Today we honor and celebrate an author, journalist and advocate of a “reform and progressive” interpretation of Islam. Born in 1968 in Uganda to a Gujarati Indian father, and an Egyptian mother, she moved to Canada with her family when she was four as a result of Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asians. They settled near Vancouver in 1972, and she grew up attending both a secular and an Islamic religious school. Manji excelled in the secular environment but, by her own account, was expelled from her religious school for asking too many questions.
Manji worked as a legislative aide in the Canadian parliament, press secretary in the Ontario government, and speechwriter for the leader of the New Democratic Party. At age 24, she became the national affairs editorialist for the Ottawa Citizen and thus the youngest member of an editorial board for any Canadian daily. She was also a columnist for Ottawa’s new LGBT newspaper Capital Xtra!. Manji has since hosted or produced several public affairs programs on television, one of which won the Gemini, Canada’s top broadcasting prize. She also produced and hosted QT: QueerTelevision for the Toronto based Citytv in the late 1990s. Among the program’s coverage of local and national LGBT issues, she also produced stories on the lives of gay people in the Muslim world.
Considering herself a “Muslim refusenik”, Manji declares herself as someone who refuses to “join an army of robots in the name of God.” She is a well-known critic of traditional mainstream Islam and was described by The New York Times as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare.” She has written a number of books on Islam, most famously The Trouble with Islam Today (initially published as Trouble with Islam). She was troubled by how Islam is practised today and by the Arab influence on Islam that took away women’s individuality and introduced the concept of women’s honour. Manji has produced a PBS documentary, “Faith Without Fear”, chronicling her attempt to “reconcile her faith in Allah with her love of freedom.” Proving an activist can have a sense of humor, she has also participated in the web project Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things that arose in response to Juan Williams’ ludicrous Islamophobic comments.
Manji currently serves as the director of the Moral Courage Project at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, which aims to teach young leaders to “challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship.”She is also founder and president of Project Ijtihad, a charitable organization promoting a “tradition of critical thinking, debate and dissent” in Islam, among a “network of reform-minded Muslims and non-Muslim allies.”