What Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn't Get About Islam

29 April 2015
Published in

By Shahina Bashir

April 29, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an atheist and a former Muslim, is calling for a reformation of Islam. Her latest book titled, “Heretic- Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now” was released on March 24 and is already causing uproar in the Muslim community. Hirsi Ali is attributing the problems in the Islamic world to be rooted in the very make-up of the faith itself. She writes, “The ferment we see in the Muslim world today is not solely due to despotic political systems. It is not solely due to failing economics and the poverty they breed. Rather, it is due to Islam itself and the incompatibility of certain key facets of the Muslim faith with modernity.”

 As I read her book, I acknowledged all the facts she reported regarding atrocities being committed in many Muslim countries. Yes, these are being committed in the name of Islam. However, it is clear that the perpetrators of these barbarisms are interpreting the Qur’an to fit their own agenda. Similarly, Hirsi Ali and other critics of Islam are also misinterpreting the content of the Qur’an and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad. A more apt title of the book would be, “Heretic- Why Muslims Need a Reformation Now.” 

Hirsi Ali claims that there is a difference between the life and actions of Muslims in Mecca and in Medina. Her thesis is that Prophet Muhammad and his followers were the ones who were persecuted in Mecca. However, after the migration to Medina, he became a political leader who waged wars constantly against the ‘infidels’. She therefore divides the Muslims of today into three categories.

The first group is named ‘Medina Muslims’ who are the most problematic ones. These are the Muslims who want to establish Sharia and live according to the regime of seventh century Arabia. Medina Muslims are the extremists which include ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab.

The second group, the majority of Muslims, is what she calls, ‘Mecca Muslims’. They are the peace-loving adherents of Islam. However, according to Hirsi Ali, this group is also problematic because “their religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity”. In other words, the Mecca Muslims are unable to reconcile their faith with the secular and pluralistic society they live in which pushes them to a state of isolation and ‘cocooning’.

The third group includes the dissidents- the ‘Modifying Muslims’ or in other words, the ‘Reformers’. It is her hope that this last group will be able to dialogue with the Mecca Muslims and bring about the reformation she is proposing.

So here are the five things which according to Hirsi Ali need reformation:

1.  Ensure that Muhammad and the Qur’an are open to interpretation and criticism.

.2. Give priority to this life, not the afterlife.

3.  Shackle Sharia and end its supremacy over secular law.

4.  End the practice of “commanding right, forbidding wrong.”

5.  Abandon the call to jihad.

It is difficult to take Hirsi Ali’s proposal seriously since she is no longer a Muslim. One is left wondering, what is her role in reformation of the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world when she has openly referred to Islam as “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death”. She has used her personal unfortunate experiences, such as enduring genital mutilation and forced marriage, as a benchmark for her breaking away from Islam. But, wouldn’t the same benchmark be applicable for the vast majority of Muslims who find total peace in the same faith?

When she lists practices in some parts of the Muslim world, such as, female genital mutilation, honor killings, death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy, she is saying that all these actions are commanded by the Qur’an. Such claims cannot be farther from the truth. Muslims who read the Qur’an with understanding and depend on genuine Islamic scholarship know that there is nothing in the Qur’an or the Sunnah which supports the above mentioned practices. I see no argument in having the Qur’an open to interpretation since the Scripture itself tells us, “He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book; in it there are verses that are decisive in meaning-they are the basis of the Book-and there are others that are susceptible of different interpretations. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue such thereof as are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and seeking (wrong) interpretation of it” (3:7).

One of the articles of faith in Islam is the belief in afterlife. Hirsi Ali blames the suicide bombings on the fact that life here on earth is not as important as the hereafter. That martyrdom is the ultimate goal. Muslims pray, “Our Lord, bestow on us good in this world and good in the Hereafter…” It is a prayer that is recited five times a day. Yes, it is true that the Qur’an calls the life on earth temporary but it does not mean that we don’t carry out our responsibilities here and now.

The word ‘Sharia’ is so misunderstood that I can’t even begin to explain it in this limited space. In his book “Demystifying Islam- Tackling the Tough Questions”, author Harris Zafar explains the meaning of the word as ‘a very clear, distinct, and manifest pathway’. Sharia encompasses every aspect of a Muslim’s life. The way we make Salat (Prayer), the way we wash before the Prayer, how we eat, how marriages are performed, and many other actions all fall under Sharia. To give up Sharia is to give up Islam.

Hirsi Ali gives examples when Muslims feel compelled to correct or point out the wrong behaviors of fellow Muslims. This is what she refers to as, “commanding right, forbidding wrong”.  An extreme example of this directive of the Qur’an which Hirsi Ali refers to is the practice of honor killings among some Muslims. Again, this is not something found in the Qur’an or the ahadith. I fail to understand the harm in reminding each other of moral values and our obligations.

