muslim demonstration

Maybe you’re baffled at the title of this post. To you it perhaps seems obvious that Islam does not tolerate freedom of expression given what you’ve seen in the news over the last 20 years or so.

You’re probably only too familiar with the fatwa that was declared against Salman Rushdie after he published the book The Satanic Verses. The gruesome killing of the Theo Van Gogh, director of the controversial movie Submission, by a Moroccan immigrant is probably still fresh in your memory. It’s also hard to forget the riots that followed the publication of cartoons in a Danish magazine depicting the Prophet Muhammad – and most recently the death threats that were issued against the creators of South Park after they announced plans to feature the Prophet in one of their episodes..

Anyone observing these events would not be blamed for concluding that Islam is very intolerant towards dissenting views, and does not allow people to freely express themselves – especially when it comes to criticisms of it.

Irshad ManjiNot so, says Irshad Manji, who sees herself as, in her own words,  a “faithful Muslim who’s trying to educate her fellow Muslims that Islam can be reconciled with free expression.”  She is the director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University which aims to develop leaders who will challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship.

In her most recent blog post, she outlines 3 reasons why she believes Islam IS compatible with freedom of speech. She said:

  1. The Prophet Muhammad warned Muslims not to put him on a pedestal. That’s because he’s not the one to be revered; God alone is to be worshiped. Welcome to the hypocrisy of those who claim to be protecting the Prophet while violating one of his core teachings.
  2. The Qur’an expressly affirms that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Which means nobody should be forced to follow Islamic traditions, even if they’re “mocking” the religion.
  3. The Qur’an advises Muslims to deal with hurt feelings by getting up and walking away (4:140). That’s it. Don’t retaliate. Just “do not sit with them.” Change the channel. Click the mouse. Move on. Once the dust has settled, come back to discuss the issues with those who’ve offended you.

Well, well.. it would be nice if her words were taken seriously by the Muslim community at large, wouldn’t it?

One small problem. She’s a lesbian… and as we all know, Muslim clerics generally don’t take too kindly to gays and lesbians.

What are the chances they’ll give a damn about what she has to say?

Slim, to say the least.

Regardless, her efforts are to be commended, and greatly so. Even when the odds seem insurmountable, change is possible, and it always begins with a few brave people taking the first step. Christianity wasn’t all that different in the past in terms of how it dealt with ‘heathens’, dissenters, and heretics – and it can be said that today Christians (in the West anyway) are a far more tolerant bunch than they were just a few centuries ago.

Religion inspired torture by Christians The Spanish Inquisition 

With increased, education and enlightenment, maybe one day we shall see a world where Muslims and fellow Muslims – and Muslims and non-Muslims – can engage in frank dialogue without either side being ‘offended’ by what the other says. For freedom of speech to exist, there needs to first of all be people who are open and tolerant of others, even when their views might be ‘offensive’ to them. We should all work towards making this kind of world a reality.

Promote tolerance.

Irshad Manji was born in Uganda, by the way! Check out her blog.