Posted by: istop4books | February 17, 2008


I seem to be on a kick to try to understand a culture, a way of being and a religion which are totally foreign to me, and by reading books, among others,  like The Yacoubian Building, The Trouble with Islam, Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Bookseller of Kabul, and now Infidel — I am beginning to form an idea, though none too complimentary, of what Islam and being a Muslim is all about.

Infidel is the autobiography of Ayaan, a young woman, born in Somalia to a traditional  Muslim family. She describes her childhood in detail, including the day her grandmother took advantage of the fact that her parents were gone, to circumcise her, her brother and older sister. The girls were sewn shut to maintain their purity and the family honor until such a day as she was married.  The bewilderment, the pain and suffering, the feeling of total and complete domination and in the end helplessness, is extremely well explained.

Ayaan’s family moves to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and Ayaan is exposed to another culture, to racism and religious fanaticism on the part of the Saudis. By age 14, she had lived in Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia – and each experience lit a flick of doubt in the back of her mind.  Different schools, teachers and girls opened up a fissure in what she knew to be true – that there is but one prophet, and all unbelievers are infidels.

In Ethiopia, Ayaan realized that the girls in her school were Kiristaan, a common word used as an insult and which meant, impure – aside from Christian.  In Kenya,  Ayaan came in contact with gaalos – more infidels.  It was there that Ayaan learned to speak English and had access to a library.  Her view of the world expanded.

At the same time, her father was more or less out of the family life, and her mother’s world was frustrated and violent.  She frequently hog-tied Ayaan as a way of beating her into submission , so much so that at one point Ayaan wound up in surgery with an open head wound.  She had to fight to remain in school, to learn and better herself – but her life was less than unique – it was par for the course in her world. When she was promised in marriage to a clan member that she did not know, did not want, she defied everything she was brought up to believe in, and escaped first to Germany and then, she sought refugee status in Holland. It was there that her world crumbled. The infidels she was brought up to believe were evil, chaotic and sex-crazed — were not. Holland should be in squallor, the Dutch mean-spirited, lying, horrid, filthy people, as the Quran dictated – but they were to the contrary; helpful, decent, clean, honest and trustworthy. What was wrong with everything she had ever been told? The religion that was a part of her very being was proving to be wrong, her questions without legitimate answers.

After many years bettering herself and learning the Western world and the culture, and attending University, Ayaan begins to speak her mind about Islam, about the subjugation of women, the corruption of the Islamic countries, and she speaks out about things that most westeners, in deference to racial equality, don’t talk about.  She speaks about the reality of immigration of Muslims into Europe and their integration (or non-integration) into western society.  She writes that the Dutch must stop the funding of Quran based schools as they “reject the values of universal human rights. All humans are not equal in a Muslim school. … they neglect subjects that conflict with Islamic teachings, such as evolution and sexuality… They instill subservience in girls and fail to socialize chidren to the wider community.”  This opens a  national can of worms in Holland as her life is threatened and someone she collaborates with is killed in the streets of Amsterdam.

What an eye-opener! This book is so very controversial, the theories Ayaan outlines are so different from everything we usually read or hear about, but they are so close to what we often intuitively think, that the book made for a fascinating read.

“For the Quran says, When your wives have purified themselves, ye may approach them in any manner, time or place.” Ayaan talks about a woman who is forced to submit to husband sexually.

As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them, scourge them and banish them to beds apart.” talking about a woman beaten by her husband once a week.

Ayaan says: “The Quran is an act of man, not of God.  We should be free to interpret it; we should be permitted to apply it to the modern era in a different way, instead of performing painful contortions to try to recreate the circumstances of a horrible distant past. My intention was to liberate Muslim minds so that Muslim women — and Muslim men too — might be freer.  Men, too, are forced to obey inhuman laws.”

I will have to return to the book and copy down some of the many profound passages about the Quran and the treatment of women, about the fact that they are kept in isolation and fear and are not allowed to blossom as people, but are kept as children under the direction and tutelage of men and Allah.



  1. Hi!
    I am familiar with Ayaan’s story. I am a Muslim woman, proud and happy living in a religion that I feel was the first to uphold the woman’s position in society. Any other interpretations on the Holy Quran are wrong, radicalist and man’ nature to twist the meanings of the word of God.
    The Quran states:
    “I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors in My way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other (3:195)”

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