islam, described in 2003 as "Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare".[1]

Manji has written several books, two of which have been banned in Malaysia.[2][3] The Trouble with Islam Today (first released as Trouble with Islam), has been published in more than 30 languages, including Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Malay and Indonesian.[4][5] Allah, Liberty and Love was released in June 2011.

Manji founded several educational projects to help young people discover their values and their courage; of note are Project Ijtihad and the Moral Courage Project.

Manji produced a PBS documentary in the America at a Crossroads series titled "Faith Without Fear", chronicling her personal attempt to "reconcile her faith in Allah with her love of freedom".[6] The documentary was nominated for a 2008 Emmy Award.[7][8] Her articles have appeared in many publications, and she has addressed audiences ranging from Amnesty International,[9] to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She has appeared on television networks around the world.

Overall ethos and message[edit]

Manji is troubled by how Islam is practiced today and by the Arab influence on Islam that took away women's individuality[10] and introduced the concept of group honour.[11]

In her book The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji calls herself a "Muslim refusenik": Someone who refuses to "join an army of robots in the name of God."[12] ""was the name of Manji's original website. ...[a] The website is partially available on the web archives.[14]

Manji also calls herself a Muslim pluralist.[15] In her 2011 book, Allah, Liberty and Love, she writes about the "occupations of both Israeli soldiers and Arab oligarchs,"[16] asserting that each occupation needs to be fought nonviolently. In a recent column for Globe and Mail, she applauded young Palestinians who issued the Gaza Youth Manifesto for Change, which calls for freedom and warns that "we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel [and] beaten up by Hamas...There is a revolution growing inside of us..."[17]

Early life and education[edit]

Manji was born in 1967 near Kampala, Uganda to an Indian (Gujarati) father and Egyptian mother.[18][19][20]

When Idi Amin expelled non-Africans from Uganda in 1972, four year old Irshad moved with her family to Richmond, British Columbia, near Vancouver.[5][21][b] On Saturdays she attended a religious school (madressa) until age 14 when she was expelled for asking too many questions.[23][24]

In 1990, she earned a bachelor's degree with honors in the history of ideas from the University of British Columbia, and won the Governor General's Academic Medal for top humanities graduate.[25]


Early career[edit]

Manji worked as a legislative aide in the Canadian parliament, press secretary in the Ontario government, and speechwriter for the leader of the New Democratic Party. At the age of 24, she became the national affairs editorialist for the Ottawa Citizen and thus the youngest member of an editorial board for any Canadian daily. She was also a columnist for Ottawa's new LGBT newspaper Capital Xtra!.[26] She participated in a regular segment on TVOntario's Studio 2 in the mid-1990s, representing liberal views in debates with conservative journalist Michael Coren.

Manji hosted or produced several public affairs programs on television, one of which won the Gemini, Canada's top broadcasting prize. She later produced and hosted QT: QueerTelevision for the Toronto-based Citytv in the late 1990s. Among the program's coverage of local and national LGBT issues, she also produced stories on the lives of gay people in the Muslim world. When she left the show, Manji donated the set's giant Q to the Pride Library at the University of Western Ontario.[27][28]


Moral Courage Project[edit]

In January 2008, Manji joined New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service to spearhead the Moral Courage Project, an initiative to help young people speak truth to power within their own communities.[36] Since 2017 The University of Southern California is where Irshad and her team teach "moral courage." [37]

Manji also founded the Moral Courage Project at Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, a course offering that aims to teach young leaders "to make values-driven decisions for the sake of their integrity – professional and personal".[38] In April 2013 Moral Courage TV (on YouTube), was launched by Manji and professor/activist Cornel West.[39] Cornel West spoke of Manji's work as a "powerful force for good."[40] As of 2015, Manji is developing "the West Coast presence of Moral Courage at University of Southern California, Annenberg Center for Communication.[41]


Manji has received numerous death threats.[42] In a CNN interview, Manji stated that the windows of her apartment are fitted with bullet-proof glass, primarily for the protection of her family.[43] "Muslim extremists storm Irshad's book launch in Amsterdam in December 2011, and ordered her execution." [44] "When Irshad Manji, a courageous Canadian Muslim liberal and open critic of Islam was speaking with another reformist Muslim at an event this past December in Amsterdam, 22 male Islamic jihadists burst into the venue and attempted to physically assault her".[45]

The Trouble with Islam Today[edit]

Manji's book The Trouble with Islam Today was published by St. Martin's Press in 2004. It has since been translated into more than 30 languages. Manji offers several translations of the book (namely, those in the Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Malay and Indonesian languages) available for free-of-charge download on her website. The book has been met with both praise and scorn from both Muslim and non-Muslim sources. Several reviewers have called the book "courageous"[46] or "long overdue"[47] while others have accused it of disproportionately targeting Muslims[48] or lacking thorough scholarship.[49]

