Friday, 12 February 2010






INFIDEL is a pellucid memoir of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born and brought up in Somalia in a traditional Muslim family. Her story is astonishing even while being profound.

Raised in a strict Muslim family and extended clan, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female circumcision involving genital mutilation, brutal beatings, an adolescence as a devout believer, the rise of Muslim brotherhood, and life in four countries under dictatorships. She escaped from a forced marriage and sought asylum in Holland, where she fought for the rights of Muslim women and the reform of Islam, earning her the enmity of reactionary Muslims all over the world. The journey from being an orthodox believer to a champion of Women’s empowerment and a staunch atheist – it is one of the most memorable account of a person’s life story. She lives under constant threat from Islamists, yet refuses to be silenced.

Ultimately a celebration of triumph over adversity, Hirsi Ali’s story tells how a bright, curious, dutiful little girl evolves into a pioneering freedom fighter. As Western governments struggle to balance democratic ideals with religious fanaticism, especially in the wake of 9/11, no other book could be more timely or significant. She worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and shelters for battered women, fleeing from domestic violence. After earning her college degree in political science, she worked for the Labor Party in Holland. She denounced Islam after September 11 terrorist attacks and now champions the cause of Muslim women in Europe, the enlightenment of Islam and security in the West.

A riveting read, INFIDEL should be read by every woman and yes, all men.


PS: I sketched the arresting face of Ayaan Hirsi Ali as soon as I finished reading her book. I believe I have captured the determination in her eyes.


nazeer said...

Ayan Hirsi Ali represents the dissenting voice within Islam. I was really shellshocked when I read Infidel last year. I never expected then that a young woman raised in Islam could be bold enough to denounce Islam in a lucid language that characterises the language of Enlightenment thinkers. Ali's central theme in the book that depicts her personal journey from being a devout Muslim who joined the street protests against Salman Rushdie after he published Satanic Verses to her emergence as an infidel demolishing suffocating political ideology of Islam is her rational view that all human beings are equal but all cultures are not. How can Islam that suppresses freedom of speech and practises gender discrimination can be equal to a culture that respects human and civil rights and practises gender equality?
Muslim apologists like Tariq Ramadan, who appears as a moderate Muslim, accuse Ali of essentialising the Muslims. He says that there is no single version of Islam and tries to argue that European Islam, for example, is different from the desert Islam. Ali and other ex-Muslim writers keep on saying that this is a wishful thinking. In the Western countries such as France radical Muslims are demanding their right to explicitly use their religious symbols (burqa, niqab, for example) that are against the Western values of gender equality and they invoke the Western value of freedom of choice! Can we allow the practice of Sati (banned Hindu custom of wife jumping into the funeral pyre of her deceased husband) in the name of freedom of choice? There are Muslims who try to interpret Islamic doctrines such as Jihad in a moderate way. We have to encourage them because emergence of a moderate Islam as a prominent face of Islam augurs well for world peace. But this has not become a reality now. Violent protests against Danish cartoons, New Year Day attempt by a Muslim assassin to kill one of the cartoonists and recent attempt by a Nigerian youth to blow up a plane over Detroit raise concerns about the dangers of political Islam. The dissenting voices of Ayan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji and Mariyam Namazie, to name a few, deserve to be heard.

redkazim said...

The book sounds interesting. And of course no one should form a view without reading it. But whenever I come across a writer who propagates enlightenment in Muslim societies while himself/herself living in Europe I become skeptic. Not that I am conservative or anti-enlightenment, I am not. But why do we have thousands of self-appointed torch-bearers of enlightened Islam living in America and Europe? They author books, give TV interviews and write newspaper columns suggesting a hundred ways of transforming society. But none of them ever comes back to their homeland to work where the real action is. Struggle is not impossible within a totalitarian society. There are always indigenous dissenting voices calling for agitation from below. Why not join them and strive for change instead of write for a foreign readership and make one's CV stronger.
I haven't read the book so these comments are not on it. They reflect my general distaste for foreign experts on local issues. Sorry for being unnecessarily bitter.

Haroun said...

I agree with redkazim's view that one should always try to struggle in one's homeland (against its totalitarianism). But Islam treats itself as an 'ummah' which can be translated as a nation or community or society that transcends geographical boundaries. If Ayan Hirsi Ali had published Infidel in any Islamic country, the book would have been banned, she would have been killed by a self-appointed jihadist or incarcerated by the state. Even in the West, she was moving with a heavy security cover. Dissent is not allowed in Islam. There is no dearth of scholars of Islam who quote Hadith and other classic Islamic works to justify the prominent Islamic view that an apostate should be killed. Ayan Hirsi Ali is not an expert of Islam. She is just narrating her first person account of the way women are treated in Islam. She wrote the script of the short film 'Submission', a film on the plight of Muslim women, directed by Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The director was killed in the Netherlands by an immigrant Muslim youth. The murderer also left a message warning that Ayan Hirsi Ali would be the next target. See what is happening in Iran. The Iranian government is using all its might to suppress the opposition despite the fact that the latter has large numbers.

Chandini Santosh said...

The differing yet poignant comments posted on this page does make me profoundly solemn. Coming as I do from an inquisitive background, I feel that this could be the actual path to enter - that of debate and inclusiveness.

In the heat of the debate, all of you forgot to mention a word about my sketch of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.