What We Can Learn about Religious Extremism and Women’s Rights from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Book: Infidel
Infidel the Book
Once I began reading the book, Infidel, I could not put it down. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is so candid in the fascinating story of her life, a world away from mine, that I felt mesmerized. Not being much of a reader of history or religion, I recommended the book to a friend who reads these types of books weekly--to see if he would have a similar reaction. He said he would put the book on his list. A year and a half later, he began reading the book and had the same reaction that I had. The insight that this story gives could not be duplicated in a history text book. It allows us to have a very basic understanding of how ideas affect actions, and why we should care.
Interview with Ayaan
Growing Up Muslim
Ayaan was born a Muslim in Somalia, then moved to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, then, Kenya because of war and her father’s involvement in politics. While living in Saudi Arabia, Ayaan’s community strictly followed the Islamic laws. In the other countries her family followed prayer rituals sporadically, during the few, intermittent years when her father lived with them.
“…Saudi Arabia meant intense heat and filth and cruelty. People were stoned or had their hands or heads cut off in public squares. Adults spoke of it. It was a normal, routine thing; after the Friday noon prayer you could go home for lunch, or you could go and watch the executions. Hands were cut off. Men were flogged. Women were stoned.” (late 1970s) p. 43. The Friday prayers were attended by males only. Among other things, women’s rights only exist to the extent that the husband or father allows them to exist.
Wearing the Burka
Ayaan’s father left frequently and took additional wives. The children attended a secular school in Kenya. One day, when Ayaan was in her teens, a man came to their village preaching a strict version of the Muslim religion and convinced others to follow his dictates. Soon, Ayaan was wearing the traditional burka daily.
Reading about the strict religious leader coming into their area and convincing Muslims that they will burn in Hell if they do not live by a strict interpretation of the Quran, reminded me of the many religious fundamentalist groups who push their own versions of religion using some interpretation of the Bible.
In fact, various strict biblical interpretations have shaped history. Hitler had a nation of followers who turned against their Jewish and Catholic neighbors. The burning of witches in Europe and the U.S. was a religiously accepted practice. The Christian church’s authoritative justification for keeping slaves in America was based on Leviticus 25:44 and Exodus 21:20 and Titus 2:9. The KKK was a religious group of men that burned people on a cross.
Muslims in Holland
Escape from Oppression
In her early 20’s Ayaan escapes to the Netherlands and finds asylum and recognizes that the infidels she has been taught to hate are actually doing quite well and are decent people. She gets citizenship, a university education and becomes a member of government. While there, she notices that people are turning a blind eye to the increased number of Muslims moving into the country and their isolationist behaviors. She has a study done to show that the increase in domestic deaths is among Muslim teenage girls. Further investigation reveals they are honor killings by their fathers.
Support for Hitler
Moderates on Religion
Ayaan’s concern is not the increase in Muslims in her new country but the fact that they have not adopted the western culture but remain clannish and segregated. Instead of following western law, they keep their own religious laws and accept only the comforts and generosity of their new country. The immigration of Muslims is growing in all western countries today.
Most moderates find it hard to accept that the people they help could actually be plotting to change their way of life and standards. Most moderates and liberals feel we can all live in peace and harmony and that this will never change. However, it was, in fact, the village religious moderates who were swayed to become more religious in Ayaan’s Kenyan village.
Hitler’s Germany proved that if enough people can be persuaded to believe something, they can control everyone else. The disbelief of the moderates among us is what allows radical dogma to grow. We have had countless examples in the U.S. of radical groups pushing their agenda so as to harm the lives of their followers and of those who turn against them: Jim Jones and Scientology, to name two.
Living at Peace
Today, Ayaan Hirshi Ali lives without religion, an infidel, an atheist. There is much, much more to the story than I am telling here. Ayaan’s amazing story and incredible journey will touch you and will give you a better understanding of the world from which she comes. Keep in mind as you read it that the radicals among us exist in all religions. As the religious will tell you, religious belief is not rational belief. It is faith based. We all need to be vigilant of radical elements and threats around us and to keep them at bay—and to not be intimidated by them.
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What did you think of this perspective?
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