FAITH WITHOUT FEAR
name is Irshad Manji. I can't show you where I live. My home
has bullet-proof windows and a lock on the mailbox to prevent
letter bombs. My journey is about speaking out against injustice,
no matter who's offended. As a Muslim, my faith is unshakable.
But my conscience is being shaken. Terrorists are killing civilians
under the banner of Islam. I won't abandon my God - or my voice."
begins Irshad Manji's new PBS documentary Faith without
Fear, a film which explores Manji's journey into Islam
in the 21st century. On first glance, Faith without Fear
mirrors the contents of Manji's internationally best-selling
book, The Trouble with Islam Today. Like the book,
the film deals with the injustices that are committed in the
name of Islam. Yet for those of us who have followed Manji's
work closely, Faith without Fear represents a significant
departure in the public intellectual's thinking. In particular,
Manji seems to have mollified her criticism of Islam-arguing
that it is not so much the religion that is at fault, but rather
the way in which some Muslims have interpreted their religion.
without Fear comes across as a voyage of personal and collective
discovery. The film documents Manji's quest for knowledge as
she visits a number of countries and engages in conversation
with an ideologically diverse group of people. These include
Osama Bin-Laden's former body guard, fellow dissident Ayaan
Hirsi Ali, and Manji's own mother, who is a devout Muslim.
film began not as a critique of Islam but as a quest for the
beauty in Islam," Manji explains. "I soon realized
that to find the beauty of my faith, I needed to have basic
questions addressed: Is the problem religion itself or the manipulation
of religion? Does Islam contain the seeds of a solution to the
horrors that are committed in its name? How much responsibility
should mainstream Muslims take? Above all, if Islam never existed,
what would the world be missing?"
travels the globe in search of answers to these questions. In
Yemen she tackles the problem of veiling, pointing out that
it is a 7th century tribal tradition that was originally designed
to protect women from being the spoils of war. Today, she argues,
the very principle behind such an endeavour is being distorted
when Muslims use the burqa and niqab (veil)
as a means to keep modern women oppressed.
Amsterdam, Manji explores the way in which repression of free
expression in the ummah (Muslim community) is masquerading under
the imperative of unity. Manji comes to the conclusion that
if Muslims are going to accept the fruits of modernity, including
their right to worship freely, then they must make room for
debate and dissent. As Manji says, "When Muslims shield
ourselves from that challenge, we declare we're incapable of
growing, and that our faith is too. Islam deserves better from
us." Finally, turning to Spain, Manji illuminates with
much excitement an historical vision of Islam that Muslims can
embrace in the 21st century-an Islam that is vibrant, tolerant,
and intellectually dynamic. As Manji puts it, "This is
the Islam that I love."
interesting component of Faith without Fear is Manji's
focus on her mother. Whereas in her book The Trouble With
Islam Today Manji describes a stern and abusive father
who unwittingly showed her the difference between authority
and authoritarianism, in the film Manji turns the lens on her
devout mother who symbolizes the dignity and beauty that she
is searching for in Islam. In one particularly raw scene, Manji
and her mom are told to leave the premises of her mother's mosque.
The episode clearly embarrasses and infuriates Manji's mother.
But, as Manji explains, "Her dignified response in a moment
of humiliation taught me important lessons about having faith
asked what she thought was the most compelling aspect of the
film, Manji replied, "My mom. She's a pistol in this film!
Dynamic, funny, humane, humanizing. I can't say enough about
her. And believe me, that's not because she agrees with everything
I say and do, quite the opposite. Unlike me, she shows herself
to be the kind of Muslim whom liberals and conservatives will
have a hard time hating. More than anybody else I can think
of, my mom represents the hope for Islam today."
are aspects of Faith without Fear that may disappoint
Manji purists. As noted above, whereas in the past Manji had
argued that Islam cannot be differentiated from the collective
behaviour of its adherents, today she believes that it is Muslims
and not Islam that need to change. Moreover, the film sees Manji
showing some unusual deference for her critics, such as Imam
Syed Soharwardy who leads the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada
and believes that Manji is undermining Islam and the Prophet
Muhammad. Lastly, in an omission that will surely raise some
eyebrows, Manji, who has been open and outspoken about being
a lesbian, chooses to leave out any discussion of her sexual
orientation in the film. "The journey is already a provocative
one," she explains, "I'd like to believe I've matured
to the point where I can say no to a weapon of mass distraction."
Manji herself is grappling with the challenges and transformation
that this movie engendered. "My integrity demands that
I stand up to injustices that take place under the banner of
Islam. My transformation requires that I have more reverence
for Islam. Is there a healthy balance? Am I selling out one
side or the other by trying to achieve such a balance? I'm still
struggling with these questions."
are no doubts that some will see these changes as a form of
"selling out." But such a perspective would miss the
big picture: Namely, that by approaching her subject matter
with more reverence, Manji stands to gain a wider audience whose
ears, minds, and hearts are open for a change. And while Manji
has evolved as a thinker, her concern for human rights and dignity
is as strong as ever. Faith without Fear pulls no punches
with regards to the harrowing atrocities sanctified by Muslim
extremists and the silence of moderates. It challenges its viewers
to take responsibility for the wrongs perpetuated in the name
of Islam, while simultaneously calling them to regain ownership
of the spiritually and morally arresting power of their faith.
Manji observes, "One of the most persistent criticisms
of me is that I should question Muslims, not Islam. That's what
I'm challenging myself to do in this film-without compromising
intellectual freedom and human rights. By pushing myself to
change, I'm extending an olive branch to my fellow Muslims.
Whether they reciprocate will speak volumes about their open-mindedness."
Faith without Fear, Irshad Manji remains the spiky-haired
public intellectual who speaks truth to power, but now her indignation
at the injustices carried out under the banner of Islam is grounded
in respect and love for her faith. Joseph Campbell, the great
scholar of mythology, wrote that all great journeys must go
through three stages: separation, initiation, and a return.
Going into the unknown, experiencing a transformation, and bringing
back the prize of the quest. In this wonderful documentary,
Manji takes us with her on a journey of discovery, we experience
her transformation and reap the benefit of the boon of knowledge
that she carries back with her.
review is published with the permission of
Ali: Letter to a Muslim
Islam on the Rise
Hage's Long Day's Journey into Secularism
Shape of Rape in Pakistan: Muhktaran Mai
Woman in Iraq: Judy Rebick
Edward Said: Chronicle of an Infitada Foretold
Hitchens Tariq Ali Debate