What Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn't Get About Islam

29 April 2015
Published in Blog

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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No, Islam is Not at War with The West

22 November 2014
Published in Blog

By Huma Munir

November 22, 2014

In response to the horrific attack on Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem by two Palestinians, right wing political commentator Ben Shapiro claims that Islam is at war with the west.

Shapiro, in his recent article published in Brietbart News, alleges that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is a religious war between Jews and Muslims, ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Chirstians who have suffered in this conflict based on the policies of various Israeli governments. He also asserts that the Palestinian “Muslims” who were depicted in the media rejoicing in the killing of five innocent men, which is detestable, is somehow consistent with Islam.

This is a blatant slap in the face the overwhelming percentage of Muslims who believe in peace. When you try to group an entire religious population as extremist based on the actions of a few, you risk creating a powerful stigma and a culture of oppression. If left alone, this can lead to serious repercussions. 

Adolf Hitler created a stigma by convincing the Germans that Jews were the root cause of their misery. A powerful stigma against African-Americans in the United States resulted in widespread discrimination and decades-long suppression of human rights. In Pakistan, so-called religious scholars stigmatize minorities, such as Ahmadiyya Muslims, who are then targeted and killed.

What we say and how we think, gives rise to powerful cultural forces that can result in grave implications.  We must learn to distinguish between peace-loving Muslims and bloodthirsty extremists.

In my view, the two Palestinians who barged into the Jerusalem synagogue and proclaimed, "God is great," belong to no creed, let alone Islam. They are corrupted by extremist groups, like Hamas, who want to exploit Palestinians. 

Shapiro, who bills himself as an expert on all things Israel, fails to understand the true nature of the conflict. Palestinians face immense economic and political turmoil and extremist groups like Hamas understand how to take advantage of the vulnerability of Palestinians.

Matthew Levitt, an expert on Islamist terrorism explained at a conference titled, “The Roots of Terror: Understanding the Evolving Threat of Global Terrorism,” how Hamas manipulates its constituents. Levitt explained that, "Hamas has one supreme objective, it is to mutate the essentially ethno-political Palestinian national struggle into a fundamentally religious conflict." 

How does Hamas accomplish this? Hamas provides social welfare in the form of clinics, schools, mosques and financial assistance to the families of frustrated Palestinians living in sheer poverty, according to Levitt. “Projects like these play a critical role in building sympathy and support for the group among the local population,” Levitt notes. 

Some Palestinians rally around Hamas because they depend on the social welfare program the group is able to provide. In return, Hamas then targets the vulnerable Palestinians, persuading them to be suicide bombers and other perpetrators of violence.  Hamas is preying on its own people. This is human exploitation at its finest.

Shapiro also claims that if the western nations do not recognize Islam as a violent force, we risk losing more lives in the future. By making such a claim, he is negating the existence of millions of peace-loving Muslims residing in the West. In fact, the most common victim of these so called Islamic terrorists in terms of numbers are Muslims-by far.

As a Muslim, I am deeply troubled that these types of attacks are becoming increasingly common in the Islamic world. However, I find comfort in the fact that my faith does not condone such acts of violence.  The Islamic scripture, the Holy Quran, says that killing one person is like killing the entire mankind (5:32).

And Shapiro, whose views are so extreme on certain issues that Fox News has even condemned them, clearly has little understanding of American Muslims. For example, I doubt he has any idea about my own community, the Ahmadiyya Muslims. We have been holding blood drives on 9/11 during the past few years to commemorate the loss of innocent lives. For decades now, Ahmadiyya Muslims have invited people to interfaith events around the nation to spark intellectual dialogue about true Islam. Since its inception in the 1920s in America, the community has denounced terrorism.

There are, of course, numerous American Muslim organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who have publicly and passionately denounced all forms of violence. The work of groups like CAIR is intended to counter negative stereotypes in the hopes of fostering understanding.

In a survey concluded by the Pew Research Center this year, the numbers show that Muslims around the world view extremism as a growing threat. In Palestine specifically, 65 percent of the citizens see terrorism as a major concern and only 35 percent see Hamas favorably, down significantly from 62 percent in 2007.

If we let dangerous stereotypes fester, we consciously give way to oppression. We cannot remain complacent in the face of this injustice. In a society where education is easily accessible, we must keep exploring and questioning what we know. If we remain willfully ignorant, we also play a part in creating stigmas and perpetuating stereotypes. If western nations decide that Islam really is a threat to the West, then we condemn peaceful Muslims to silence—a death in itself.


