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Dissident Muslims, dissonant times

A window into the politics of Islamic reform

by Meena Sharify-Funk

Irshad Manji, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change. Toronto: Random House of Canada, 2005. 272 pages.

Raheel Raza, Their Jihad … Not My Jihad!: A Muslim Canadian Woman Speaks Out. Ingersoll, ON: Basileia Books, 2005. 
176 pages.

Although hardly a rigorous way of ascertaining what Canadians are reading about Islam, visits to major bookstore chains such as Chapters can be quite revealing. Content on the shelf (on occasion two shelves) labelled “Islam” varies, yet a certain genre almost always appears to be well stocked. Titles in this genre invoke themes of alarm or dissidence: The Trouble with Islam Today, Infidel, Their Jihad … Not My Jihad!, Standing Alone in Mecca. Intriguingly, the authors of these books are typically women who take a stance at odds with their faith tradition and community. Their message is one of righteous, risk-taking dissent.

The ubiquity of these self-conscious dissident publications in mainstream Canadian bookstores finds a dramatic counterpoint in their virtually complete absence from shops oriented toward Muslim minority communities. Few Muslim book merchants would expect to profit by promoting these books to their customers – not only because they directly challenge conventional wisdom and communal authority, but also because they were not written for a specifically Muslim audience. Rather, they are largely books by Muslims (or in some cases “ex-Muslims”), about Muslims, for non-Muslims. For the most part, their modes of argumentation do not resonate with the sensibilities of those arguing for change from within the Muslim community, and their generalizations about Islam and about the state of contemporary Muslim communities leave out experiences and issues that are of great importance to the larger Muslim readership. While the non-Muslim reader will often appreciate the bold, outspoken manner in which dissident books such as Irshad Manji’s The Trouble with Islam Today and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel attack the misogyny and narrow-mindedness of reactionary thinkers, even exceptionally well-integrated members of Muslim diaspora communities often wince at the way these best-selling authors represent Islam to an eager non-Muslim readership.

Given recent events, the mainstream success of these books is not surprising – which says something not merely about what booksellers deem worthy of promotion but also about what engages the North American reading public. In their

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About the Author

Meena Sharify-Funk
Meena Sharify-Funk is Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Her most recent book is Encountering the Transnational: Women, Islam and the Politics of Interpretation (2008).


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