Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a difficult, heavy book to read. But it's a book that needs to be read; a story that needs to be heard. The fact that Hirsi Ali survived long enough to tell her story is miraculous. She emerged from a clannish version of Somali Islam, fled to Holland to escape an arranged marriage and became a powerful voice for oppressed Islamic women. It's a frightening, gruesome story that touches on the horrors of female circumcision, polygamous marriages, domestic violence and the crushing of the individual.
On a personal level, this book struck a deep chord with me because there were haunting parallels between Islam and certain fundamentalist Christian groups. Hirsi Ali writes:
"A Muslim women must not feel wild, or free, or any of the other emotions and longings I felt when I read those [Western literature & novels] books. A Muslim girl does not make her own decisions or seek control. She is trained to be docile. If you are a Muslim girl, you disappear, until there is almost no you inside you. In Islam, becoming an individual is not a necessary development; many people, especially women, never develop a clear individual will. You submit: that is the literal meaning of the word islam: submission. The goal is to become quiet inside, so that you never raise your eyes, not even inside your mind." (p.94)
On the one hand, it would be easy to dismiss the relevance of Hirsi Ali's story as something that could only happen in third-world countries or welfare states like Holland. This would be a dangerous oversight. There are many groups right here in America that promote the subjugation of women. I know because I came out of one of these groups. These fundamentalist groups are seeking to restore "True Christianity." They put themselves in voluntary isolation from "the world" and build entire sub-cultures based on hyper-literal interpretations of Scripture. Hirsi Ali knows about this from the Islamic perspective:
"They felt Islam should not be something you nodded at a few times a week. They wanted to immerse themselves in it as a minutely detailed way of life, a passion, a constant internal pursuit…The intention was to live according to the ancient ways in every detail of our lives. We weren't just learning a text by heart: we were discussing its meaning and how it applied to us every day…This was True Islam, this harking back to the purity of the Prophet. Everyone was convinced there was an evil worldwide crusade aimed at eradicating Islam.." (p.108)
Hirsi Ali tried to live out this life. She wore modest clothing, covered her hair and took to wearing a tent-like garment whenever she went out in public. Still, she was beaten mercilessly for asking a question or not properly covering her arms. The difference between Islam & Christianity is that "The Quran mandates these punishments. It gives a legitimate basis for abuse, so the perpetrators feel no shame and are not hounded by their conscience or their community…I wanted secular, non-Muslim people to stop kidding themselves that 'Islam is peace and tolerance.'" (p.307).
Christianity, unlike Islam, values the individual. Christians believe God is Love is that He cares for each of His children. This is weak-minded and entirely too convenient according to the Muslim worldview. Hirsi Ali was hunted and still lives under death threats for speaking against the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
Not all Christians agree with each other–but at least in America we don't go around killing each other over disagreements in doctrine. Most Americans appreciate agreeable disagreement. We like to talk things over. Hirsi Ali's story is an eye-opening reminder that in Islamic countries, a woman speaking her mind is a death sentence.
Just one more reason I'm grateful to be an American woman–free to speak my mind and not living under the mandates of a theocracy.
God bless America!