At first, I did not want to have anything to do with Canadian author Irshad Manji. When reading about her recently released book, The Trouble With Islam (St. Martin's Press), I thought to myself, "Great. Another self-proclaimed Muslim bashing Islam." Then came her interview on Beliefnet.com, which headlined as an interview with a Lesbian, Feminist, Israel-loving Muslim. So, I decided to take a closer look at the "Muslim Refusenik," as she called herself. I must say that I was deeply surprised by what she had to say. And deeply grateful.

I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she had to say. I also found myself disagreeing with a lot of what she had to say. The most important point, however, was that I listened to what she had to say. My initial urge to dismiss Irshad Manji out of hand, simply because of the title of her book, was very wrong indeed.

I agree with her that some aspects of critical thinking were utterly abandoned by Muslim legal scholars for many centuries, to utter detriment and decay of Islamic civilization. I disagree, however, that critical thinking is completely absent among Muslims today. I agree with her that scriptural literalism among Muslims is a serious problem. I disagree, however, that literalism is the mainstream of modern Muslim thought. I agree with her that sometimes Arab cultural traditions are confused for Islamic doctrine. I also agree with her that conversations with God do not have to be only in Arabic--heck, I pray to God in English all the time. I disagree, however, if she advocates saying the five daily Muslim prayers in English. Although she never said it explicitly, I agree with her that many Muslims have fallen way short of the ideals of their faith. I disagree, however, that the "trouble" is with Islam itself.

The most important thing is not whether I agree or disagree with Manji's views. The most important thing is that I am having such a "conversation" with Manji. Sadly, however, I see many Muslims refusing to engage in such a dialogue. For example, many Muslims dismiss Irshad Manji out of hand because they claim she is a member of the Shia Ismaili sect, a charge she has repeatedly denied. In addition, I am sure many Muslims are not fond of her being Lesbian, Feminist, and Israel-loving. Still, that is no reason why Muslims should refuse to listen to what she has to say. I think Ms. Manji makes some legitimate points about Muslims today, and those points need to be critically examined by Muslims today.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said that Muslims should seek to gain wisdom from wherever it may lie, and that includes Lesbian, Feminist, Israel-loving, Muslim Refuseniks. That also includes the state of Israel. Yes, the state of Israel is the only country of the Arab Middle East that currently occupies Arab land. I pray for that occupation to end and for peace between Arabs and Israelis to come swiftly. Nevertheless, Israel is also the only country of the Arab Middle East whose Prime Minister has been questioned by police in connection with a bribery scandal that may end up in his indictment on corruption charges. Come meet me in my grave--an old Egyptian expression--when any Arab leader is ever questioned by his country's law enforcement authorities on alleged charges of corruption.

I am grateful to have read Manji's interview and learned some of what she has to say. There was a time in my life when I would dismiss people out of hand because of the views they purportedly had with which I disagreed. This only made me all the poorer, because I arrogantly denied myself an opportunity to learn something new or see things from a different perspective. In addition, this practice ran counter to the guiding principles of Islam, which demands of its adherents to think and have open minds. Thank God I have changed. It may not always be easy to hear oneself be criticized, but it is vitally important to hear that criticism nonetheless. Otherwise, change for the better will be as elusive as the appearance of Mr. Godot.

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