Monday, February 2, 2009

Archived post: OLA 2008 session with Irshad Manji

Session # 1600: ALL CONFERENCE PLENARY: Taking Opportunity from Oppression – and Courage from Confusion with Irshad Manji
A very moving session in which Irshad Manji talked about her experiences in libraries. She spoke fondly of librarians, and expressed kinship with us (“if we’re not in the business to offend, then what are we?” she joked, referring to librarians’ battles with censorship and her own battles with personal threats). She told us how, when she was kicked out of the madrassa she had been attending on Saturdays as a child, she turned to the public library for information about Islam. There she learned about Islamic inventions (mocha coffee!) and women prophets (including the prophet Mohammed’s wife). She spoke about her decision to write The Trouble with Islam (after receiving an article about a Muslim girl who was sentenced to be whipped for being raped, even after she provided many male witnesses to the crime) and her experiences since writing the book. She mentioned that, just after completing the first edition, she interviewed Salman Rushdie (shortly after he began making public appearances in the late 90s after living under a fatwa for many years) and asked him why he would encourage her to write about Islam, knowing what had happened to him. He told her “a book is more important than a life.” Once something is thought, he added, it cannot be unthought. It can be disagreed with, censored, debated, and so on, but it can’t be unthought. She talked about arranging for Arabic, Urdu and Farsi translations of The Trouble with Islam after receiving an e-mail from a teenage boy in Jordan: he asked her to put the translation up on her website for free (which she did: there have been thousands of downloads of the text). She told us she had dismissed bodyguard protection because having protection made her feel like a hypocrite: if she told young Muslims to speak up, as she had spoken up, and then left them to be subject to violence from their families and communities while she enjoyed security, she felt false. She explained that she dealt with concerns about safety from young people around the world who were seeking to implement real change in Islam by saying to them that “some things are more important than fear.”

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