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.
Follow The Dean's Report on Twitter
I previously thought there was nothing more terrifying than a seasoned Islamophobe preaching hatred from a platform like Fox News. The network is notorious for fabricating untruths and propagating misinformation about Islam and Muslims in order to create fear in the minds of Americans. The fact that Fox abuses the word “news” to disguise bigotry as factual information is frightening for anyone who does not come from a similar background as the puppets, excuse me, "anchors" on the show.
Essentially, Fox associating itself with news (fact based current events) is like the kid who associated him/herself with you on group projects without contributing at all – and when they leech off the benefits from your hard work, it’s an insult to your intelligence. While the advancement of Fox's discriminatory agenda is concerning, I've learned what's more threatening for the Muslim community is an individual who claims she's from the inside; thereby using her personal experience to authenticate and further advance the hateful rhetoric towards Islam.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's mission is a twisted fantasy come true for individuals dedicated to the vilification of Islam. The simple fact that she uses her Muslim surname shows a level of deception in how she exploits her assumed Muslim identity to further demonize Islam to advance her career. It's dangerous when American personalities like Bill O'Reilly and Pamela Geller profess their irrational disapproval of Muslim Americans, but it's toxic when an individual like Ali asserts she's personally witnessed the negativity present within Islam under the pretense of having been Muslim.
What could be more self-serving for the Islamophobic agenda than a previous Muslim who proclaims that Islam is in fact a religion to be feared? Essentially, Ali's message to Americans is: "Take it from someone who not only knows many Muslims, but knows what it's like to be one. Save yourself the trouble of getting to know your Muslim neighbors; I can tell you why you should fear them and their faith." Ali's mission is dually threatening because not only does she cite her questionable accounts as a Somali born Muslim, but her misinterpreted activism is supported by prominent personalities and academic institutions to bolster her anti-Islamic message.
Under the guise of academic prowess, Ali fabricates certain statistics and declares that Muslims are responsible for a majority of violence and related deaths - without properly accounting for historical research or accurate citations. A recent article by Max Blumenthal exposing Ali further details why both her personal experience and academic work need to be critically questioned by those who consume her work. He reveals how Ali has a history of fraud in reporting her experience as a Muslim living in Somalia and that her literary works specialize in blaming Islam as a logical culprit for violence, without considering any historically relevant context. She's authored books with titles like The Caged Virgin, Infidel: My Life, and her latest release entitled Heretic, all from which she builds her credibility as a victim of Islam by propagating the false notion that the faith is oppressive and Western ideals liberated her. She employs fear to portray Muslims as a community deserving to be ostracized and watched closely under justified surveillance.
While she declares her disgust for the Islamic faith, she largely owes much of her success to her once Muslim identity. Without the assumption that Ali was trapped within the confines of Islam, her experience would not be as persuasive to the many Americans who are misinformed about Islam, and therefore more likely to accept her opinions towards Muslims. After all, is an individual on the operating table more likely to put his/her trust in a surgeon, or a plumber? The obvious choice is to put one's trust in the surgeon because of the knowledge and expertise that individual should possess as compared to an unrelated profession. Similarly, Americans are more inclined to believe the opinions of Ali and regard them as facts without question because she presents herself as an individual with knowledge and expertise about Islam. Thankfully, many Americans do think for themselves and know enough Muslim Americans to understand that Ali's message is a farce. However, for those who tune into Fox "News" for their daily dose of information, these individuals are far more susceptible to Ali's deception.
That is why it is important to raise red flags about Ali's publications because her credibility is based on the principle that she was able to shed her Muslim identity and break free of a "submissive" lifestyle. If Ali truly wanted to dissociate herself from the throes of such an oppressive identity, why doesn't she take on the surname of her spouse, Naill Ferguson? It seems like a simple gesture, but 'Ayaan Ferguson' sounds less Islamic than 'Ayaan Hirsi Ali', a much more Islamically charged surname; however, she exploits her name to incite more fear in the hearts of Americans by keeping "Ali" as the name that warns against the faith it is associated with. In effect, just one of the subtle ways she is using Islam to bash itself. Ali's writings and mission serve once purpose: to convince the world that Muslims are single-handedly to blame for radical violence and all acts of terrorism. Despite the fact that most mass shootings are committed by non-Muslim, white American males, her hateful message is one welcomed by mainstream media because it continues to bully Islam those who practice the faith in peace.
Tragically, the institutions which endorse her work such as Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and the American Enterprise Institute do not hold her accountable for providing false statistics or the lies she alleges against an entire community of people. Ayaan Hirsi Ali remains a darling embraced by far-right affiliations, but increased awareness from independent media sources about her deception is spreading and exposing her lies. Her mission is similar to that of other opponents of Islam and the Muslim community who have made it their mission to degrade Islam as a way of life for millions. The best rejection of Ali's assertions that all those who follow Islam are violent is for Muslim Americans to continue on a peaceful path by contributing positively to society in any way possible. Most notably, by extending friendships towards fellow Americans so they can deduce for themselves that claims such as Ali's are based in hateful nonsense.
Hira Uddin is a graduate of Rutgers University and currently reside in Houston, Texas where she works as a Qualified Mental Health Professional for youth with mental health diagnoses and severe emotional disturbances. She has also written articles for Bravura Magazine, Muslimgirl.net, The Happy Hijabi, and Ummid.com. Follow her on Twitter.
Follow The Dean's Report on Twitter