Muslims are not one homogenous tribe requiring representation through a Citizen Khan-like community leader. Neither are we still colonial subjects who must speak through our Brown Sahibs. We Muslims are free. Our prophet left no heir. We have never had a pope or a clergy. We are commanded to worship God alone, and for our sins we are answerable to no one but Him.
The doors of Muslim ijtihad (religious reasoning) have always remained open, and modern Islamist attempts to impose theocratic orthodoxy on us will therefore be resisted. Unity in faith is theocracy; unity in politics is fascism.
That’s Irshad Manji’s approach to Islam, too.
On 12 January I participated in a BBC debate on human rights and religious rights. Two students were wearing T-shirtsdepicting a stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How you doin’?” Some Muslims, having just argued for their own right to veil, took issue with the students. I argued that just as Muslim women have the right to veil, atheists have the right to wear these T-shirts.
I am acutely aware of the populist sentiment in Britain that derides Muslims who seek special treatment for their sensibilities, so I tweeted the bland image and stated that, as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that.
Surely that was clear all along? Wasn’t it? Muslims who seek special treatment for their sensibilities don’t do their fellow Muslims any favors, so Maajid offered himself as an example of a Muslim who doesn’t seek special treatment for his sensibilities.
But what was the response? Much of it was an uproar of demands for special treatment for sensibilities. One might almost think the point had been missed.
My intention was not to speak for any Muslim but myself – rather, it was to defend my religion from those who have hijacked it just because they shout the loudest. My intention was to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge, on pain of death. I did it for Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was assassinated by his bodyguard for calling for a review of Pakistan’s colonial-era blasphemy laws; for Malala Yusafzai, the schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting an education; and for Muhammad Asghar, a mentally ill British man sentenced to death for “blasphemy” last week in Pakistan.
Which is a damn good reason.