What Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn't Get About Islam Featured

29 April 2015 Written by  Shahina Bashir

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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