Biography: Irshad Manji

Irshad ManjiIrshad is Director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University. It aims to develop leaders who will challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship. In the best spirit of liberal education, the Moral Courage Project teaches that rights come with responsibilities, that we are citizens rather than members of mere tribes, and that meaningful diversity embraces different ideas and not just identities.

Through her commitment to Muslim reform, Irshad is putting these principles into practice. She is the internationally best-selling author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith. Her book has been published in almost 30 countries, including Pakistan, India, Lebanon and Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim nation.

In those countries that have censored The Trouble with Islam Today, Irshad is reaching readers by posting free translations on her website. The Arabic translation alone has been downloaded 300,000 times and circulated by youth throughout the Middle East.

Irshad is also creator of the acclaimed PBS documentary, “Faith Without Fear,” which chronicles a young woman’s journey to reconcile Islam with human rights and freedom. “Faith Without Fear” is now being screened across Europe and shown in the Muslim underground via digital technologies.

As a journalist, Irshad’s columns appear frequently in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Times of London, and other major news sources. She writes a regular feature for Canada’s Globe and Mail.

As a scholar beyond NYU, Irshad is Senior Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy. She has served as a Visiting Fellow at Yale University and Journalist-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, where she wrote The Trouble with Islam Today.

As a social entrepreneur, Irshad has founded Project Ijtihad, a global campaign to popularize Islam’s own tradition of critical thinking. Project Ijtihad is helping to build the world’s most inclusive network of reform-minded Muslims and non-Muslim allies. To recognize the success of this campaign, the World Economic Forum has selected Irshad as a Young Global Leader.

In her continued quest to promote critical thinking, Irshad has created spaces for open dialogue across the world wide web. Her MySpace forum is home to vigorous debates about Muslim reform and moral courage. So is a featured discussion board hosted by TakingITGlobal, an international portal for youth. You can connect with Irshad’s supporters and critics on AuthorNation, Flickr, Digg and StumbleUpon.

It’s not just youth who are debating Irshad’s ideas. So, too, are theologians, academics and authors. Here’s a sample:

Khaleel Mohammed, imam and professor of Islam at San Diego State University: “Irshad wants us to do what our Holy Book wants us to do: End the tribal posturing, open our eyes, and stand up to oppression, even if it’s rationalized by our vaunted imams.”

Khaled Almeena, Editor, Arab News (Saudi Arabia): “This fraudulent book has now become a guide to Islam.”
Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist: “The democratic movements that have now emerged have shown just how many young Muslims want to give voice to their aspirations and achieve their full potential. If you want to get a taste of what they sound like, read Irshad Manji…”

Jane Mansbridge, Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard University: “All is not lost if people of Irshad Manji’s capacity can carry a fresh and convincing message to the coming generation. I cannot urge her more strongly to maintain her frank, open, and intelligent approach. This cause is, I believe, the most important new movement in several decades.”

Many others, Muslim and not, are weighing in. The Jakarta Post in Indonesia identifies Irshad as one of three women creating positive change in Islam today. The New York Times calls her Muslim feminism “a crown jewel in the history of the modern women’s movement.” And the American Society for the Advancement of Muslims has chosen Irshad as a Muslim Leader of Tomorrow.

Born in 1968, Irshad is a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda. In 1972, she and her family escaped to Vancouver, where Irshad grew up attending public schools and the Islamic madressa. In 1990, she graduated with honors from the University of British Columbia, winning the Governor-General’s medal for top academic achievement in the humanities.

Since then, she has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Puget Sound, one of America’s top liberal arts colleges. As Irshad received the degree, Professor Sunil Kukreja, editor-in-chief of the International Review of Modern Sociology, read this statement about her:

“Irshad Manji: author, activist, reformer, rebel. You have kept the faith that could not keep you down. Your belief in Allah and your love of freedom have committed you to the principle of ijtihad, Islam’s own tradition of independent thinking and critical debate. A feminist Muslim in the modern world, you have dedicated your life to the rescue of faith’s flame from the caldron of hatred and ignorance.

Your call to liberty came early. Born of Egyptian and Indian heritage in Idi Amin’s Uganda, you fled, at four years old, with your family from Uganda’s repression to a place where faith could be a comfort, not a curse. Educated in Canada’s public schools and in the Islamic madressa that expelled you for asking too many questions, you learned the risks and rewards of truth-telling while still a child.

After earning honors and the Governor-General’s medal as top graduate at the University of British Columbia, you launched a successful career in journalism and public service and became, at only twenty-four, the youngest person to sit on an editorial board of a Canadian daily newspaper. But you did not sit quietly.

A best-selling author and award-winning television producer, you came to understand the power of words and the potency of images. Your books have been celebrated and condemned, published in some thirty countries and banned in others. Your life’s journey to reconcile Islam and human rights has been chronicled in your acclaimed documentary film. Broadcast in America, Europe and South Asia, your compelling story still circulates in the Muslim digital underground.

Now the Director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University, your courage has drawn comparisons to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, to Martin Luther and Salman Rushdie, to Gloria Steinam and Betty Friedan. You have been honored by Ms. magazine as a ‘Feminist for the 21st century,’ by Maclean’s as one of ten ‘Canadians Who Make a Difference,’ and by Oprah Winfrey as the first Chutzpah Award winner for your ‘audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction.’ You have been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Senior Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels, a Visiting Fellow at Yale, and a Muslim Leader of Tomorrow.

Still asking impertinent questions, still reconciling faith with freedom, still standing up to the forces of prejudice, you show us that one voice can challenge, and can change, the world. Irshad Manji, global citizen and voice for justice, you stand before us today on recommendation of the faculty of the University of Puget Sound, a candidate for the Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.”
– Sunil Kukreja, Professor and Chair, Comparative Sociology

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