She Makes Us Face the Elephant in the Room

August 19, 2010

I’m reading the book Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When I first heard of this book, I ignored it, simply because I am tired of seeing sensational, dramatic stories about poor, abused Middle-Eastern women under the oppression of terrible Islam.

Now I am reading it so that I can discuss it with a group of other women who are reading it.

I was prepared to dislike this book and its author, but instead, I find myself admiring her courage, intelligence and maturity. Unfortunately, she has become an atheist, but given her particular circumstances, I’d have become an atheist, too.

She approaches Islam not from a spiritual or theoretical position, but from the grit of everyday life in a culture festering in ignorance. She was raised in Somalia. There, the justification of sadistic cruelty was based upon an elaboration of so-called divine principles not yet subjected to the light of science or reason.

Many Muslims, myself included, will turn away from problematic verses in the Qur’an, but this author points to them, jumps up and down, and makes everyone look at the elephant in the room. For that, I do not like her. She makes me realize that I’m guilty, along with many modern Muslims, of denial, and rejection of parts of the Qur’an.

I won’t cite the particular verses– we all know they’re there– the ones about polygyny, wife-beating, killing Jews, etc.

I used to think it was OK to ignore these verses. I ignored lots of verses in the New Testament when I was Christian. How else does one deal with unacceptable verses about which one can do nothing? Can one apply the twelve-step recommendation to, “Take what you need and leave the rest.”?

Before 9/11, I did just that, and so did every other Muslim I ever met. After 9/11, denial became problematic, and there’s no end of it in sight.

This book makes me realize that denial (along with its sister, rationalization) is root of the problem of Islam with the rest of the world, and yes, one can say that denial could be the root of problems in all religious disputes. Denial is just a more accurate way of saying “interpretation”. One can interpret certain verses, but others can interpret them differently, and when the verses address issues such as beating and killing, we’ve got big problems that aren’t going to be swept under the rug.


8 responses

  1. Interesting! I’m not entirely sure what you’re driving towards here… I’m curious what you would advocate instead of denial/interpretation and rationalisation? I think it’s a good thing people are creatively rationalising the troublesome verses into more palatable concepts, but I also feel that we can come up with plenty of nice palatable concepts on our own. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the link, Susanne. I read the articles, and though I sympathized with what each author said, I think each fell short of providing a satisfying remedy to the situation Muslims now face with respect to Islam’s reputation in the West. Until Muslims find a way to put an end to violence in the name of our religion, Islam will continue to earn the wrath of the West.

  3. Marahm, I understand that the articles were short and didn’t give a lot of detail or help, but I thought it good to see some attention paid to what you mentioned in this post. Or at least it reminded me of what you wrote here. 🙂

  4. I do thank you again for the link. It’s important to talk about these issues, even by skirting around them when a direct attack is not yet possible. I’ve done the same thing; I’ve talked about them, but haven’t set forth any viable course of action to remedy what is wrong with the way certain Muslims understand Islam.
    People more courageous and knowledgeable than me are doing so, however.

  5. I enjoyed parts of Infidel before I became a muslim, but even then I was disturbed by the way she equates the particular beliefs of her Somali family with Islam itself. She is completely unable to divorce culture from religion. Doing so is the key to living as a muslim (submitting to Allah) rather than submitting to culturally-specific dogma.

    For the same reasons that we must question her depiction of Islam, it’s important to question her depiction of Somali culture. We should not learn from her work that Somali culture is “a culture festering in ignorance,” as you write here. There are clearly aspects of Somali culture that are oppressive of women (as there are in all cultures), but there are also Somali women and men trying to change things.

  6. You point is well taken, Zuhura. I was guilty of accepting Ayaan’s depiction of her home culture as negatively as she portrayed Islam. I know nothing of Somali culture, so I fell into the mistake of believing what I’d read, and generalizing it to the entire culture, just as non-Muslims fall into the mistake of generalizing what they encounter to the entire culture of Islam. Thank you for pointing that out.

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