Sept. 11 was a twisted way to introduce Islam to most of America. On reflection, though, it might have taken nothing less than a cataclysm for Americans to think about my religion at all.
During the decade before, I'd been writing about the need for Muslims to reform ourselves. Non-Muslims would reply, "That's none of our business." And Muslims would tell me, "Don't air dirty laundry," as if this is a purely internal conversation. But 9/11 taught us that what happens within Islam affects countless lives outside the fold. We're slowly realizing that Muslim reform is everybody's business.
To me, it's a frustratingly slow realization -- tense and tepid. That's because fear paralyzes us even more than it did in the days after 9/11. In my experience, liberal Muslims are afraid to discuss our beliefs on the record. We fear being declared "traitors" by Islam-supremacists and "terrorists-in-waiting" by Islam-bashers. Likewise, liberal non-Muslims are afraid to question Islam openly because they can't abide being called "bigots" by Islam's supposed spokespeople.
Given such a polarized culture, the next decade has to be about reconciliation -- not just between Muslims and non-Muslims, but also between faith and freedom, respect and honesty. Here, interfaith dialogue often fails because it degenerates into an exchange of platitudes.
So, as a faithfully free Muslim, I say: Dare to ask uncomfortable questions. When you do, you're showing faith in my capacity to think. You're also giving me an opportunity to deepen my relationship with Allah by remembering Him.
Above all, questions themselves convey respect: I honor you when I refuse to infantilize your mind.
Fear will always bamboozle us into silence, which is a non-starter for change. Over the next decade, let's develop the moral courage to transcend the seductive groupthink triggered by words like "Islam" and "the West." Groupthink is the real enemy of liberty.
My fellow Muslims, in particular, can't keep chanting that we're victims of stereotyping when we stereotype our own by stifling freedom of thought. As I see it, Muslims have the chance to lead all Americans in living out a glorious passage of the Quran: "God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is inside themselves." That's chapter 13, verse 11. I consider it a 13:11 solution to the 9/11 abomination.
Irshad Manji is Director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and author, most recently, of "Allah, Liberty and Love" (Free Press, 2011).
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