In the book, Manji says that Arabs have made a mistake by denying that Jews have a historical bond with Palestine. Manji writes that the Jews' historical roots stretch back to the land of Israel, and that they have a right to a Jewish state. She further argues that the allegation of apartheid in Israel is deeply misleading, noting that there are in Israel several Arab political parties, that Arab-Muslim legislators have veto powers, and that Arab parties have overturned disqualifications. She also writes that Israel has a free Arab press, that road signs bear Arabic translations, and that Arabs live and study alongside Jews.[50]

However, elsewhere in the book, Manji criticized the conditions of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and, at the time (2003), Gaza, noting a then-recent wave of "[reoccupation of] illegal Jewish settlements, assault helicopters, checkpoints [and] curfews..." (in response to "Palestinian suicide bombings [having] been on the rise")[51] "Day in and day out," she writes of Palestinians, "they witness what I've only glimpsed: young Israeli women and men with guns strapped to their chests. Miles of dusty road to tread between checkpoints. Brusque soldiers who won't utter a word of Arabic, even if they know how. ID cards, razor wire, armored tanks, sprawling Jewish settlements that look like suburbs and would take years to dismantle, delaying justice for Palestinians that much longer."[52]

Tarek Fatah, a fellow Canadian Muslim who originally criticized The Trouble With Islam,[53] reversed his stance saying that Manji was "right about the systematic racism in the Muslim world" and that "there were many redeeming points in her memoir".[54]

Allah, Liberty and Love[edit]

On Manji's website, the book is described: "Allah, Liberty and Love shows all of us how to reconcile faith and freedom in a world seething with repressive dogmas. Manji’s key teaching is "moral courage," the willingness to speak up when everyone else wants to shut you up. This book is the ultimate guide to becoming a gutsy global citizen."[27]

It is time for those who love liberal democracy to join hands with Islam's reformists. Here is a clue to who's who: Moderate Muslims denounce violence committed in the name of Islam but insist that religion has nothing to do with it; reformist Muslims, by contrast, not only deplore Islamist violence but admit that our religion is used to incite it.[55][56]

Since publishing The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has taken an aspirational approach to issues of reform. In her 2011 book Allah, Liberty and Love,[57] she invites Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop many from living with integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning their own communities. Manji asserts that change must start from within.[58]

As with Manji's other writings, Allah, Liberty and Love has been received with some negative criticism; scholars complain that "Manji may lack the seriousness to make her points and turn her ideas into action".[59]

Ijtihad "effort, physical or mental, expended in a particular activity is also an Islamic legal term referring to independent reasoning or the thorough exertion of a jurist's mental faculty in finding a solution to a legal question."[60] Manji's Project Ijtihad is a charitable organization that has innovated a 24/7 service to advise people, especially young Muslims, who are struggling with faith. Advice from the "Guidance Team" of Project Ijtihad, is free of charge and available in multiple languages.[61]

Omar Sultan Haque, researcher and teacher at Harvard University Medical School, argues that although Manji's book is important in raising consciousness, it "fails to grapple with some of the more substantial questions that would make [a liberal and open] future [of Islamic Interpretation] a reality."[62] Haque often describes Manji's ideas in a 'patronizing' manner", as Howard A. Doughty, who critiques Haque illustrates with a quote: "Manji’s God resembles an extremely affectionate and powerful high school guidance counselor:" [e] Rayyan Al-Shawaf, a Beirut-based writer and another critic, argues that Manji promotes ijtihad while overlooking (if that is possible) that "ijtihad is a sword that cuts both ways." [64] Rayyan Al-Shawaf also laments Manji's focus "on how liberal Muslims could reinterpret the Koran as opposed to how they might set legal limits on its socio-politico-economic influence."[64]

Doughtery summarizes his observations of many Manji's critics: "What her critics seem to miss is that her ease of communication, stripped of abstract philosophical, political and economic analysis is precisely what allows her to turn her thoughts into other people’s actions." [59]

Other controversy surrounded the international launch of "Allah, Liberty and Love". During her world tour, police cut short her talk in Jakarta due to pressure from one of Indonesia's fundamentalist groups, the Islamic Defenders Front.[65] A few days later, hundreds of men from the Indonesian Mujahedeen Council assaulted Manji's team and supporters in Yogyakarta. Dozens were beaten and many had to be treated in hospital.[66]

Shortly afterwards, the government of Malaysia banned "Allah, Liberty and Love".[67] But in September 2013, a High Court in Kuala Lumpur struck down the ban.[68]

In 2012, Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, "a 36-year-old Malay woman planning for her wedding and in the midst of a marriage course at her local mosque, happened to be on shift as manager of the Borders Bookstore."[69] She was arrested for selling Irshad Manji’s "Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta".[70] " After three years of legal battles with the authorities who had prosecuted her for selling Irshad Manji’s "Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta", Nik Raina emerged victorious: The Federal Court dismissed the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department’s (JAWI) bid to appeal a lower court ruling favouring the Borders bookstore manager".[71][72]

Journalism and public speaking[edit]

Chris Powers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said her presentation was awesome: [f] to the William J. Clinton School of Public Service.[74] Patrick Kennedy, Director of Public Programs, William J. Clinton School of Public Service said of her address there in 2007 that he'd 'never seen our audience so inspired for action": [g]

