Irshad Manji, an author and reform-minded Muslim, said in a lecture last night at Congregation B'nai Israel that many Islamic leaders mistakenly enforce a more narrow-minded and literal interpretation of the Qur'an than in generations past.
Fundamentalist leaders ranging from teachers at the world's Islamic schools to notorious terrorist Osama bin Laden are given the freedom to reach their own religious conclusions "without compulsion," Ms. Manji said, but then turn around and deny other Muslims the freedom to debate and discuss their ideas.
"I am for the pluralism of ideas, not just the pluralism of ethnicities," Ms. Manji said in a 40-minute speech to a mostly Jewish crowd of about 300.
Security was tight for the invitation-only event, which organizers did not advertise and for which tickets were required. Several Muslims who sought to attend were turned away.
Ms. Manji, in a talk sponsored by the United Jewish Council of Greater Toledo, presented a series of arguments from her controversial 2003 book, The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform of her Faith, calling for critical examination of the religion that now has 1.2 billion adherents worldwide.
The outspoken 33-year-old author, who has been the target of several "fatwahs," or death threats, said she considers her book to be "an open letter" to Muslims to give them confidence to discuss the ideas they are afraid to express, fearing persecution.
She called her book "an act of faith, not an act of repudiation," saying she chose to remain a Muslim and seek change rather than abandon her faith.
Ms. Manjii, who now lives in Toronto, said she believes that many moderate Muslims have been silent in the face of terrorist acts committed by Islamic extremists because they have never been taught how to debate or dissent from what they are taught.
She said she hopes her book will "shatter that silence in a constructive way" and help bring about "Ijtihad," a Muslim word for independent thinking.
Saying that she sees signs of "intellectual effervescence" among young Muslims today, Ms. Manji said she is using a portion of her royalties to create an Institute for Independent Thinking in Islam that will give reform-minded Muslims a place to discuss their ideas and the confidence to know they are not alone.
Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan said yesterday that he protested to the UJC on Monday when he heard about Ms. Manji's Toledo appearance.
He said Ms. Manji is not an Islamic scholar, lacks qualifications to speak about the religion, and is capitalizing on her notoriety.
"We are disappointed that the United Jewish Council is inviting a controversial person to talk about Islam. She is not a universally accepted speaker. She has no credentials. She's a renegade out to make a quick buck," Dr. Hasan said.
Ms. Manji called such criticism ''lazy" and "delusional" and said it ignores "the breadth of my research" conducted over the last two decades.
She said she studied Islam "with sincerity" long before she wrote a book or gave any lectures.
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