Growing up in Vancouver, I attended an Islamic school every Saturday. There, I learned that Jews cannot be trusted because they worship “moolah, not Allah,” meaning money, not God. According to my teacher, every last Jew is consumed with business.
But looking around my neighbourhood, I noticed that most of the new business signs featured Asian languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Punjabi and plenty of Urdu. Not Hebrew. Urdu, which is spoken throughout Pakistan.
That reality check made me ask: What if my religious school is not educating me? What if it is indoctrinating me?
I am reminded of this question thanks to the news that Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses and ten other works of fiction, will be knighted by the Queen of England. On Monday, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister said that in light of how Rushdie has blasphemed Islam with provocative literature, it is understandable why angry Muslims would commit suicide bombings over his knighthood.
Members of Parliament, as well as the Pakistani government, amplified the condemnation of Britain, feeding cries of offense to Muslim sensibilities from Europe to Asia.
As a Muslim, you better believe I am offended – by these absurd reactions.
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I am offended that it is not the first time honours from the West have met with vitriol and violence. In 1979, Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam became the first Muslim to win the Nobel Prize in science. He began his acceptance speech with a verse from the Quran.
Salam’s country ought to have celebrated him. Instead, rioters tried to prevent him from re-entering the country. Parliament even declared him a “non-Muslim” because he belonged to a religious minority. His name continues to be controversial, invoked by state authorities in hushed tones.
I am offended that every year, there are more women killed in Pakistan for allegedly violating their family’s honour than there are detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Muslims have rightly denounced the mistreatment of Guantanamo prisoners. But where is our outrage over the murder of many more Muslims at the hands of our own?
I am offended that in April, mullahs at an extreme mosque in Pakistan issued a fatwa against hugging. The country’s female tourism minister had embraced – or, depending on the account you follow, accepted a congratulatory pat from – her skydiving instructor after she successfully jumped in a French fundraiser for the victims of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. Clerics announced her act of touching another man to be “a great sin.” They demanded she be fired.
I am offended by their fatwa proclaiming that women should stay at home and remain covered at all times. I am offended that they have bullied music store owners and video vendors into closing shop. I am offended that the government tiptoes around their craziness because these clerics threaten suicide attacks if confronted.
I am offended that on Sunday, at least 35 Muslims in Kabul were blown to bits by other Muslims and on Tuesday, 87 more in Baghdad by Islamic “insurgents”, with no official statement from Pakistan to deplore these assaults on fellow believers. I am offended that amid the internecine carnage, a professed atheist named Salman Rushdie tops the to-do list.
Above all, I am offended that so many other Muslims are not offended enough to demonstrate widely against God’s self-appointed ambassadors. We complain to the world that Islam is being exploited by fundamentalists, yet when reckoning with the opportunity to resist their clamour en masse, we fall curiously silent. In a battle between flaming fundamentalists and mute moderates, who do you think is going to win?
I am not saying that standing up to intimidation is easy. This past spring, the Muslim world made it that much more difficult. A 56-member council of Islamic countries pushed the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution against the “defamation of religion”. Pakistan led the charge. Focused on Islam rather than on faith in general, the resolution allows repressive regimes to squelch freedom of conscience further – and to do so in the guise of international law.
On occasion, though, the people of Pakistan show that they do not have to be muzzled by clerics and politicians. Last year, civil society groups vocally challenged a set of anti-female laws, three decades old and supposedly based on the Quran. Their religiously respectful approach prompted even mullahs to hint that these laws are man-made, not God-given.
This month, too, Pakistanis forced their government to lift restrictions on the press. No wonder my own book, translated into Urdu and posted on my website, is being downloaded in droves. Religious authorities will not let it be sold in the markets. But they cannot stop Pakistanis – or other Muslims – from satiating a genuine hunger for ideas.
In that spirit, it is high time to “ban” hypocrisy under the banner of Islam. Salman Rushdie is not the problem. Muslims are.
After all, the very first bounty on Rushdie’s head was worth £1 million. It increased to £1.25 million; then higher. The chief benefactor, Iran’s government, claimed to have profitably invested the principal. Hence the rising value of the reward. Looks like Jews are not the only people handy at business.
A Senior Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy, Irshad Manji is creator of the new documentary Faith Without Fear and author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change