Finally, Hirsi Ali calls for the end of jihad. Since the events of September 11, 2001 Muslims have been united in condemning the horrific attacks and every atrocity committed in the name of Islam. The extremists may call their brutalities jihad, but that’s not how I and millions of my fellow Muslims understand the meaning of the word.

It might be news to Hirsi Ali, but reformation of Muslims (not Islam) has been underway for many decades, even centuries. A growing reformist movement is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in the year 1889. This movement, with adherents in tens of millions, has been established in 206 countries across the globe unified under the leadership of a Khalifa (spiritual leader). Though marginalized and heavily persecuted, the members of the community are spreading the true teachings of Islam. Ahmad, 126 years ago, dispelled many misconceptions that got muddled in the pure teachings of Islam. He clarified the concept of jihad and said, “Jihad with the sword has ended from this time forward, but the jihad of purifying your souls must continue.” Ahmad also re-interpreted many verses of the Qur’an and explained them using reason and rationality. Apart from the concept of jihad the Ahmadi Muslims reject the idea that apostasy and blasphemy are crimes punishable by death. Though a minority, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is in the forefront of speaking out against the misconceptions and myths about Islam.

I empathize with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. No woman should be mistreated the way she has been. But let not personal grievances stand in the way of the truth. Islam is not a religion of violence. I invite Hirsi Ali to come and dialogue with the peaceful Muslims and see what Islam truly means to them. Perhaps she might be enlightened and not misguided.


Shahina Bashir is the chairperson of the Ahmadi Muslim Women Writer's Guild, USA. She is a free lance writer for the Examiner.com. Her letters have been published in several newspapers including Washington Post, NY Times, and LA Times. Follow her on Twitter. 


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Yes, Islamophobia Is Real In America

25 February 2015
Published in Blog

By Shahina Bashir

February 25, 2015

On Sunday night, I received a frantic email from a friend who lives on the West Coast. She wrote in her email that as she was walking out of her local grocery store and her caught sight of an attaractive newspaper titled, “Good News Northwest.” Out of interest, she picked up the paper and browsed through it. Soon she saw an article titled “A Terrorist’s Fairy Tale” by Michael Paul. She sent me a scanned copy of the two-page article. After a quick search on Google I found out that Michael Paul is a former Muslim from Iraq who has now become an Evangelical Pastor who primarily ministers to the Muslims sharing the “Good News” with them.

My friend was upset by the misrepresentation of Islam in the article and wanted to know how she could respond to it. Frankly, I have no problem with Christians proselytizing Muslims because after all there is freedom of religion and freedom to preach in America. But what is troubling about the article was the way the author was stoking the flames of fear in the hearts of the readers.

Paul claims that he has no qualms against the Muslims per se but the problem is with the religion of Islam (coincidentally this is the claim made by most Islamophobes). He says, “Our problem with Islam is not with the people, but with the religion which controls the people.” He also claims that the “Qur’an directs, conquering the land of infidels through deceit and violence.” In the end he talks about the Charlie Hebdo attack and Islam’s (supposed) restriction on freedom of speech. “Why don’t the Islamic leaders publish peaceful articles clearing up the perceived misconceptions of unbelievers?” the author wrote and to which he answered, “It is because they are indoctrinated to hate those who oppose Islam and to dominate all disbelievers by the sword.”

My friend was genuinely worried about the impact this article might have on the unsuspecting residents of the small town she lives in. She definitely has reasons to worry because most people learn about Islam from those who are not Muslims. The problem also lies in the fact that many who hold negative views about Islam actually do not know any Muslim first hand. In a Pew Research Study published in July, 2014, adherents of various faiths were asked to rate members of different religious affiliations on a thermometer type scale indicating those favorable on the warmer scale of the thermometer and those not on the colder part. The Muslims received the lowest ranking standing at 40% just a percent below that of the atheists. The numbers had a positive outcome if the person surveyed actually knew a member of the faith in question. The survey found that 38% knew a Muslim whereas 59% knew an atheist.

So, is it fair to say that Islamophobia in America is real?

The Washington Post reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times higher today than they were before 9/11. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports there were almost 500 cases of hate crimes in 2001compared to 20-30 per year before 9/11. Although this number has seen a significant drop in the subsequent years it’s still maintaining an average of 100-150 incidents per year.

The last couple of months have been witness to several examples of growing Islamophobia in the US. When Duke University announced that it would allow the Muslim call to Prayer (Adhan) to be sounded from the bell tower, Rev. Franklin Graham came down hard on the university’s administration threatening withdrawal of funding. The university then rescinded its plan citing some possible threats on campus. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, an event under the title of “Stand with your Prophet in Respect and Honor” in Garland, TX, drew a group of about 500 protesters who picketed in front of the Garland Independent School District. The protest was headed by none other than one of the most notorious Islamophobes, Pamela Gellar who has been active in placing anti-Islam bus ads in major cities, such as, Washington D.C.