Huma Munir is an ESL teacher in San Antonio ISD, Texas and  a member of Teach for America, San Antonio.  She serves as the local media secretary for Ahmadiyya Muslim Women Association in Austin, Texas. You can follow Huma on Twitter


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The Islam You Don't Know

11 October 2014
Published in Blog

By David Peduto 

October 11, 2014

I can see where a man like Bill Maher is coming from when it comes to Islam. As he would have it, Islam is a violent religion that runs counter to all that we as Americans hold dear – freedom, justice, democracy. Of course, he is not alone in this assessment. Indeed, such a view is a majority opinion among non-Muslim Americans.

It’s an opinion that, as a child of 9/11, I grew up believing too.

But then I grew up.

My understanding of what Islam is and who Muslims are changed from being obscured by the gore of terrorism to one more rooted in reality. The slime of stereotype applied by those who touch topics in the most superficial of ways was replaced by revelations of actual experience. I took Arabic in college, took courses on the Middle East and Islam, and even studied abroad in Egypt. Then I lived in Pakistan. I worked in Islamabad which, translated, means the “Abode of Islam.”

Now, let me get something straight. I’m a Christian American, which are two things we’ve been taught that people like those Muslims in Pakistan just don’t like. In our current understanding of Islam, I’d fall into the category of the kuffar, or “the unbelievers.” As such, to all those who view Islam as evil, I should be put to death by all able-bodied Muslims. Anywhere. So how is it that a young kid like me could possibly survive even a day in the very den of this vile religion?

My answer: putting faith in people. This faith was backed by an effort to understand their state, their position, and their history so as to more aptly engage in what many would see to be a hostile environment. I did not go to Pakistan as some imperialistic, ignorant American. I went to learn and to represent my country by representing myself as best I could. That required me to live as a regular citizen. No bodyguards, no compound, no gun.

But in an effort to break my own stereotypes of this place and this religion, I had to work to show Pakistanis a different side of America than what they may be used to. Think about it: if you were a Muslim in Pakistan, what would you think when you think about America? Apple pies and the Fourth of July? Hardly. You’d think of soldiers, drones, ignorance, and probably a Big Mac. I worked hard to share a different side of the States, which I believe enabled me to see a different side of Pakistan and Islam than what I previously accepted as fact. As a result, I had an incredibly positive time in this “ally from hell” of ours. My experiences may well go beyond anything that those hung up on this hatred of Islam could comprehend.

Truly, my experience there was an introduction to an Islam that I never knew. It’s an Islam that, unfortunately, so many at home in the States seem too stubborn to ever want to know. But I have a few questions for these folks that might shed some light on the Islam that they never knew existed.

To those who believe that Islam is the antithesis of Christianity, I ask if you’ve ever heard the solemnity of the call to prayer. I wonder if you wish peace upon others (a common greeting among Muslims the world over) more than once a week in church. I yearn to know if you disown Terry Jones (the man who burned the Quran a few years ago) to the same extent that you ask Muslims the world over to speak against the self-proclaimed Muslims that all Islamist terrorists are.

To those who see Islam as anti-democratic, how is that we allow ourselves to define Islam by a few unelected individuals who no more represent someone’s faith than Donald Trump represents America? If we believe in democracy at home, surely we must apply it to our portrayal of others.

To those who see Islam as anything but tolerant, how is that we tolerate ourselves so carelessly referring to a “Muslim world,” as if all Muslims existed on another planet? Such convenient phrasing serves to externalize over a billion people in the one world in which we all live. When we use such intergalactic references, we’re not talking about Muslims anymore – we’re talking about Martians. We need to bring this conversation back to earth – this earth.

Islamophobia is real, it is a problem, and it’s a really big problem. The fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world should not be a concern to us; rather, it should serve as a reminder of the importance to understand it better. This necessary understanding need not involve going to Pakistan, but it absolutely requires another proud American trait of ours: courage.

We would do better to muster the mental courage to think beyond what the pundits and the pols might say about a certain place or a certain religion. When we assume this courage and are no longer beholden to stereotype, we can make our own determination of the world. We can change what we think we knew about Islam by allowing ourselves to seeing the reality so readily available to us.


David Peduto is a student of Islam, the Middle East, and Arabic. He lives in Boston where, when he's not working for a Big Data company, he enjoys paddle boarding on the Charles River and performing improv comedy.