‘[But] I must confess that I don’t have a single person I can identify as someone who keeps me going. I find that it is very difficult for people to understand the shoes that I walk in because the stakes are so high in the kind of mission that I have. This is a part of why my relationship with God is as deep and as personal as it is.’ Irshad is referring to her mission of spurring change in the mindsets of Muslim societies today. This larger-than-life personality has garnered glowing appraisals as well as scathing criticism for speaking out against what she refers to as ‘group-think’, or fundamentalism. She is undoubtedly one of the strongest advocates of a more open and critical Muslim community, a path that has proven to be full of challenges and barriers. It is mind-boggling to think that she has come all this way on her own, equipped only with her faith in God. Yet, it is this image of strength that most of her supporters and opponents are familiar with.
Since graduating from the University of British Columbia, Irshad has worked as a legislative aide, a speechwriter, a journalist and a television personality. In 2001, she joined the University of Toronto’s Hart House as journalist-in-residence where she authored her first book, The Trouble with Islam Today
, which has since been translated into over 30 languages and banned in several countries for its sharp criticism of the current state of Islam. On its very first page, Irshad writes, ‘Through our screaming self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We’re in crisis and we’re dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it’s now. For the love of God, what are we doing about it?’
When it hit stores in 2004, the book prompted heated debates ranging from the intellectual to the emotionally charged. Some were offended and angered, while others identified with Irshad’s arguments. The international attention she received led her to serve as a visiting fellow at Yale University, and later as a senior fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. For her contributions, Irshad was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and became the first recipient of an O, The Oprah Magazine Chutzpah Award for her ‘audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction’.
Left: Sharing a light moment with Congressman Brademus and Librarian of Congress James Billington at the dialogue on religious freedom in Washington, DC (Copyright IrshadManji.com)
Above: Irshad answers graduates’ questions at the Graduation Ceremony of NYU’s School of Public Service (Copyright IrshadManji.com)