Thursday, March 08, 2007

My Article: An evening with Irshad Manji

I had heard so much about Irshad Manji and then, out of nowhere, I get an email about a speaking engagement of hers. Naturally, I was skeptical, but was interested in what she had to say. Additionally, it was an opportune time to see what the Muslim community would think.

But alas. As expected, many scoffed at the idea of hearing her speak, and others just outright wanted to boycott her/the event. I, on the contrary, was enthusiastic to go, and will never regret the decision.

I realized after the event that it's not so much what she has to say that rubs people the wrong way, but instead, how she says it. Many people are turned off by her attitude and/or style while many others are too conservative to stand her viewpoints. I, on the whole, was fairly satisfied, and realized she is most certainly an ally in the fight against ignorance and seeks to build bridges. Perhaps her real troubles will be in deciding who to partner with.

Another friend, who apart from my friend and I, was one of the few Muslims there, remarked that it would be interesting if another Muslim reformer, Tariq Ramadan, teamed up with her. He's got the scholarly background and she has the media savvy. What a team!

I heard from many that she is not worth talking to, or not worth engaging and the like, but then thought, there can possibly be no harm in talking to them or listening to them. At least we can hear it from the "horse's mouth" and not rely on scandalous propaganda. I am glad I attended the event, because I got to see the real Irshad Manji - not the one i've read and heard about - who, by the way, seemed totally different. (She was extremely nice to my friends and myself)

I wrote this week's column on my experience listening to a "Muslim Refusenik" - i.e. Irshad - and have copied it below in its entirety. I look forward to feedback - all sorts! :)

An evening with Irshad Manji

Being a graduate student means being able to listen to a diversity of viewpoints and then indulge in a civil and thoughtful debate or dialogue. Oftentimes though, this is not the case – even with the most seemingly ‘civilised’ people. And oftentimes, we also hear about certain people who are rebels, renegades and outcasts – or so the media portrays them – who, we assume, will probably be the last to indulge in the sort of dialogue we might hope for.

And then we have Irshad Manji. She is one person who can engage in thoughtful dialogue, yet still remain on the periphery when it comes to religious debate and has been chastised for quite some time now. I had seen enough bad press about her to think of never attending any event where she was to speak, and urged others to not support her in her endeavours as well. One fine evening, I decided that I had heard enough and wanted to make up my own mind instead. After all, this is the stuff graduate students live for!

And so I made my way to New York University where Irshad Manji was to speak, and lo and behold, an audience of scores of people was already present – and as expected – only a handful of Muslims were in attendance. I was already intimidated. And saddened.

I was monitoring a discussion on Manji taking place on a listserv, and while some participants had positive things to say about her, others simply wished to not engage her at all. I am of the view that no matter to what extent the person in question has stooped, they at least deserve to be heard. A conversation may not ensue, but our eyes and ears must stay open, even if our mouth is clamped shut.

It was only after I started hearing her speak that fateful evening that I realised she is not a force to dampen, but a force to reckon with. She is outspoken and has definitive viewpoints that irk many, but inspire and motivate many more. She told stories about the horrors she encountered with closed-minded individuals all over the Muslim world and the persecution and violence that others faced because of ‘radical and/or extreme’ views, even though these views were, in essence, only challenging the status quo. For them to bring such a violent outpouring was disturbing and shows that an internal reformation is hardly possible if we cannot even sit at a table and indulge in a debate rationally.

Later on in the evening, she mentioned explicitly how Muslim scholars of the ‘Dark Ages’ were responsible for the transmission of the writings of Greek philosophers and scholars, which was, in turn, responsible for the Age of Enlightenment that the West is so proud of now. If only we could go back to that time and somehow instill in Muslims today that spirit of ijtihad, Manji said. I could not have agreed more.

Manji’s childhood has been one of abuse and turbulence. Even though her secular schooling may have been great, her Islamic education on the side was anything but. Her thought-provoking questions to Islamic scholars did not yield any thoughtful responses and so out of sheer disillusionment, she left her official religious education behind and embarked on a path of “self-enlightenment”. After years of research, Manji came out with a best-selling book titled, The Trouble with Islam Today. Frankly, I have not read the book – yet – but the trouble with Islam today, I believe, lies truly with the propagators of its message.

On the one hand, we all constantly complain about how our narrow-minded clergy have made our lives worse by bringing stagnaton in the religion and not allowing for the crucial debates that keep religious traditions alive. On the other hand, we despise people like Manji who have views that might be considered normal and appreciated by mainstream Muslims, but that come out in such a way that it provokes a backlash. I sometimes wonder how women like Manji would be perceived if they wore a hijab. Certainly something to think about!

