Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
September 11, 2001, Ayaan Hirsi Ali renounced Islam.
In her memoir, Infidel, Hirsi Ali recounts in stirring detail the events of her life leading up to and following this momentous decision. Born to the second wife of an oft-jailed and exiled Somali politician, she was raised in
, Somalia , and finally Saudi Arabia in a clan-based, honor-bound culture. In 1992, while en route to an arranged marriage in Kenya , she escaped from clan relatives in Canada to seek refugee status in The Germany . Netherlands
There, she learned the Dutch language, worked as a government-paid interpreter and translator to Somali immigrants in hospitals, women's shelters, schools, and prisons, and earned a master's degree in political science. And even while she embraced the culture and freedom of
Europe, she clung to her Muslim faith. Until 9/11.
The day that shattered the west's illusion of security also prompted Hirsi Ali to make a final break with Islam. She became an outspoken critic of European pandering to extremist Muslims. Her interviews and articles brought her to the attention of national political parties and she became a right-wing member of The Netherlands' parliament in 2003. Death threats from Islamists became commonplace and from 2002—long before the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh, her co-collaborator on a controversial film about abuse of Muslim women, by radical Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri—she lived under the protection of government security.
Her story reads like a novel. Each facet of her life is told in stunning detail full of rich imagery. Like a skilled omniscient voice in a literary novel, the present-day Ayaan Hirsi Ali, politician, feminist, critic of Islam, and atheist is careful to allow the reader to journey with her as a young girl undergoing genital mutilation at the hands of her grandmother, as a teenager in Kenya as she embraces fundamentalist Islam with fervor, and as a young woman stepping into the unknown as a refugee in The Netherlands. Hirsi Ali, the narrator, limits her commentary to foreshadowed hints. The reader is drawn into a foreign world inhabited by Dickens' worthy-characters. That this world exists, that Hirsi Ali's early life is not exceptional for a modern-day Muslim woman in
Africa or the Middle-East, adds to the biography a layer of emotional complexity missing in even the best-told fiction.
As a Canadian woman spoiled by status and equality denied most of the world's female population, I was awed by Hirsi Ali's experiences. Her life made me both profoundly grateful and yet shamed by my complacency. As a romance writer, I rejoiced when she acknowledged the role contraband Nancy Drew mysteries and Mills & Boon (Harlequin) romances played in planting early seeds of independent thought.
As a Christian woman, I was forced to acknowledge my own faith's recent (and continuing) history of subjugation of women and of racism, among a long list of other hypocrisies and sins. The propensity to hate is not a Muslim or Christian trait; it lies in the heart of each of us.
Infidel and Hirsi Ali's continuing crusade against western ignorance towards Islam stirred in me a deeper examination of my own faith. Her systematic and rational critique of Islam and the Koran prompted me to apply that same critique to Christianity.
She concludes that:
No God, no religious texts, no organized system of faith is better at dictating right and wrong than the compass we are born with in our heads. The instincts that are coded in our genes. *
If I were to view the Christian Bible as rule book of dos and don'ts in the same way the Koran is interpreted by most of the world's Muslims, then I too, by reason alone, would reject Christianity. One needn't look far to find Christians building their faith and their lives on the so-called rules laid out in scripture, to the impoverishment of their own lives and of the world around them.
For me, the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible are not a rule book, but are a grand and sweeping love story. From beginning to end, Christian scriptures tell the tale of a Holy God in a dance with humanity. He is wooing us to him, and his efforts are consummated in the person of Jesus Christ.
Hirsi Ali's words above echo those of an itinerant preacher two-thousand years ago. Paul said in his letter to the Romans:
13For it is not those who hear the law [summarized by Jesus to love the Lord, our God, with whole minds, hearts and souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves] who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)**
When we reduce God to a set of rules and then apply those rules without love or conscience, we lose all true righteousness. In Infidel, Hirsi Ali paints a vivid picture of a society, not so distant from our own, dominated by such a rigid theocratic system. As a result:
Good was not found in the hearts and minds of men and most definitely within the hearts of women. We feared the judgment of God and we feared the evil within ourselves. And just as ignorance and superstition breed fear, so does fear breed suspicion. My parents did not trust each other. I did not trust my parents. My parents did not trust me. Our school teachers did not trust us. We did not trust them and we definitely did not trust the state and they equally did not trust their citizens. *
This is the society that produced 9/11.
After reading Infidel, on this September 11th as my thoughts inevitably turn to the events in 2001, I am prompted to examine my own faith more carefully. Is my creed a dogma, a rigid battle of so-called rights versus so-called wrongs, or is my faith, written by God on my heart, a story of love?
Yours in Christ,
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*From a speech given by Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in 2007.
** New International Version, Romans Chapter 2.