Sunday, November 18, 2012

Out Spotlight

Today's Out Spotlight is an award-winning Muslim author, feminist and advocate of a "reform and progressive" interpretation of Islam. The New York Times described her as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare.” Today's Out Spotlight is Irshad Manji.

Irshad Manji was born near Kampala, Uganda in 1968 to an Indian father and an Egyptian mother. In 1973, when Asians were deported from Uganda, her family immigrated to Canada as political refugees. Growing up in Canada she attended public school during the week and the madrasah, an Islamic religious school, on the weekend.

She excelled in the secular environment but, by her own account, at 14 she was expelled from her religious school for asking too many questions. For the next twenty years, she studied Islam via public libraries and Arabic tutors. Manji was at the top of her class and earned an honors degree in the history of ideas from the University of British Columbia. In 1990, she won the Governor General's Medal for top humanities graduate.

She went on to 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 age 24, she became the national affairs editorialist for the Ottawa Citizen and becoming the youngest member of an editorial board for any Canadian daily. She was also a columnist for Ottawa's new LGBT newspaper Capital Xtra!.

Manji has since hosted or produced several public affairs programs on television, one of which won the Gemini, Canada’s top broadcasting prize. 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. 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, she donated the set's giant Q to the Pride Library at the University of Western Ontario.

In 2002, she became writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto's Hart House, from where she began writing The Trouble with Islam Today. From 2005 to 2006, she was a visiting fellow with the International Security Studies program at Yale University. She is currently a senior fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels.

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. The project aims to teach young leaders to "challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship." She is also founder and president of Project Ijtihad, a charitable organization promoting a "tradition of critical thinking, debate and dissent" in Islam, among a "network of reform-minded Muslims and non-Muslim allies."

She has produced a PBS documentary, "Faith Without Fear", chronicling her attempt to "reconcile her faith in Allah with her love of freedom." The documentary was nominated for a 2008 Emmy Award. As a journalist, her articles have appeared in many publications, and she has addressed audiences ranging from Amnesty International to the United Nations Press Corps to the Democratic Muslims in Denmark to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She has 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.

As a journalist, her columns appear in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, and the website of Al Arabiya. She writes a regular feature for Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper.

Manji’s most recent book, Allah, Liberty and Love was released in June 2011. On her 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."

In the book, she writes about the "occupations of both Israeli soldiers and Arab oligarchs," asserting that each occupation needs to be fought nonviolently.

Her previous book, The Trouble with Islam Today (initially published as Trouble with Islam), has been published in more than 30 languages, including Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Malay and Indonesian. She was troubled by how Islam is practiced today and by the Arab influence on Islam that took away women's individuality and introduced the concept of women's honor.

Manji has received numerous death threats.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. At a recent book launch in Amsterdam "Muslim extremists stormed in" and ordered her execution.

Manji was awarded Oprah Winfrey's first annual Chutzpah Award for "audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction." Ms. Magazine named her a "Feminist for the 21st Century," and Immigration Equality gave her its Global Vision Prize. In 2006, The World Economic Forum selected her as a Young Global Leader. She has also been named a Muslim Leader of Tomorrow by the American Society for Muslim Advancement. In May 2008, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Puget Sound.

“My journey is about speaking out against injustice, no matter who is offended.”


Cloud 9 said...

Wow, just an amazing Spotlight this week. Thanks!

destiny said...

I've seen her on a number of political programs and read reviews of her books. Nice to read more about her. It's so brave what she's doing.