In the end though, I must give her credit for raising the same debate on issues I deal with on a daily basis in trying to inform people – usually non-Muslims – about what my faith really teaches me and has taught me. Manji may have left her Islamic school as a young child, but she did not leave Allah. She also wants to create a clear demarcation between Allah and His self-appointed ambassadors (i.e. the clergy). She related to the audience how her mother sternly told her not to anger God, and then also told those present in the audience about the time when her mother was in a masjid and the Khutbah being delivered by the Imam had to do with Manji. He said that she was worse than Osama bin Laden, because she was creating divisions in the community and that was unacceptable. Her response was that this call for unity was actually a call for uniformity, which could eventually lead to the end of ‘ijtihad’ as we know it, and this was her greatest concern. To Manji, Islam does not seem like a religion anymore, but instead an ideology of fear. The tradition of honour also scared her and the stories she narrated were truly difficult to digest.

On many counts, Manji hit the nail on the head. But on others, I still remain doubtful. Is it my ignorance? Perhaps. An acquaintance of mine attending the event remarked how Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Islamic scholar and fellow reformer, could maybe get together with her and combine their individual traits and fortes and create impact of positive, meaningful change. This may remain a pipe dream, but Manji is media savvy and should use this to her advantage. Perhaps with more coalition-building, we might see her single-handedly spark a reformation. God knows we need it, and God knows only we can do it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

UNU-ONY Internship Opportunity

UNU-ONY Internship Opportunity

The United Nations University Office at the United Nations in
New York (UNU-ONY) is recruiting an intern for the session running from March 19, 2007 to July 31, 2007. Interns whose term with the UN Internship Programme will expire in mid-March are encouraged to apply. The deadline for receiving applications has been extended to March 12, 2007.


The internship is a full-time commitment and is not paid.

UNU-ONY liaises with the UN Secretariat, the Permanent Missions, American academia and foundations in five areas of activities:
* Dissemination/communication: Showcasing the work of UNU, particularly through public events organized in the UN Secretariat.
* Political and diplomatic linking: Helping to make UNU a stakeholder and full-fledged partner of the UN system, i.e., its agendas, processes and results.
* Academic interplay between UNU, the UN system, diplomatic missions to the UN and
US academia: Helping to secure the intellectual and institutional voice of UNU in the UN system, with the diplomatic missions to the UN and academia in North America.
* Fundraising: Given its geographic proximity to numerous foundations in the New York-Washington D.C. areas, UNU-NY plays a role in fundraising. This role can be played at three levels: project level, programme (RTC/Ps) level, and the overall UNU system level.
* Administrative: UNU-NY plays an important role in administrative support and coordination (travel, personnel, procurement, finance) between the UNU System and the UN.

Intern responsibilities will range widely, encompassing aspects of all of UNU-ONY's work in
New York. Specific tasks may include:
* Facilitating public seminars and invitation-only forums, including dealing with content, logistics, and marketing.
* Arranging for dissemination of UNU publications.
* Updating and improving UNU-ONY's website.
* Recruiting interns for the Fall session (August 2007-January 2008).

How to Apply:

Submit the following in a single email to (subject line: Spring07 Internship):
* Cover letter
* Resume/CV
* 1 - 3 page writing sample in English and another language of your choice (French preferable)
* Internship application form (Download from )

The deadline for receiving applications is
March 12, 2007.

Consult UNU-ONY's website or contact us directly if you have any questions.

Good luck,

Lamis Abdel-Aty

Nations University , Office in New York
2 UN Plaza, Room DC2-2060,
New York, NY 10017
Tel.: 212-963-6387
Fax: 212-371-9454

Event: Forum on The Status of Arab Women - 3/15

MEDIA ADVISORY Contact: Rima Abdelkader
For immediate release
Marking Women’s History Month,
NAAP-NY to host

Forum on Status of Arab Women at Home and Abroad
at NY Society for Ethical Culture

Forum to be hosted by Al-Jazeera Arabic’s DC Bureau Chief

What: Forum and Q & A on the Status of Arab Women at Home and Abroad
Date: Thursday, March 15, 2007
Time: 7:30pm-9:30pm
Where: New York Society for Ethical Culture - Main Auditorium
2 West 64th Street at Central Park West - New York, NY

