Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali as Heretic?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Photo by Malene Korsgaard Lauritsen

In an article titled "Ayaan Hirsi Ali's 'Heretic,'" Susan Dominus (NYT, April 1, 2015) reviews Hirsi Ali's new book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, and here are several excerpts from the Dominus article that I've bolted together:
Following the events of the Arab Spring, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes in her latest book, "Heretic," [that] she came to the conclusion that "ordinary Muslims are ready for change." Hirsi Ali has strong thoughts on what form that change should take for Muslims: a major overhaul of their religion. "Without fundamental alterations to some of Islam's core concepts," she says, "we shall not solve the burning and increasingly global problem of political violence carried out in the name of religion" . . . . In urging Muslims to reform their religion, Hirsi Ali is far from alone. She points out that this year, the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, called out to imams, asking for "nothing less than a 'religious revolution'" in order to curb extremist violence. His standing is likely to give him more influence among Muslims than Hirsi Ali, a woman who once called the religion "a destructive, nihilistic cult of death," language that does not suggest a strong capacity for constructive criticism. But in "Heretic" she is also trying to reach non-Muslim Americans, too many of whom, she feels, champion religious tolerance while ignoring the social injustices she sees embedded in Islam . . . . Transformation cannot be complete, she writes, unless certain Islamic precepts are "repudiated and nullified," including "Mohammed's semidivine and infallible status along with the literalist reading of the Quran" . . . [S]he also wants Muslims to nullify "Shariah, the body of legislation derived from the Quran, the Hadith and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence" . . . . She wants to ensure that secular law is prized above Shariah . . . . And her interest in changing the perception of Muhammad is recast as the desire to see the Quran more open to interpretation and discussion among Muslims . . . . "Let me make my point in the simplest possible terms," she writes early on. "Islam is not a religion of peace" . . . . Hirsi Ali [says] . . . , pointing to the prevalence of militant passages in the Quran and arguing that jihad is not "a problem of poverty, insufficient education or any other social precondition," but rather a "religious obligation" . . . . She tries to warn Americans about their naïveté in the face of encroaching Islamic influences, maintaining that officials and journalists, out of cultural sensitivity, sometimes play down the honor killings that occur in the West . . . . Unquestionably, Hirsi Ali poses challenging questions about whether American liberals should be fighting harder for the rights of Muslim women in countries where they are oppressed, and she is fearless in using shock tactics to jump-start a conversation. Blasphemy is an essential part of any religious reform, she argues, and defends her right to speak bluntly. "I have taken an enormous risk by answering the call for self-reflection," Hirsi Ali has said, in response to critics who find her tone abrasive. "I have been convinced more than ever that I must say it in my way only and have my criticism."
Dominus goes easy on Hirsi Ali, but doesn't hide strong doubt that a 'heretic' from Islam will have little pull among the believers. I might also point out that, despite the title to her book, Hirsi Ali is no heretic, but rather an apostate. The latter is one who has left a religion; the former remains within the fold but adopts unorthodox views.

Hirsi Ali knows her (former) religion better than I know it, so I'd undoubtedly benefit from reading her book, and I suspect that people like me - concerned non-Muslims - are her likeliest readers.

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