There have been numerous other incidents of intolerance against the Muslims but what really shook the community was the cold blooded murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The failure of media’s timely coverage of the killings drew instant criticism on social media such as, Twitter. Soon after this tragic incidence, an Islamic center in Houston was purposely set on fire. The perpetrator of this crime confessed to the arson. In another incident, an Islamic school in Rhode Island was vandalized with graffiti painted on the door. This time the criminal boldly wrote that “this is hate crime”.

To be sure, it is an undeniable fact that groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram, are committing unfathomable atrocities in the name of Islam. However, it is a great injustice to judge the religion of Islam based on the behavior of these groups.

President Obama made this notion quite clear at the Countering Violent Extremism Summit when he said, “Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders -- holy warriors in defense of Islam. That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the ‘Islamic State.’  And they propagate the notion that America -- and the West, generally -- is at war with Islam. That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people.

We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders -- they’re terrorists.” 


Shahina Bashir is the chairperson of the Ahmadi Muslim Women Writer's Guild, USA. She is a free lance writer for the Examiner.com. Her letters have been published in several newspapers including Washington Post, NY Times, and LA Times. Follow her on Twitter.


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Muslims In America Are Here To Stay!

31 January 2015
Published in Blog

By Shahina Bashir

February 1, 2015

When I joined the University of Texas at Arlington in 1981, the latest wave of hostility was pointed toward all foreign students who were lumped together as Iranians. This was, of course, the post Iranian-Revolution era. I was a Muslim student from Bangladesh and it didn’t matter whether one was from Iran, Pakistan, India, or even China.

To the Texans, we were all Iranians and definitely supporters of Khomeini. The snack shop at the Student Union, called “Sweet Stop” was nicknamed “Camel Stop.” But apart from a few confrontations, in general, things were relatively peaceful on campus and in fact it seemed to be so throughout the country. In the 80’s, when Texas was not as diverse and people were not exposed to many cultures, there was still as sense of tolerance that exuded from most people.

But the news on Thursday about freshman Texas Representative Molly White’s anti-Muslim comment is upsetting to say the least. Referring to the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, Rep. White wrote on her Facebook page that though she won’t be in Austin, she left instructions for her staff to ask the Muslim representatives to “renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

 She also boasted about placing an Israeli flag on her receptionist’s desk. It was unclear if she also wanted Muslims to swear allegiance to the flag of Israel or if she thought the flag of Israel was more important than our own star and stripes? In any event, her statement on Facebook generated a slew of comments and I must say I was pleasantly surprised that most of these were criticisms of White’s anti-Muslim post.

The rally at the Texas Capitol sponsored by the Muslim advocacy group, Council on American-Islamic Relations, was a gathering organized as an opportunity for the Muslims to learn about the democratic political process and how to be advocates for various issues that are important to the community. Rep. White had also posted another anti-Muslim comment, in which she wrote, “Remember, in the Koran, it is ok to lie for the purpose of advancing Islam. Texans must never allow fringe groups of people to come here so that they can advance their own culture instead of becoming an American and assimilating into the American way of life."

 I don’t know which Qur’an White was reading because her claim that Islam supports fabrication of truth is in itself a lie because Qur’an surely does not advocate lying in any shape or form for any reason whatsoever (2:42). Moreover, the Muslims who were at the rally have already assimilated into the American society which is why they want to be part of the political process in the first place. Perhaps White has forgotten that she and many others are transplants from foreign nations and cultures. In her opinion what is the “American way of life”? Can one not be an American and hold on to their cultural or religious heritage?

Muslims are here to stay in America whether anyone likes it or not. Angry protesters may still keep shouting, “Go back home and take Obama with you” but the reality is Muslims in America are integrated and a fast growing active community. In fact, after the Charlie Hebdo incident, President Obama, at a White House press conference with British Prime Minister, David Cameron said, "Our biggest advantage... is that our Muslim populations feel themselves to be Americans and there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition."

Ms. White needs to engage in introspection about her own biases and prejudices and see if she is fit to represent her constituents. By making discriminatory remarks, she is violating the conduct or the standard to which the elected officials should be held. If she wishes to continue in her office she would be better off not alienating those members of her constituency whose support she needs.


Shahina Bashir is the chairperson of the Ahmadi Muslim Women Writer's Guild, USA. She is a free lance writer for the Examiner.com. Her letters have been published in several newspapers including Washington Post, NY Times, and LA Times. Follow her on Twitter @shabashir 


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