NEW YORK CITY – Thursday, March 8, 2007 – On Thursday, March 15, 2007, the Network of Arab-American Professionals of New York (NAAP-NY) will host a forum to discuss the real versus perceived status of women in the Arab community. Women’s History Month was chosen as an appropriate time for the Arab-American community to probe sensitive topics such as political participation of women in the Arab world, domestic violence in the Arab-American community, the impact of war on women, and feminism in the Arab world.
An expert panel of academics, community activists and U.N. representatives will highlight different aspects of this issue by presenting statistics, case studies and analysis of the situation in the Arab world and the Arab-American community. Confirmed participants include: Abderrahim Foukara, Washington, DC Bureau Chief, Al Jazeera Arabic; Dr. Azza Karam, Senior Policy Research Advisor at the United Nations Development Program, in the Regional Bureau for Arab States. Dr. Karam coordinated the latest Arab Human Development Report on Arab women. Dr. Anny Bakalian, Associate Director, Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center, Graduate Center, City University of New York and Board President of TAMKEEN: The Center for Arab American Empowerment, in Brooklyn. Dr. Aseel Sawalha, Urban Anthropologist and Pace University professor; member, Department of Criminal Justice, Sociology and Anthropology (New York).
Audience members will be encouraged to participate in a question and answer session to follow.
This event is co-sponsored by the Adult Education Committee at the New York Society for Ethical Culture as well as the Network of Arab-American Professionals of New York.
The Network of Arab-American Professionals of New York (NAAP-NY) is the fastest growing Arab-American organization in New York City. NAAP-NY is a non-partisan, volunteer-based organization dedicated to strengthening the Arab-American community. For more information please visit

Please RSVP to Rima Abdelkader at

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Event: Microcredit discussion and networking session - 3/22

On December 10, 2006, Dr. Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize We are still celebrating...

Join us for a stimulating discussion about how the power of microcredit is being harnessed here in New York City.

Network with other microcredit enthusiasts over wine and hors d'oeuvres.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


TimeMachine 57th Street at Madison Ave.

New York City

Project Enterprise, a New York City non-profit based on the Grameen Bank's award-winning model that helps New Yorkers create their own economic opportunities.

< < S m a l l L o a n s B i g C o n n e c t i o n s.

RSVP to Beth Dunphe 212-678-6734 ext. 15

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Event: Guantánamo Bay: The Global Effects of Wrongful Detention, Torture, and Unchecked Executive Power - 3/23

The New York City Law Review of City University of New York School of Law cordially invites you to its 2007 symposium:

Guantánamo Bay: The Global Effects of Wrongful Detention, Torture, and Unchecked Executive Power.
Friday, March 23, 2007, New York City
8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Gerald W. Lynch Theater
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
899 Tenth Avenue
(Between West 58th and 59th)
New York, NY 10019
Free and Open to the Public / Offering 7 CLE Credits for $25*
For registration, complete symposium program, and more information, please visit
This symposium will be the first in the nation to focus solely on the legal issues stemming from the detention of individuals by the United States government in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Guantánamo detainees have had a considerable impact on American and international jurisprudence. They have sparked a debate in the wider legal community about the fairness and legality of their detention and treatment: Do they have a right to seek relief from American courts? If so, can such a right be affected by Congress? Do they have any status under international humanitarian law, and if so, what? Should they have protections against torture and coercion? Should they be tried, and if so, when, for what crimes, and under what procedures? If tried, would they then have a right to appeal and, if so, to whom? Should they be released and, if so, when? Will they be tortured by their governments when they are released? What are the powers and proper roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the United States government in dealing with the detainees? What is the legal status of detainees being held at locations other than Guantánamo Bay during the "War on Terror?"

The symposium is co-sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for International Human Rights at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the CUNY University Student Senate. It will also commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Center for Constitutional Rights and honor the organization's leading role in protecting and promoting constitutional and human rights.
* This traditional, non-transitional course has been approved in accordance with the requirements of the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board for a maximum of seven (7) credit hours, which can be applied to the Professional Practice requirement. Accredited by CUNY School of Law. Credits are being offered for $25 (payable at the symposium by check/cash). However, a fee waiver for economic hardship is available upon written request by emailing John Hynes at CLE packet will be made available at by March 10, 2007, and will be available at the symposium in CD-ROM format. Please download and print this material from the website in advance of the symposium.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner @ Fordham 3/7

South Asian Law Students Association at
Fordham University School of Law
is proud to present
Baroness Kishwer Falkner
on Wednesday, March 7th at 12:30 p.m. in Room 430 B
Baroness Falkner is the first Liberal Democratic Peer in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. Among other accomplishments, just to name a few, she is the first Muslim front-bencher in the history of British Parliament, and one of only a handful of members of Parliament of South Asian descent. Baroness Falkner was the Liberal Democrat's Director of International and European Affairs for several years, co-authoring much of the Party's policy on the European Union, and coordinating a joint response for European Liberals on issues related to Europe's structures and place in the world. Baroness Falkner also worked for the Commonwealth Secretariat, where she continued to work on globalisation, democracy and development. Most recently, Baroness Falkner was Chief Executive of a charity working with young people in some of the poorest parts of Africa and Asia and is currently teaching a seminar on "US and UK Foreign Policy after Iraq" at Harvard, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The Baroness will be speaking to Fordham students and faculty about issues of multiculturalism and her experiences as a liberal democrat.
We hope you will be able to join us. If you are interested in becoming involved with planning, please contact us.

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail us at