Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Infidel' and Islam

I had heard about Ayyan Hirsi Ali's famous [or infamous] book 'Infidel' a lot. Only recently I was able to read it.

The book is autobiographical in nature. Ms Ali was born in Somalia. Ali's father, a U.S. educated political leader was thrown into prison by Somalia's despot, Siad Barre. She was raised by her mother, mostly in exile, in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. She was circumcised against the wishes of her father as per the custom of her clan.

Hirsi Ali attended the English-language Muslim school in Kenya. She was attracted to Islamic study groups and started wearing hijab which was unusual at that time. She even sympathized with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and courted a clergy man.

As she grew older slowly she became disillusioned with gender discrimination in Islam. Against her wishes she was married to a Somali Muslim living in USA. While waiting for US visa in Germany, she was attracted to the care free life in Europe. She suddenly realised that she wanted freedom and escaped to Netherlands and was granted political asylum there.

She did many short term jobs and was able to study in college due to the generous policies of the Dutch Govt towards immigrants .She earned a masters degree in Political science in 2000. She began working in a Research Institute linked to Center-Left Labour Party.

Her disenchantment with Islam increased after 9/11 Islamist attack of World Trade Center in New York. She renounced Islam and became an atheist in 2002.She began openly questioning Koran and Islam in many public forums and started receiving death threats. Her opposition to unquestioning financial support by Dutch Govt to Islamic religious schools made it difficult for her to stay with the Labour Party

.She switched to Center-Right WD party and won Parliamentary election. Her main complaint was Dutch welfare state had overlooked abuse of Muslim women and girls. She wanted a comprehensive study of the status of women among Muslim immigrants.

Her comments in an interview that 'by our Western standards Muhammad is a perverse man and a tyrant' created a huge uproar. She received several threats and from then onwards was able to move around only in selected areas that too with a huge security cover behind her.

Her first legislative victory was in passing a law that allowed women who come to Holland to marry legal immigrants to have independent residence papers. [Many of these women, mostly Muslims were abused by their husbands and wanted to get out the marriage. But divorce meant deportation from Holland till then.]

Then she pressed for a motion in Parliament that required Police to register killings/deaths which can be classified as honour killings. The Parliament approved a pilot study in 2 regions. The Dutch society was stunned to see that honour killings were very much prevalent among Immigrants.

Hirsi Ali wrote the script for a 10 minute documentary film Submission Part 1, which was directed by Theo van Gogh which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society. It depicted 4 women, one flogged for falling in love, another raped by her husband, third physically abused by her husband and fourth raped by an uncle and punished for sex outside marriage. Texts from the Koran which are often interpreted as justifying the subjugation of women were written on the body of the women.

The film was shown on Dutch TV as a part of interview with Hirsi Ali and resulted in big protests. Van Gogh was murdered in broad day light on a street in Amsterdam on November 2, 2004 by an Islamist.

A letter was pinned to Van Gogh's body with a knife and was a death threat to Hirsi Ali.

Hirsi Ali went to hiding and was placed in several hidden locations by the Dutch Police. After a long drawn out citizenship controversy and increasing difficulty in finding a safe hideout in Holland she went to USA and is presently staying there.

Through 'Infidel, My life' Hirsi Ali tries to explain how and why she got disillusioned with Islam. She says

'The Prophet did teach us a lot of good things.............But I could no longer avoid seeing the totalitarianism, the pure moral frame work that is Islam. It regulates every detail of life and subjugates free will. True Islam as a rigid belief system and a moral frame work leads to cruelty...........Their World is divided between 'Us' and 'Them'-if you don't accept Islam you should perish.

It didn't have to be this way. The West underwent a period of religious warfare and persecution, but then the society freed itself from the grip of violent organised religion. I assumed-still assume-the same process could occur among millions of Muslims".


My Take

I can very well understand how Hirsi Ali became disenchanted with Islam. Her personal experience of Islam was so bad, and her experiences in the West were so good that she became an atheist and a strong critic of Islam. Her work for the emancipation of Muslim women in Holland was very praise worthy.

Organised Religions were formed in human society during the feudal or pre-feudal [slavery] phase of economic development. This period was very anti-woman and the religions reflect that position. Scientific revolution in Europe from 15th century onwards changed the methods of production and resulted in Industrial revolution leading to the degeneration of feudal system and development of Capitalism. This resulted in fall of monarchies and the advent of democracy and liberty. It was this change that helped European society to free itself from the grip of organised religion.

Islamic society is still mostly in the feudal era. Presence of cash rich Oil deposits in Arab countries is helping to maintain the feudal system. Also it is in the West's interest to prevent true democracy in Gulf so that they can continue to exploit the resources there. West funded Islamist militancy of the Cold war era is now the main proponent of rigid Islam. These may be the reasons for the inability of Muslims to free themselves  from the grip of organised religion.

So I believe that as the Industrial revolution, democracy and liberty spreads more widely in the Arab Asian and African Countries, population there will find it more and more easier to loosen the grip of orthodox Islam.

Hirsi Ali may sound harsh and provocative in her criticism of Islam, but such brave words should find their own place in a debate on religion and rights of women.


  1. I have not read her book, but will do so, soon. I feel the same rule that should apply to Arundhati Roy, Taslima Nasreen, MF Hussain , and to every citizen in a Democracy, applies to her. To be able to speak her mind, and give her opinion without fearing for her safety is her right. Anybody who disagrees has the right to counter what she says. Why threaten to kill her?

    What she did to empower the women there is amazing! Honor killings, forced marriages, FGM need to be tackled very firmly. Any voices against any injustice should be supported.

  2. Yes every one should be able to speak their mind and Religion should not be a taboo subject. All new ideas have come trying to reform the old ones and should be encouraged. Yes I am also amazed at her bravery in fighting for a just cause. To a pious Muslim she may sound insensitive to their sentiments but her criticism should be answered by reforms in religion and not violence

  3. Thank you for pointing out this strong lady.. may her tribe increase in every religion.

    As you said..

    Organised Religions were formed in human society during the feudal or pre-feudal [slavery] phase of economic development. This period was very anti-woman and the religions reflect that position..

    religion can continue to comfort many but it needs to acknowledge the changing times..

  4. Happy Kitten,
    Yes we need more and more bold crtics of religions.And as you said religious leaders should be able to change with changing times.
    As it is said only thing that will not change is the process of 'Change'.Everything else will have to change.

  5. Welcome here Seema and thank you


Comments are welcome especially if you do not think like me. But anonymous comments behind masks and those not relevant to the post are not encouraged.