May 112012
Openly lesbian Muslim activist and author, Irshad Manji

Irshad Manji, the prominent author of The Trouble with Islam Today which has been published in more than 30 languages, including Arabic, Malay and Indonesian is on a book tour in Indonesia promoting her most recent book, Allah, Liberty and Love found herself faced with angry mobs determined to derail any talks or book discussion she was scheduled to speak at.

Local media reported that the South Jakarta police forcibly ended the book launch and discussion which was held the at the Salihara Community’s building, Pasar Minggu on May 4 after the event was protested by Islamic Defender Front (FPI) group and people claiming to be local residents. The Jakarta Post reported that the protesters rejected the author because she openly declared that she was a lesbian and that her viewpoint that Islam should accept homosexuality was “unacceptable”; and questioned the organiser’s permit to invite a foreign national.

Manji was born in Uganda to a Gujarati Indian father and an Egyptian mother but her family moved to Canada when she was four.

Tempo Interactive, a news website, reported that Manji who was accompanied by her lawyer exited the building around 9.58 pm under heavy police escort, some two hours after the venue’s fence was pulled down by a several-hundred-strong group reportedly comprising Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) members and supporters.

On Saturday, Manji successfully attended a discussion hosted by the Alliance of Independence Journalists’s (AJI) Jakarta branch under the protection of Banser NU, a youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama.

Before her Salihara speech was interrupted by the police, Manji had mentioned that compared to her last visit in 2008, she felt that there were “more conservative groups in the country this year”.

On Wednesday, a planned talk at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University – one of Indonesia’s most prominent universities – was cancelled by university officials citing pressure from a group of hundreds of people who showed up at the university on Tuesday night and demanded the event not occur. “[Gadjah Mada] deems it important to be extra careful, given the recent unfavourable security situations,” a university spokesman told the Jakarta Post.

Two high-end Jakarta hotels, named by Tempo to be Ritz Carlton Mega Kuningan and Kartika Chandra hotels, reportedly refused to house the author. She eventually checked into Hotel Ritz Carlton Pacific Place.

Manji, during an interview with The Jakarta Post a few days after the incident on Friday, said that homosexuality was “barely” mentioned in her book.

Instead her book Allah, Liberty and Love is a “how to” book on the subject of moral courage, which she defines as “the willingness to speak your truth to the powers in your community for the sake of a greater good than just your community.”

She is currently the director of the Moral Courage Project at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

“This new book really comes from 10 years of conversations that I have been having with young people, young Muslims especially all around the world… After The Trouble with Islam Today came out in 2003 as you know it received a lot of international press and I began a book tour that I did not realise would become a 10-year global dialogue,” she said.

She related that she had attended a madrasa (Islamic school) in Vancouver, Canada, where her family relocated, but stopped when she was 14.

“The madrasa teacher tells us that Muslims cannot take Jews and Christians as friends and I asked why not. And he says either you believe or you get out and if you get out get out forever,” Manji said.

She left the school but continued to study Islam on her own through the books available at the public library.

Ironically, she learnt more about her own religion through debates with an educator of a different religion at her new school.

“[The vice principal] would treat me with the respect that a young person would rarely get at, for example, a madrasa. So the fact that he treated me as an actual human being and that he himself was a devout Christian showed me that religion in the public space or people of faith in the public sphere are not always bad news and disagreeing with each others’ ideas doesn’t always mean denying each other’s humanity,” she said.

Manji said she remains a “faithful Muslim” and her “liberal” label is in fact compatible with Islam.

“Liberal in its classical meaning equates with freedom of thinking. So that’s ijtihad. It’s not a political term, not an ideological term. It’s a philosophical term. And it means reason, freedom of thought, pluralism. Ultimately it coheres much more with the Koran’s call for humility than conservatism does,” she said.

“When people are doing violence and intimidating and bullying and harassing others in the name of Allah and moderates don’t like it and don’t say anything because we shouldn’t react, we should just keep the peace, all they are doing is empowering those bullies,” Manji said.