Sunday, March 18, 2012

Out-of-Town-Authors: Irshad Manji

Finding Mecca on my bookshelves

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
by: Ariel Gordon

The Manhattan-based but Vancouver-raised journalist Irshad Manji heads up the Moral Courage Project at New York University.

She has published two books, including 2003’s The Trouble with Islam Today (Random House) and produced an Emmy-nominated documentary, Faith Without Fear.

Manji will be in Winnipeg on Wednesday at McNally Robinson, launching the paperback edition of Allah, Liberty & Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom.

1) As a writer, how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?

As a person of faith — and not just as a writer — I believe that humans pay tribute to God’s creative powers when we use our own. Writing is a tribute to the creativity with which the Source has endowed all of us. In Allah, Liberty & Love, I explain that I’ve recently unfurled my childhood prayer rug and oriented it towards the bookshelves that line my apartment. That’s my Mecca, because the bookcases reveal the majesty of a Creator that has gifted each of us with the power of expression. Not everyone wishes to write, of course, but everyone has the capacity to express creativity even in the seemingly mundane task of how we frame reality. For each of us, every day is a performance of sorts. But is that performance motivated by pure ego — or by higher virtues, such as gratitude? I try to live the latter choice.

2) What do you want people to know about Allah, Liberty & Love?

I want readers to know that Allah, Liberty & Love is about — and for — all of us, not only Muslims or people who are already curious about culture, religion and global politics. Actually, the book is a series of lessons about how to live honestly. I’ve written it through the unique yet universal lens of individuals who show us what it is to be alive even in the midst of death threats. The first lesson is: Some things are more important than fear. The final lesson is: Lack of meaning is the real death threat. In-between are lessons that will equip individuals of various creeds to live "faithfully free."

3) Will this be your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?

I’ve long cooed to friends that Winnipeg seems to produce a disproportionate number of creative types. For a small city, you folks make a big artistic splash. And no, this won’t be my first time in Winnipeg. Lord willing, it also won’t be my last.

3) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

I’m in Morocco, and I’m reading a tweet that refers to me as an "illiterate whore." But every morning when I’m not traveling, I pluck a random book off my shelves, open it somewhere in the middle, and read a couple pages. Then I read the first few pages to put the ideas into context. This wakes up my mind so I can think more deeply about the rest of my day. It’s also a reminder about the virtues of being still, given the craziness that lies ahead of me. So what did I read this morning? I won’t tell. It’s the discipline of reading and reflecting that matters. As for what I’m writing — a friendly response to the "illiterate whore" tweet.

4) What is moral courage?

Simply put, moral courage is the willingness to speak up when everyone wants to shut you up. It’s about daring to develop your individuality and, in that way, resisting conformity. I believe moral courage is crucial to diversity. Too often, we conflate diversity with labels — "woman," "queer," "Muslim," whatever. The pressure to identify with your "own" reduces pluralism to groupthink. That’s dishonest diversity. True diversity comes when you exercise your unique voice. That’s when you’re contributing to diversity of thought, not just of appearance. Sure, you’ll get backlash from your community for being different, but the beauty is, your community grows from talent that would otherwise be lost to self-censorship. The delicious paradox of moral courage is this: Individuality expands community.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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