Friday, September 11, 2009

Infidel and 9/11 - A Christian Response

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

On 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, Saudi Arabia, and finally Kenya in a clan-based, honor-bound culture. In 1992, while en route to an arranged marriage in Canada, she escaped from clan relatives in Germany to seek refugee status in The 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,


(Win a copy of Infidel. Leave a reply to this blog. I’ll pick a winner at random on September 14th. Please leave an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner. (To prevent spammers from trolling for your email, please use this format with the brackets--you [at] yourmail [dot] com--or something similar.)

*From a speech given by Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in 2007.

** New International Version, Romans Chapter 2.


  1. Good Morning Wenda!

    I am fascinated with Islamic culture. It seems many of us North Americans had little or no knowledge or understanding of it until 9/11.

    We talked a bit about it yesterday when many admitted how little we know of the struggles elsewhere in the world due to tribal, religious, political differences, and now, even gender.

    I can't imagine the courage these people take to bring awareness or a questioning voice to the realm of international scrutiny.

    Wow. Interesting topic. Great review.

  2. This story is tragic. Saddest of all is that as an atheist she has no one to rely on but herself now. It must be a frightening place. I could spend all day debating the flaws in that viewpoint, but as you pointed out, Wenda, people aren't really converted by arguments. So instead I will pray that God will reach out through his people to love these hurting girls and that the love of Christ will abound within them. That he will be their shield and sword and protect them.

  3. Wenda, this is incredibly insightful. I love the way you wove scripture into her experiences.

    My husband is from Lebanon. I have many friends who are Muslims and former Muslims. It is a shame that some of them turn to atheism instead of the one true God, but let's pray for Hirsi Ali that God bring her the next step to finding love and fullfillment in Christ She shares a common cause with many former Muslim's who are now Christian believers, so I have no doubt she will have opportunity to hear the truth.

    Your comment--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--was very brave and so true.

    What an awesome post as we look back at 9-11.


  4. Wenda, nice to meet you via post!
    Can you believe I am READING INFIDEL AS WE SPEAK? I too was saddened by Ayaan's "wiping her hands" of all religions. May Christ our Savior open her eyes to the Way, the Truth, the Life.

    What a timely, apropos post.

    Thank you,

  5. I am saddened but understanding of Ayaan's turn to atheism when her faith failed her. It would seem the appropriate counteraction. But I pray that she discovers Christ, not the Christianity that many practice and might seem no better than the Muslim faith she abandoned, but rather the living God and the unending love He offers and inspires.

  6. Thank you so much for your comments.

    If you have a chance to watch any of the youtube interviews of Hirsi Ali, you will see that she clearly sees the distinction between the Christian and Muslim faiths. I, too, don't see how anyone can put more faith in humanity than in God when creation shouts his goodness.

    But, I guess, the greatest evidence of God's love for us is giving us the freedom to choose him or not.

  7. I just keep hoping this fanatacism passes. But it seems to just get worse.

    9/11/01 It's been a long time and we're still bearing the scars and inflicting new ones.

  8. This morning I took my two elementary school students to school late because I'd kept them home from viewing Obama's speech. Not that I disagreed with what he said in the speech but because (and I explained this to my kids) what he said in the speech contradicted his policies and other speechs he's given since becoming elected.

    My oldest son was with me because he sorta missed the bus.

    As the two younger ones got out the surburban, oldest son commented on the flags flying half mast.

    I said, "As we mourn those who lost their lives--no. No. They didn't lose their lives. They were murdered. Murdered."

    May we never forget.

    Fitting blog post, Wenda. When I assigned you this day, I couldn't remember what you'd said you'd blog about. Divine inspirations.

  9. Wenda, what a powerful post. Ali's story saddens me on so many levels. There only answer (to the problems of the world and those within our individual hearts) is God. That doesn't mean there are simple solutions, but only He can heal the divisions among people and within the human heart.

    I am often guilty of neglecting to pray for His hand to work among others who live far away and far differently than I do. It is fitting that today, 9/11, I am reminded to seek God for power, provision, and restoration.

