Sisterhood Blog

Reaching Out to Our Muslim Sisters

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
irshadmanji.com
Irshad Manji

On the heels of America’s most-wanted terrorist being eliminated in Pakistan by U.S. Special Forces, the woman who was once dubbed by the media as “Osama Bin Laden’s Worst Nightmare” made a statement that I found haunting. Islamic reformer Irshad Manji made the scary point in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that President Obama was wrong in saying that “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader.” What should be keeping us up at night, according to Manji, is the fact that he actually was a legitimate Muslim leader in the eyes of many.

“Bin Laden and his followers represent a real interpretation of Islam that begs to be challenged relentlessly and visibly,” she wrote in the op-ed, which was excerpted from her soon-to-be-published new book, “Allah, Liberty and Love” (Free Press).

So what does this have to do with Jews? It has to do with us because Manji and other reformers have reached out to liberal Jews and Christians in search of allies in this challenge. Although she sees this ijtihad (a religious-intellectual struggle fueled by independent thought) as primarily the responsibility of Muslims, she calls on us to support and partner with those brave Muslims willing to engage in it.

Manji criticizes moderate Muslims, accusing them of not being bold enough, of not being willing to take the radical steps necessary to bring about an Islam that can truly coexist with the modern world. She wrote:

’Moderate’ Muslims are part of the problem. As Martin Luther King Jr. taught many white Americans, in times of moral crisis, moderation cements the status quo. Today, what Islam needs is not more ‘moderates’ but more self-conscious ‘reformists.’ It is reformists who will bring to my faith the debate, dissent and reinterpretation that have carried Judaism and Christianity into the modern world.

Indeed, we Jewish women would not be where we are today were it not for Jews who, over the course of the last two centuries, were willing to either reject or reinterpret difficult scriptural and liturgical texts and outdated halachot (religious laws) and minhagim (traditions). In many cases, especially in America, it was women themselves who courageously instigated for the many changes that led to bringing Judaism in line with the values of liberal democracy, human rights and civil equality.

Throughout Jewish history, it has been reformers (Reform Jews among them, but not exclusively) and not moderates who have moved our people forward, be it religiously, culturally, socially, politically or nationally. It was the Jewish women who were not in favor of whitewashing, who were willing to air dirty laundry — Jewish and otherwise — in public, who changed Judaism and the world. One need only search under the term “activist” in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encylopedia to find many such examples.

So, I have asked myself why we Jewish women have not answered Irshad Manji’s request for support more enthusiastically. Sure, many of us sign petitions against atrocities being committed against women (and men) in the name of Islam when they appear on our Facebook pages. But how many of us are really ready to link arms with Irshad Manji in the way that Abraham Joshua Heschel linked arms with Martin Luther King, Jr.? So far, not many.

It surely has to do with the fact that the relationship between Jews and Muslims is a complicated one overshadowed by the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel’s relations with the Arab world in general. And one can’t ignore the very real fact that the worst that most Jews who challenged Jewish texts or rabbinical interpretations feared was social shunning or being labeled an “Epikorus,” while Islamic reformers like Manji are the object of jihadi death threats.

As Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be?” Ijtihad is ultimately going to have to be done by the Muslims themselves. However, “But if I am only for myself, who am I?” applies to us. As a first step, we can get to know our Muslim neighbors and colleagues and learn about their religion. By taking an interest in contemporary Islamic ideas and speaking openly about them, Manji tells us, “You’ll be creating conversations where none would have existed.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Osama bin Laden, Islam, Irshad Manji

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.