Irshad Manji – Canada & Uganda

Linked with our presentation of an open letter from Irshad Manji.

Irshad Manji (born 1968) is a Canadian author, journalist, and activist. Manji is also a Shi’a Muslim from the Twelvers (ithna asheri) sect. She is an outspoken feminist, and critic of Islamic fundamentalism and literalist interpretations of the Qur’an. She calls herself as a rebel and a self-proclaimed Muslim Refusenik.

She was once described by The New York Times as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare”. Manji was born in Uganda in 1968, but her family moved to Canada when she was four, as a result of Idi Amin exiling all South Asians from Uganda. (Read more on wikipedia).

Irshad Manji – Canada & Uganda

She writes: Friends, by now you know about the Manifesto of 12 – ‘Together Facing a New Totalitarianism’. I signed it, as did Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasrin and several others.

On March 11, we received a serious death threat from a chat thread on, an Islamic website in Britain. (See more on her personal blog on March 15, 2006, and on My comment to a new fatwa.

Her book ‘The Trouble with Islam Today ‘. In it Manji describes her turbulent youth, including an incident when her father chased her around the house holding a knife. Manji holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from the University of British Columbia, and became the first humanities student to win the Governor-General’s Gold Medal for the top graduates.

In this controversial and ground-breaking book, she exposes the disturbing cornerstones of Islam as it is widely practised today: tribal insularity, repression of women, and an uncritical acceptance of the Quran. But The Trouble with Islam Today goes deeper, offering a practical vision of an Islamic reformation that empowers women, promotes respect for religious minorities, and fosters a competition of ideas. Manji’s vision revives “ijtihad,” Islam’s lost tradition of independent thinking. In that spirit, Irshad Manji travels throughout the world with her challenge for both Muslims and non-Muslims: Dare to ask questions – out loud.

Contents: Foreword by Professor Khaleel Mohammed The Letter How I Became a Muslim Refusenik Seventy Virgins? When Did We Stop Thinking? Gates and Girdles Who’s Betraying Whom? The Hidden Underbelly of Islam Operation Ijtihad In Praise of Honesty Thank God for the West Afterword Recommended Readings Acknowledgements. (ISBN 8188861022).

On this link, this book can be downloaded for free in the Arabic, Urdu, and Persian editions!


She wants the liberal reformation of Islam through the “Project Ijtihad”:

What’s Ijtihad?

Ijtihad (pronounced “ij-tee-had”) is Islam’s lost tradition of independent thinking. In the early centuries of Islam, thanks to the spirit of ijtihad, 135 schools of thought thrived. Inspired by ijtihad, Muslims gave the world inventions from the astrolabe to the university. So much of we consider “western” pop culture came from Muslims: the guitar, mocha coffee, even the ultra-Spanish expression “Ole!” (which has its root in the Arabic word for God, “Allah”).

What happened to ijtihad?

Toward the end of the 11th century, the “gates of ijtihad” were closed for entirely political reasons. During this time, the Muslim empire from Iraq in the east to Spain in the west was going through a series of internal upheavals. Dissident denominations were popping up and declaring their own runaway governments, which posed a threat to the main Muslim leader — the caliph. Based in Baghdad, the caliph cracked down and closed ranks. Remember those 135 schools of thought mentioned above? They were deliberately reduced to four, pretty conservative, schools of thought. This led to a rigid reading of the Koran as well as to a series of legal opinions — fatwas — that scholars could no longer overturn or even question, but could now only imitate. To this very day, imitation of medieval norms has trumped innovation in Islam. It’s time to revive ijtihad to update Islam for the 21st century. That’s why I’ve created Project Ijtihad.

What’s Project Ijtihad?

Project Ijtihad is my foundation to spur a reform in Islam — a reform that enables the emerging generation of Muslims, especially young women, to challenge authoritarianism and restore Islam’s tradition of critical thinking.

The mission is to build a leadership network through which young, reform-minded Muslims can do three things:

Meet face-to-face so that they see they’re not alone;
Develop the confidence to openly dissent with conformity in Islam; and
Learn about the Golden Age of Islam, when Muslims, Jews, Christians and others worked together to preserve and expand knowledge — something we’re rarely taught in our public schools or in our Islamic religious schools.

The center’s students will hail from around the world. In North America, many of our beneficiaries will come from first generation immigrant families. That way, the conversations they initiate at home and in their communities will reach real people rather than being confined to an elite. The point is to create a critical mass of critical thinkers so that young Muslims no longer fear speaking their minds.

How’s the response so far?

Based on my extensive touring and interaction with young Muslims around the world, I can report good news: the idea of a campaign to revive ijtihad is generating huge excitement. Young Muslims and their friends are expressing gratitude, relief, even love for my willingness to help them confront the extremists. There’s no doubt that some young Muslims detest me and my message of ijtihad.
They tend to be the vocal and vitriolic ones. But everywhere I go, I’m quietly approached by Muslims, especially young women, who are desperate to know that it’s possible to dissent with mainstream orthodoxy while remaining faithful. The challenge now is to help transform that underground hunger for change into an above-the-ground phenomenon.

Who’s financing this?

Project Ijithad has already captured the imagination of a multi-faith group of supporters led by Monica Graham of New York City. A champion for women’s equality within the Catholic Church, Monica is broadening her advocacy to include women and youth in the Muslim world. Monica and others are helping me raise money to establish the leadership center for young Muslims. But there are crucial steps to take along the way.

So what’s next?

As we work towards launching the leadership center, we need to create educational materials in various formats. One of our immediate goals is to translate The Trouble with Islam Today into Farsi so that it can be distributed in Iran. We also need to produce audio versions of the book in various languages so that Muslims who live under severe state censorship, Muslims who are illiterate, or Muslims who can’t afford access to the internet can, nonetheless, hear the message. Initiatives like this will allow young Muslims worldwide to become aware of Project Ijtihad. That, in turn, will allow us to identify our future students at the leadership center.

You can send your questions or comments to To contribute, please only use the online form above.

Salaam and thank you, Irshad Manji, Chief Catalyst, Project Ijtihad

And an article from February 8, 2006 in ‘The Age‘/Austraila: Lighten up, fellow Muslims, Islam can take a joke, even a bad one, at the prophet’s expense.


The Blog of Maryam Namazie, a spiritual sister;


the age;

Irshad Manji’s Trip to Israel;

front page mag;

the Huffington post;

Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society;

the Melbourne writers festival

Counter Currents;

Times online;

The Queens University Journal;

Soap Box.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.