  10. Wenda, thanks for sharing your heart on a most difficult day.

    We've all got a 9/11 story. My husband was on an airplane flying from Cleveland to LA when the first plane hit the tower. I worked at a cable company, so there was always a TV on. I was in my boss's office and we watched together as the second plane hit. I'll never forget how my whole body went cold as I realized this was no accident. This was planned. And my husband was in a plane somewhere. Two hours later I found out the airline turned his plane around and landed in Cincinnatti. But those were two of the longest hours of my life.

    My prayers go out to everyone, because we were all touched by what happened that day.

  11. Hi Wenda,
    Thanks for reviewing this book on 9/11. My God strengthen the families of those who were lost.

    Hirsi Ali said, "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. *

    Her sentence,"The instincts that are coded in our genes."

    These instincts are not always perfect, nor do they always lead us in the right direction. I have experienced many times how feelings can trick us into doing things that aren't necessarily the right thing.

    If I'm afraid of rejection on any level and do not step out in faith and trust God to get me through something painful or difficult because of those feelings, than I may miss out on opportunities that could have turned out to be incredibly significant or even joyous in my life.

  12. It's easy for us to look at Middle Easterners and throw them all in drawer labelled terrorist. And then we realize how wrong that is through writings like this one.

    Thank you, Wenda.

  13. I would very much like to be entered in your wonderful draw. Thanks.

  14. Wenda: A beautiful post. We remember with sadness the people who died and their families. But truly the entire world was affected by the dark events of 9/11. I pray she finds her way to the one true God who can bring her peace.


  15. Wonderful post! I think we all needed to be reminded of the points made.


  16. Dear Wenda,
    Thank you for your review. I liked the part about the dance with God. You nailed it beautifully.

    Muslims are passionate people. They are passionate about their belief and they go to the far extreme defending it. When they come to Christ (and they are coming in the thousands weekly), they keep the same passion and turn it around. The MBB's as they call them are the most courageous and active missionaries in the Muslim countries.

    I have 2 DVDs about Islam to give away to the first two people who write to my email. dani(dot)sleiman(at)yahoo(dot)com.

    By the way, this email address could also be used to enter your drawing if Inky husbands are eligible :) I can't believe I'm calling myself an Inky husband.

  17. Again, thank you all for dropping in and for not only reading the post, but for sharing your experiences/memorials of 9/11.

    It is amazing how the schedule of our blogs worked out. No one planned the Infidel book for this date, and yet in reviewing Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book we also revisit 9/11.

    Another amazing "coincidence" is D'Ann's review of As We Forgive the day before the 9/11 anniversary and my posting.

    My hope and prayer is that we would see people of different faiths, and even people who do evil, not as so different from us, but as people as badly in need of a saviour as ourselves.

    Dani, thanks for sharing that Muslims are coming to faith and passionately embracing life in Christ. And I like the term Inky husband. I think my own husband should embrace that label! I'll check with the contest rules committee to see if we can include you.

  18. Wenda,
    This strikes my heart every time I read it. The rules are so easy to follow, so easy to create and add to. Faith, following Christ on a day by day, moment by moment basis, is not so simple. It's like the difference between taking the Interstate and going four-wheeling in the high country. There's a lot more trust we have to yield to the one driving!
    On 9/11/2001, I was leading corporate prayer at our church when we heard the news. As we began to pray in our understanding and in the spirit, I found myself singing/chanting in a way that sounded so much like the prayers called from the mosques it sent chills down my spine. Even in the midst of that act of vile hatred, God asked me to pray for Islam, and those trapped inside its law. I've not forgotten that moment, nor do I desire to. But sometimes it's easy to ignore. Thank you for the reminder!
    "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood..."

  19. This was an excellent review, Wenda. I agree that we must always hold love for God and others above rules; however, rules play an important part in our faith as well, as they give us a road map for acting in love when our emotions don't "feel" love. :)

    Unfortunately, there ARE many instances of religions filled with rules without love, which is a dangerous type of religion indeed.

    Thank you for his poignant reminder and for sharing this powerful book review.

  20. I would love to be entered in your wonderful draw. Thanks.


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