She has also appeared on television networks around the world, including Al Jazeera, the CBC, BBC, MSNBC, C-SPAN, CNN, PBS, the Fox News Channel, CBS, and HBO.[75]

In 2006, The Guardian reported that Manji charged $7,500 (£4,000) per hour for giving a talk.[76]

Political views[edit]

When a journalist noted in an interview for the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post that Irshad Manji shared similar views with neoconservatives, she replied, "I'm not left-wing, I'm not right-wing. I'm post-wing".[77]

Irshad Manji supported the United States' wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the George W. Bush administration's War on Terror.[78][79][80][81]

Manji has also expressed admiration for Israel.[78][81] She says, "the Palestinian leadership is as much responsible for the sorry plight of the Palestinian people as much as anything Israel has done".[77] Manji also argues that Palestinians face two different sources of oppression[82] — their own community and Israel — and she says, "I think Israel is not the greater source of the oppression".[77]

In a 2007 interview with the conservative television host Glenn Beck, Manji said, "I supported the coalition invasion of Iraq for human rights reasons, not because I thought there were WMDs".[83] By 2006, her views toward the war in Iraq had soured, and Manji said she was disappointed by the Bush administration. But she said, "I could not call myself anti-war", and she maintained, "I do believe that force needed to be used in a case like this, in Iraq".[77]

By 2011, Manji came to regret her support for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Iraq, she said, "I was wrong. I actually thought the Oval Office had information that was taken into account when it made decisions... I reached a brazenly naive conclusion".[80] She also said, "I have been openly questioning our work in Afghanistan".[80]

Manji has criticized the argument that US wars inspire Islamic extremism.[84]

Personal life[edit]

In 2016, Manji and her partner, Laura, were married in Hawaii.[85] They live there with their five rescue dogs.[35]

Awards and honors[edit]

Selected works[edit]


  • 1997 – Risking Utopia: On the edge of a new democracy, ISBN 1-55054-434-9.
  • 2003 – The Trouble with Islam Today
  • 2011 – Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom [96] ISBN 1-4516-4520-1, ISBN 978-1-4516-4520-0


In 2007 Manji released a PBS documentary, Faith without Fear. It follows her journey to reconcile faith and freedom, depicting the personal risks she has faced as a Muslim reformer. She explores Islamism in Yemen, Europe and North America, as well as histories of Islamic critical thinking in Spain and elsewhere.[h] Faith Without Fear was nominated for an Emmy,[8] was a finalist for the National Film Board of Canada's Gemini Award[98] It launched the 2008 Muslim Film Festival, organized by the American Islamic Congress[99] and won Gold at the New York Television Festival.


  1. ^ "many people, calling into phone-in shows, or responding to her website, have expressed their heartfelt thanks."[13]
  2. ^ In Richmond, she attended secular schools, Burnett Secondary School and later Richmond Secondary School, where she excelled.[22]
  3. ^ "The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation has named two U of T community members as 2005 Trudeau Foundation Mentors: Irshad Manji is Hart House’s writer-in-residence and author of The Trouble with Islam," [29]
  4. ^ "Currently, Irshad is based at Yale University as a Visiting Fellow with the International Security Studies program. She writes columns that are distributed worldwide by the New York Times Syndicate.[30]
  5. ^ "Manji’s God resembles an extremely affectionate and powerful high school guidance counselor: a loving person who looks over you and wants you to be your freest and most socially responsible self. This God gave humans powerful minds that they should cultivate. This God wants humans to use reason and empathy to reinterpret traditions in light of modern knowledge and ethical necessities.[62][63]
  6. ^ "Irshad, I want to thank you for your awesome presentation. For me and almost everyone else I spoke with, your speech was the highlight of our communications conference."[73]
  7. ^ "Irshad Manji, with her knowledge of Islam and her passion for change, generated the largest daytime event ever hosted at the Clinton School of Public Service. The audience, which consisted of students, faculty, policymakers and interested citizens, was flowing out of the building. Moreover, I′ve never seen our audience so inspired for action. Irshad stirred people′s emotions and called them to act upon a noble cause for modernity and reason. The overwhelming response was also indicated by media. The state′s largest newspaper ran a large feature and, later, a lengthy editorial about the hope that Irshad provides. Even after months of her speaking at the Clinton School, people are asking when she′s coming back. The Clinton community has developed what I call ′Irshad-itis;′ more commonly known as Irshad-Withdrawal".[73]
  8. ^ "Trekking through the Arabian peninsula, Manji speaks with Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard, who explains why he’s willing to turn his young son into a martyr. She also engages a California convert to Islam who now lives in Yemen and says that by covering her body and face, she’s exercising American-style freedom of religion. But is it really freedom if you’ll be punished for not covering? Manji meets one Yemeni woman who faces a steep price for rejecting the rules. Through them, Manji discovers what she thinks has corrupted a religion of justice to become an ideology of fear."[97]


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External links[edit]