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Manji scorches fatwa council's anti-Bersih edict

NONEControversial Uganda-born Canadian author Irshad Manji hit out at certain muftis and clerics, including those in Malaysia's National Fatwa Council, which she said are trying to impose their own mores and dogma upon the populace.

"Muftis, imams and clerics of various stripes love to tell us what we are to believe; in the course of telling us this, they also want us to adopt a particular identity.

"What they will never tell us is that they expect us to adopt their identity," said the 44-year-old New York University (NYU) professor in an exclusive interview with Malaysiakini in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

She was responding to a question on the recent National Fatwa Council edict forbidding Muslims from taking part in certain demonstrations, particularly targeting the Bersih 3.0 pro-electoral reform rally.

Manji argued that "good believers" cannot be expected to uncritically submit to the religious scholars without question as the scholars themselves too are humans and neither perfect nor divine as Allah is.

"Here's some breaking news for these muftis. You're not God. There is only one God and that job is not vacant.

"Put all your fatwas out as you wish, but your fatwas do not hold divine authority, and neither do you," said the successful author and film-maker.

Manji believes that the Quran - which she posits is the only divine document and sole guiding light of the faith - instead encourages Muslims not only to question but to seek out the truth on their own and think for themselves.

Such, she claimed, was the tradition prevalent in the heyday of Islamic civilisation until the slide into our current situation where mullahs and ulamas claim to know everything and dictate all to a public which is expected to obey without question.

'They don't have humility'

"I think that if more and more Muslims understand that there is a difference between the ulama and Allah - just as I realised at the age of 14 that there is a difference between the madrasah and Allah - we would be more willing to give ourselves the permission to do exactly what the Quran asks of us, which is to think for ourselves in order to deepen our faith and realise the humility that these fatwa-flinging mullah clearly don't have," argued the feisty Islamic reformist.

Earlier this month, the National Fatwa Council declared that it is haram (not permissible) for Muslims to participate in any gathering or demonstration that is unproductive and is against the law or causes disturbances in the country.

Its chairperson Abdul Shukor Husin said the council viewed seriously this issue as some Muslims had previously resorted to rioting during street demonstrations.

The council's decision, however, was met with stringent criticism from PAS spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who lambasted that the body for not looking at the issue clearly, while others quoted influential Egyptian Islamic theologian Yusuf al Qaradawi, who maintains that rallies or actions to fight against tyranny is encouraged in Islam.

NONEManji is in Malaysia to launch the Malay translation of her latest book ‘Allah, Liberty & Love'. However, her events and several speaking engagements had to be cancelled because of "security concerns", protest notes and alleged "pressure" from the authorities.

PAS - which ironically agree with Manji's criticism of the fatwa council on Bersih 3.0 - and several conservative Muslim NGOs have spoken out against her presence in Malaysia, claiming that her very liberal stance on Islam is dangerous to the faith of local Muslims.

Her first book, the international bestseller ‘The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith' has been banned in Malaysia.

As evident in her books and an Emmy-nominated PBS film, ‘Faith Without Fear', her work mostly challenges accepted notions in Islam, in the belief that education and the freedom to think is paramount and not the indoctrination, which she believes is commonly practised in most religious teachings.

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