A Canadian author and a Dutch politician expressed their criticism of Islam and discussed the need for reform of the religion.
Writer Irshad Manji and Dutch Parliament member Ayaan Hirsi Ali, also an author who launched a book on Tuesday and wrote the movie that
provoked the murder of director Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical, spoke before an audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York, a Jewish arts and culture center, about the reform of Islam.
“The way in which my religion has been practiced and promoted for the last several hundred years is such that codes of honor - very Arab and very primal - have become enmeshed in the practice of Islam so that even though this is not a problem from Islam it has become a problem for Islam,” Manji said.
But the author mixed serious discussion with humor, greeting the audience with “Salaam, shalom, and for the atheists out there, ‘How the hell are you?”’ Manji, currently a visiting fellow at Yale University and syndicated columnist for the New York Times, wrote “The Trouble With Islam Today,” a book critical of Islam.
The 37-year old, born in Uganda to parents of Indian and Egyptian descent who moved to Canada where she grew up, told the audience that a sense of humor was necessary to opening a dialogue and questioning Islam. When asked if the approach would work, her co-panelist Hirsi Ali answered in a somber tone, “Not until we draw cartoons of the prophet.”
A dissident of Islam
In her book “The Caged Virgin,” Hirsi Ali mentions the riotous reactions in many Muslim countries after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. She also cites the example of a Newsweek magazine report that a copy of the Quran was flushed down a toilet. Newsweek later retracted the report, which sparked riots in some Muslim countries that left dozens of people dead.
“We Muslims have completely lost sight of the balance between religion and reason,” Hirsi Ali writes in the new book.
The 36-year-old former refugee from Somalia, who fled an arranged marriage and ended up in the Netherlands where she would eventually be elected to parliament four years ago, says she is an atheist, but retains her past as a Muslim.
“I am a dissident of Islam - I share this history, I share the culture, I share the religion, my parents and everyone have stayed Muslims my whole life and I feel an obligation to share that which I believe now,” she said.
In addition to being close in age and two of the most outspoken critics of Islam, both women say they have needed to take security measures.
Hirsi Ali spent 2 1/2 months in hiding after Van Gogh’s murder in 2004 and said she recently had a neighbor force her to move by court order because of the danger she could bring as a terrorist target. Manji said she has also received numerous threats.
“You have bodyguards,” Manji said, turning to Hirsi Ali, “I have an excellent relationship with the Yale and the Toronto police.”
‘Protect freedom of expression’
Manji said she would go to Egypt in June for her foundation, Project Ijtihad, an organization designed to spur “A reform that enables the emerging generation of Muslims, especially young women, to challenge the authoritarianism of critical thinking.”
But the task is challenging, Manji said, as culture and religion have become intertwined throughout the history of the religion.
Both women agreed that the there is potential for dialogue and the eventual reform of Islam in the West.
“If both Europe and the U.S. both succeed in protecting freedom of expression ... Then that can happen,” Hirsi Ali said.