Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Jeremiad

Tom Shipka

Born in 1969, she lived in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. A devout Muslim, she attended a madrassa, wore a hijab, supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, (1) underwent a cliterodectomy at age six, (2) and dutifully endured beatings by family members for alleged moral lapses. (3) Fast forward to 2010. Soon to turn forty-one, having lived in the West since 1992, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is today a secular and a stern critic of Islam. Her most recent book, Nomad: From Islam to America, subtitled A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations,is a wake-up call to the West, a jeremiad which prophesies a bloody, violent future for the planet unless Islam is transformed, the human rights of Muslim women are recognized, and Westerners come to their senses.

What exactly are Hirsi Ali's issues with the faith of her youth?

Firstly, she says that Muslims have a naie, literalist, and unhistorical understanding of the Quran. The Quran, she insists, was written by humans over hundreds of years and not, as Muslims believe, dictated to Mohammed by God's messenger. (4) She sees a desperate need for the historico-critical method that was applied to the Bible in recent generations to be applied to the Quran.

Secondly, she says that Islam is misogynistic. Women in most Muslim countries are the literal property of their fathers and enjoy few rights compared to men. They are subject to beatings, disfigurement, or death for real or imagined improprieties.

Thirdly, Islam is theocratic, she says. In most Muslim societies, the church trumps the state. Anyone who dares to raise questions about Islam or the prophet Mohammed is persecuted. Curiosity and skepticism are heresy.

Fourthly, Islam poses a long-term threat to Western institutions, she insists, because Muslim immigrants in the West settle in enclaves and refuse to integrate physically, psychologically, or politically. Immigrants carry their tribal culture with them, she says. (5) They home school their children or they establish private religious schools, often with government subsidies, they follow Sharia instead of the civil law, and they abuse public welfare benefits.

And what does Hirsi Ali propose as a remedy? First and foremost, she argues that Westerners need to become vocal about gender discrimination in majority-Muslim countries. She calls out Western feminists and multiculturalists for their silence about the violations of the human rights of Muslim girls and women. (6) Further, she proposes that the Christian church, especially the Vatican, stop pursuing dialogue with Muslims and work to convert them. How ironic. For Hirsi Ali, an atheist, Christianity and the Christian God are far preferable to Islam and Allah. (7) Also, Western governments need to stop allowing Muslim immigrants to create ghettoes insulated from the wider society, they need to stop subsidizing madrassas, and they need to help Muslim immigrants become engaged citizens.

It is no surprise that Hirsi Ali requires round-the-clock security. Although many find her message offensive, we ignore it at our peril.


  1. See Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wikipedia.
  2. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nomad: a Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations, Free Press, 2010, p. 20. Most of the information in this commentary is drawn from this volume.
  3. Nomad..., p. 55.
  4. Nomad..., p. 206.
  5. Nomad..., p. 79.
  6. Nomad..., p. 224. Hirsi Ali also criticizes Muslim women who attend colleges in the West, many of whom confront her at her public appearances, for their naivete. She writes: "If (they) lived in Saudi Arabia, under Sharia law, these college girls in their pretty scarves wouldn't be free to study, to work, to drive, (or) to walk around. (p. 133)
  7. Nomad..., p. 238, p. 244.

© 2010 Tom Shipka