In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
Here we go again. But now, the American Enterprise Institute has entered into the fray (although, I must admit, I am hardly surprised). They have sponsored former Dutch parliamentarian Ayan Hirsi Ali as a resident fellow. Ms. Ali is a staunch critic, not only of extremist Islam (of which I am also an unrelenting foe), but of Islam in general.
Her story, outlined in her latest book “Infidel,” is one of a tragically harsh childhood and an equally tragic encounter with Islam and Muslims. As a result of these encounters, Hirsi Ali has renounced Islam and embarked on a crusade, it seems, against the faith. Wikipedia has a pretty extensive profile of Ms. Ali.
With most of what she has to say, I strongly disagree. I listened to her interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation program, and transcribed what she said to the best of my ability and knowledge. The quotes I have below are from that interview. I use them as an example of what I feel is her flawed logic in her criticisms of Islam. I have already written about this for Beliefnet, but I write here what I could not fit in that column.
About female circumcision, Ms. Ali admits that it began “1,800 years before Christ, so it was way before Islam came about.” In the next breath, however she says: “if you look at the countries that practice it today, most of them are Islamic. And one of the things that makes it very useful for Muslims is their attitude towards virginity and premarital sex. The Qur’an is very clear and says those who engage in premarital sex should be flogged 100 times, both men and women. But it is, of course, much easier to prove that a woman has had premarital sex. Islam, like some of the other monotheistic faiths tries to control the sexuality of the woman first.”
So, does she mean to say that it is Islam that mandates this practice? That is what I understand is the implication of that statement. She did make a very good point, one with which I agree, about the whole issue of female circumcision: “Again and again I’m trying to say…this is what you should tackle first this whole obsession with virginity and equaling a human being to whether her hymen has been pierced or not.”
That is very valid. A human being’s worth, especially that of a woman, should never be based on whether or not she is a virgin. Many societies and cultures view the woman’s virginity as sacred, and if a woman has premarital sex, she “stains the family honor.” Many times, these women are killed in ugly so-called “honor killings.” And, sadly, many times these honor killings are made by Muslims. I have spoken out harshly against these “shame killings” in the past.
Yet, that does not mean that Islam, therefore, is to blame for female circumcision or honor killings. Yes, the “honor” murderers and the female circumcisers may claim that Islam told them to do so, but their claim is not sufficient proof.
Later in the interview, Ms. Ali made this statement about the West, one with which I agree:
“What fascinates me about the West is not its history of imperialism…its history and the amount of value it attaches to individual liberty to life itself, to rationality, to learning as opposed to dogma to curiosity as opposed to the value system in which I was brought up in which I was not allowed to ask questions, experiment, trial and error…I know that Western societies have had a terrible past from the burning of women as witches all the way to what happened in the second world war…that’s one part of the west. But there’s the other part which is really developing institutions that safeguard the life and freedoms of the individual…”
I absolutely agree. I am truly blessed by being a Western born and raised Muslim. I truly feel that I can worship the Lord here as a Muslim as He should be worshipped. I believe that, in the West, Islam is to be found…even though the majority is not Muslim. On the other hand, unfortunately, in many Muslim countries, Islam is elusive…even though the majority of the inhabitants are Muslim.
Then, Ms. Ali continues about the West: “and it would be a huge pity to confuse the two and to you know lump them together and describe the West only as a source of evil.”
She is absolutely right. It is not right to confuse the bad things that the West has done with all the good things associated with the West. Yet, with almost the next breath, she does that exact thing when it comes to Islam and Muslims.
For example, she says of slavery: “today in the world we live in, slavery is practiced only in Arab/Islamic world…Muslims are not responding to that.” Therefore, she implies, it is Islam’s fault. A reader echoed her view by emailing me and saying to the effect that slavery is enshrined in the Sharia. That is not true at all. If anything, the spirit of the Qur’an is anti-slavery.
She tells Neal Conan: “Islam, or a very radical form of it, is being spread all across the world to nations that are poor, and I would call that more moral colonialism, and its not being stopped by other Muslims.”
She also mentioned hatred against Jews that comes from some Muslims: “I mean I know the Holocaust has taken place in Europe, but the Europeans who indulged themselves in that seem to be terribly ashamed of that past, whereas right now if you look at anti-Jewish propaganda, its coming form the Islamic world.”
Again, she lumps the evil things that some Muslims do with all of Islam, intimating that Islam itself is evil. I admit, there are some Muslims who issue terrible guile against Jews and base it on their misguided understanding of the Qur’an. I have spoken out against saying that Islam calls upon Muslims to hate non-Muslims. I have mocked the call by an Egyptian for a “lawsuit” against the Jews for what they “stole” from the Egyptians. I vigorously disputed the notion that Jews are the “sons of pigs and monkeys.” I have written that I am a “Muslim Maccabee” of sorts. Furthermore, I abhor the fact that there are some people – Muslims among them, unfortunately – who would still deny the Holocaust against Jews in Europe.
I believe that radical, violent Islam must be stopped at all cost. I have been relentlessly speaking out against the vile arguments – based on a twisted reading of the Muslim scripture – in favor of violence against the innocent. But, I speak out against this reading of Islam – not because I believe Islam is evil – but precisely because I believe in Islam and am faithful to it.
Having said all of this, I do not dismiss all of what Ms. Hirsi Ali says. There are a few things she has said with which I agree, like I outlined above. Moreover, I truly agree with her when she says: “So I think its time that we Muslims look at ourselves, stop blaming external forces and try and correct that or we will…in the attempt to destroy others we will indulge in self-destruction.”
About blaming others she continues: “Let’s please stop blaming external forces, we’ve done that, and that only just serves to keep us stagnant and backward and in conflict with others…”
She is absolutely right. We Muslims must take a hard look at the bad things that we do, and we must work to correct it. We cannot blame others for the predicaments that befall us. God has told us as much: “Verily God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11) We can’t wait for others to help us…we must help ourselves.
Nevertheless, it seems that Ms. Ali is the latest in a long line of anti-Islam types who rehash the same, tired old criticisms of Islam. Yet, far from being accurate, her criticisms of Islam are simply sweeping generalizations and mischaracterizations. Rather than positively contributing to the laudable goal of improving the condition of the Muslim world, I’m afraid Ms. Ali is only serving to deepen the divide between Muslims and West. How shamefully unfortunate.