You know her as a woman whose poised yet stern words silenced NDTV’s proud face Barkha Dutt in New York City.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, however, is much more than that.
Her presence at the Women In The World Summit to discuss the future of women in Islam was invincible while at the same time indispensable.
This Somalian-native woman of Dutch-American citizenship believes Islam is not a religion of peace.
And she has her reasons.
In spite of being born to a contemporary, educated, opposition leader in Somalia, Ayaan was subjected to female genital mutilation by her grandmother.
The escape of her imprisoned father caused their family to flee to Saudi Arabia and then to Ethiopia, before settling in Nairobi, Kenya.
While studying in an upper-class, English-medium secondary girl’s school, teenage Ayaan was so impressed by rigorous Saudi-Arabian teachings of Islam that for long while she wore a hijab every day to school.
From there, she migrated to Netherlands where she obtained a citizenship and evolved her social and religious perspectives.
According to an article in The Guardian, ”It was after fleeing an arranged marriage and settling as an asylum-seeker in Holland that Hirsi Ali converted from Islam to atheism with the kind of zeal that usually powers journeys going the other way.”
Post 9/11, Ayaan confirmed her opinion of Islam while becoming more outspoken in her criticism of the religion. She also made an 11-minute movie called, ‘Submission’ with film-maker Theo van Gogh defining misogyny within Islam.
According to The Guardian, ”In it, a half-naked woman is depicted with lash marks on her back while a voiceover reads passages from the Qur’an; elsewhere, Qur’anic excerpts relating to the submission of women are projected onto a woman’s naked back”.
The documentary’s explicit language and blunt statements enraged Muslims across Dutch communities and eventually, Van Gogh was assassinated by a Moroccan Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri with a pinned death threat letter to Ayaan.
Ayaan went into hibernation. Soon, however, she was relocated to the US due to her neighbor’s fright and the government’s apathy.
She talked about how the Dutch government almost set her up for murder considering how they were the ones who encouraged her to speak and later removed police protection when she faced threats as Dutch MP.
This Somali-native woman of Dutch-American citizenship believes Islam is not a religion of peace. Her book ‘Nomad’ traces her journey across civilizations uprooted from place to place, scarred with childhood trauma, discrimination, dirty politics and even death threats.
“I am able to adapt. Sometimes, I think it’s because of my early childhood training, when each move felt like a trauma. But there was a period of extreme pain and mental anguish in 2006 [when she was effectively forced out of Holland] and the way I dealt with it was by telling myself that it wasn’t the end of the world. The future seemed much more uncertain when I left Kenya to come to Holland.”
It’s not a cakewalk to stand up for what you believe in and defy something as inherent as your religion. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was called an infidel by her own people. But she was adamant in holding onto beliefs she found after a long struggle of uncaging her mind, soul and body.
“I would not have put it this way in those days, but because I was born a woman, I could never become an adult. I would always be a minor, my decisions made for me. I would always be a unit in a vast beehive. I might have a decent life, but I would be dependent—always—on someone treating me well.
I knew that another kind of life was possible. I had read about it, and now I could see it, smell it in the air around me: the kind of life I had always wanted, with a real education, a real job, a real marriage. I wanted to make my own decisions. I wanted to become a person, an individual, with a life of my own.”
A Muslim-born woman who has grown to detest Islam, Islamic Law and Prophet Muhammad’s ‘Quran’, at one point, Ayaan didn’t think there was any scope to modify Islam which is why she declared it as a creed to be crushed.
Now, however, inspired by brewing and growing dissent within the faith, she has come to believe in its reformation which is reflective in her 2015-launched book, ‘ Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.”
In her book, she has picked up five principles of Islam which must be reformed.
1. The infallible status of Muhammad and the literal understanding of the ‘Quran’
2. Giving priority to the afterlife over the present day
3. Sharia law “and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence”
4. The empowerment of individuals to enforce such laws and customs
Ayaan is aware of her over-the-top ambitious plan and accepts that her book only attempts to spark off a discussion, not directly reform.
Critical of Islam and the cultural position of women in its communities, Ayaan is an atheist.
According to her, declaring Prophet Muhammad infallible has set up Muslims in their own static tyranny. She thinks of Islam as bigoted, violent and outright misogynist.
The Prophet Muhammad attempted to legislate every aspect of life. By adhering to his rules of what is permitted and what is forbidden, we Muslims supressed the freedom to think for ourselves and to act as we chose.We were not just servants of Allah, we were slaves.”
On several occasions, though, she has stated how liberated religions of Christians or Jews are. She believes the West does not value its freedom because it has always had it.
This is one of the prime reasons why she believes that it’s important to educate the West about Islam as much as Muslims blindfolded by the faith.
She thinks Muslims are way too hypersensitive and possessive about their religion as opposed to someone who’s Christian.
Ayan’s view on Muslims and Islam cannot be objectively justified in the moment or even years from now.
Religion and faith have been instruments of personal identity since time immemorial. It’s not feasible to change it in a span of few years.
Her courage, honesty, and hardships, however, deserve to be honored.