Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Awakening of Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I am very close to finishing "Infidel", with less than 50 pages out of 350 left to go.

In the wake of 9/11, Ayaan writes in "Infidel" about how the terrorist attack and bin Laden's call for Muslims to take up a jihad against the West forced her to confront her own feelings about the religion in which she was raised. Like most of us who are atheists, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was raised in a particular religious faith. And like her, my journey towards atheism began when I started to question the tenets of Catholicism. If we are all equal, then why were women not allowed to be priests? Isn't the truth no less the truth if it is spoken by a woman than a man? It is questions like these that represented the first hair thin cracks in my edifice of belief.

The following excerpt, which begins on page 271, represents a major turning point in Ayaan Hirsi Ali's path towards the rejection of Islam and her journey towards atheism:

"Osama Bin Laden said. 'Either you are with the Crusade, or you are with Islam,' and I felt that Islam all over the world was now truly in a terrible crisis. Surely, no Muslim could continue to ignore the clash between reason and religion? For centuries we had been behaving as though all knowledge was in the Quran, refusing to question anything, refusing to progress. We had been hiding from reason for so long because we were incapable of facing up to the need to integrate it into our beliefs. And this was not working; it was leading to hideous pain and monstrous behavior.

We Muslims had been taught to define life on earth as a passage, a test that precedes real life in the Hereafter. In that test, everyone should ideally live in a manner resembling, as closely as possible, the followers of the Prophet. Didn't this inhibit investment in improving daily life? Was innovation therefore forbidden to Muslims? Were human rights, progress, women's rights all foreign to Islam?

By declaring our Prophet infallible and not permitting ourselves to question him, we Muslims had set up a static tyranny. The Prophet Muhammed attempted to legislate every aspect of life. By adhering to his rules of what is permitted and what is forbidden, we Muslims suppressed the freedom to think for ourselves and to act as we chose. We froze the moral outlook of billions of people into the mind-set of the Arab desert in the seventh century. We were not just servants of Allah, we were slaves.

The little shutter at the back of my mind, where I pushed all my dissonant thoughts, snapped open after the 9/11 attacks, and it refused to close again. I found myself thinking that the Quran is not a holy document. It is is a historical record, written by humans. It is one version of events, as perceived by the men who wrote it 150 years after the Prophet Muhammed died. And it is a very tribal and Arab version of events. It spreads a culture that is brutal, bigoted, fixated on controlling women, and harsh in war."

Would that more people raised in the Islamic faith should have a similar awakening.

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