David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Book Looks at Islamic World

Brandon Sun, November 7, 2010 – David McConkey

Are Islam and the West engaged in a “clash of civilizations”? Can Islam change to incorporate the equality of women?

Such questions are central to our global future, and involve all of us as citizens. So of special interest is the new book by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.

Nomad is a follow-up to her earlier autobiography Infidel.

 Hirsi Ali has led an amazing life. Born into a Muslim family in tribal nomadic Somalia, she grew up in Saudi Arabia, among other countries.

She eventually became a refugee in Holland and was even elected a member of parliament in her adopted country. She now lives in the U.S., where she works for a conservative think tank.

Her great talents of observing and writing have produced fascinating books.

Most disturbing is Hirsi Ali’s description of girls and women in Islamic society.

When a boy was born in her family, her grandmother rejoiced and said, “Honour, honour, honour.”

But when a girl was born, she said, “Shame, shame, shame.”

Hirsi Ali recalls that after the birth of a baby girl, her grandmother “pouted and sometimes sulked for days,” and told of the “misfortunes that befell a family of too many girls.”

As a child, Hirsi Ali was constantly reminded by both her family and her religion that females were inferior to males.

Growing up, she was physically beaten at home and at Islamic religious school. She was subjected to genital mutilation. When she became an adult, she was married to a stranger against her will.
En route to a foreign country to live with her new husband, she escaped to Holland. 

Hirsi Ali paints a very grim picture of Muslim family life. Her father had several wives and largely abandoned Hirsi Ali’s mother and siblings. Family relationships were abusive and dysfunctional.

She also details how Islam fails to prepare its adherents to develop as responsible individuals – both in their personal lives and as citizens in the wider community.

Hirsi Ali is not hopeful that moderate forms of Islam can develop. She points out that the Qur'an sanctions the subjugation of women as well as violence within the family. The Qur’an also permits the killing of non-Muslims and those who criticize or leave the faith.

Nomad Hirsi Ali also says that Muslims globally are becoming more radical and fundamentalist, influenced by massive proselytizing efforts financed by Saudi Arabia.

She knows of what she writes. She has endured not only sexism and violence growing up, but also death threats after she spoke out against the religion.

Hirsi Ali’s colleague, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, was killed after making a film about Islam’s treatment of women. The murderer was a Muslim fanatic. Attached to Van Gogh’s corpse was a note saying Hirsi Ali would be next.

Her analysis of Muslims and Western society is drawn largely from her experiences in Holland. But I would think that much would also apply to other countries. For example, she was forced to marry her husband in Canada.
Hirsi Ali’s books are in the uncomfortable area of criticizing people’s deeply-held religious beliefs. However, she affirms the right – and indeed obligation – to discuss the deficiencies of different cultures. 

“All human beings are equal,” she says, “but all cultures and religions are not.” 

She is very disparaging of feminists in Western countries for not championing the plight of Muslim women. She dreams of a global women’s liberation movement, but doubts that Western feminists have “the courage or clarity of vision” to be involved.

Islam is the world’s fastest growing major religion. It is increasing by both high birth rates and new converts. I imagine that Islam is especially attractive to men.

The last part of Nomad is called “Remedies.” But I found this to be the least satisfying and developed piece of the book.

I hope that Hirsi Ali’s next book can better show how a world view that includes women’s equality really can be an alternative to the compelling message of Islam.
* * * *

(Note: see the review of her more recent book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.

See also:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Amazon.com       (on Amazon.ca)

Authors Leading Vital Conversation About Islam

ISIS and the Terrifying Power of Bad Ideas

Book Provides Intriguing, Scientific Glimpse into State of Religious Beliefs

Rights and Religions

The Evolving Nature of Belief

Other Reviews



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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