Montana State University

At Montana State: Irshad Manji

February 23, 2016

Irshad Manji, author, inspirational speaker, Muslim reformist and founder of the Moral Courage Project, answers a few questions about racism, stress and constructive conversation. Photo courtesy of Irshad Manji.

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Irshad Manji lives with moral courage every day. A best-selling author, Manji is also an inspirational speaker, LGBTQ activist, founder of the Moral Courage Project based at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and a Muslim reformist. Modeling moral courage, which she said is doing the right thing in the face of your fears, Manji is the author of “The Trouble with Islam Today” and has faced her own adversity, death threats, criticism and hate, yet still has become a spokesperson who teaches love, tolerance and open-mindedness.

While appearing at Montana State University, Manji answered a few questions about how to confront racism and sexism, the importance of learning how to handle stress and how to talk constructively to others about profound differences.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at age 18?

That the hamster wheel of success really is a hamster wheel. The more driven you are to achieve, the less satisfied you will be with every achievement. You need to have the humility to recognize that the world will continue to spin with or without you, and truly you can stop to smell the proverbial roses.

How do you unwind/relax?

I love to play tennis. I love to watch tennis. I’m enough of a geek to love reading, particularly non-fiction. The only thing that stops me from writing more books more frequently is that I find surfing the Web thoroughly enjoyable.

What are your favorite websites?

The New York Times is my go-to site for their coverage of a wide variety of issues. Brainpickings.org - which is run by one person who takes wisdom from some of the great books of the world, posts that wisdom and does a commentary about it. The Moral Courage Project has its own YouTube channel - that has many, many stories. I go once a day to watch, even if it’s a story I’ve seen before. It always teaches me something different about how change happens and how people stay motivated against very tough odds.

Do you have a productivity technique that you'd like to share?

Whenever I get to meet somebody who is a high achiever, I always ask them how they manage their time. Almost nobody has a decent answer. Makes me understand that I’m not alone in struggling with prioritizing, in a day where there is so much to get done. My so-called productivity technique is to remember the value of simplicity.

I have a habit of over-committing myself, then lapsing into health problems as a result. I declared with no exceptions that 2016 will be the year that I say no. The value of saying no is that not only do you practice self-care, but you also remind people who are hoping to get some of your time that it’s okay for them to say no down the road.

Do you think work/life balance is important and how do you achieve it?

I don’t achieve (work/life balance), I think it’s reasonable to shoot for less-lopsidedness. Unless I change my profession, there will never be work/life balance. What I have learned to do is not feel compelled to respond to today’s emails by the end of the day. I will write a note acknowledging that I have received an email and will let the sender know I will get back to them by a certain date, but not right away.

What do you think is the most important piece of advice a mentor has ever given you?

The truth is, I’ve never had a mentor who I can honestly say has taught me something I haven’t already experienced. Excellent mentors, I find, are very difficult to come by. I think, to be blunt, my best mentor has been a tormentor. The tormentor has been health that forced in me a level of humility. To understand that it’s actually okay to take this break. Those that truly love you will be happy that you’re taking this break. And those that say they love you, but don’t, won’t even know that you’re gone.

What is your answer to people, who may even be friends or members of a family, who make disparaging remarks about a religion, race or sexual preference?

I have learned that disparaging people who make disparaging comments does nothing constructive. It actually does more harm than good. It actually convinces those to support their viewpoint. People with big hearts and open minds need to be smarter with their emotional IQ. Start a conversation that is genuine, and ask, “I am intrigued with how you feel, but I’m confused. Can you explain your viewpoint to me?” You’ll find that more often than not, when you show genuine interest in the views of others, they’ll be so surprised and gratified, they will reciprocate by hearing you.  That is the great opportunity to have a conversation.

Carmen McSpadden, (406) 994-7667, cmcspadden@montana.edu

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