52 Books: Book 6

Infidel is the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It tells her story of growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya in a very strict Muslim household, the daughter of a Somali revolutionary. She survives female mutilation, regular abuse and civil war before finally escaping an arranged marriage and taking refuge in Holland. 
Ali struggles with her feelings of honor for her family and the conflicting desire to be her own person. In Holland she is exposed to new ideas and a modern society. She is able to gain her citizenship which leads her to study at a University, eventually becoming a member of Parliament fighting for women’s rights.

Ali has many threats on her life as she openly speaks out against Islam. In a political move, the Dutch government takes away her citizenship based on a lie she made about her name. In the end, the name is proven to be a variation of her real name and she is reinstated as a citizen. She ends up in the United States where she currently works.

I found this to be a very eye-opening look into Islam and one woman’s journey to find freedom of self. She turns her back on Islam and religion in general, though she does make some interesting insights into the differences between Islam and Christianity. 

There are people that say that Islam is a peaceful religion, Ali argues strongly against this viewpoint throughout her book. Some will find this controversial but I found her story to be very inspiring.

Excerpts from the book:
We had learned the Quran by heart in Mogadishu, although of curse we had never understood more than a word or two of it, because it was in Arabic. But the teacher in Mecca said we recited it disrespectfully: we raced it, to show off. So now we had to learn it all by heart again, but this time with reverent pauses. We still didn’t know more than the bare gist of it. Apparently, understanding wasn’t the point.

A few months after our move, my grandmother arrived to help my mother with the household. She didn’t like the way my mother talked about Abeh either. “When you’re born a woman, you must live like a woman,” she used to say, quoting a proverb. “The quicker you understand that, the easier it will be to accept.”
We told our father that we didn’t want to be girls. It wasn’t fair that we weren’t allowed to go out with him and do all the things that Mahad could. Abeh would always protest and quote the Quran: “Paradise is at the feet of your mother!” But when we looked down at them, our mother’s bare feet were cracked from washing the floor every day, and Abeh’s were clad in expensive Italian leather shoes. We burst out laughing every time, because in every sense of the word, Paradise was not at her feet but at his.

Even as a child I could never comprehend the downright unfairness of the rules, especially for women. How could a just God ā€“ a God so just that almost every page of the Quran praises his fairness ā€“ desire a woman to be treated unfairly?

Another way these kids {Ali’s roommates} fascinated me: everything was about the self ā€“ what they liked, expressing their style, treating themselves to something they felt the deserved. There was a whole culture of self that I had never known in Africa. In my childhood, the self was ignored. You pretended to be obedient, good, and pious for the approval of others; you never sought to express yourself. Here people sought to express their own pleasure just because they felt like it.

{After 9/11} People theorized beautifully about poverty pushing people to terrorism; about colonialism and consumerism, pop culture and Western decadence eating away at people’s culture and therefore causing the carnage. But Africa is the poorest continent, I knew, and poverty doesn’t cause terrorism; truly poor people can’t look further than their next meal, and more intellectual people are usually angry at their own governments; they flock to the West.

For a Muslim, to be an apostate is the worst thing possible. Christians can cease to believe in God; that is a personal matter that only affects their eternal soul. But for a Muslim to cease believe in Allah is a lethal offense. Apostates merit death: on that, Quran and hadith are clear.

I was a one-issue politician, I decided. I still am. I am also convinced that this is the largest, most important issue that our society and planet will face in this century. Every society that is still in the grip of Islam oppresses women and also lags behind in social development. Most of these societies are poor; many are full of conflict and war. Societies that respect the rights of women and their freedom are wealthy and peaceful.

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