Thursday, March 26, 2015
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia to a devout Muslim family. Her father, a member of a group of rebels trying to bring down the tyrant who ruled Somalia, was imprisoned for most of Ayaan's childhood. Her mother, sister, brother and grandmother were supported by their clan. Clans and tribes are a vital part of people's lives in that part of the world.
Ayaan idolized her father, especially since relations with her mother, grandmother and brother were often rocky. Beatings and other harsh discipline were not uncommon. In fact, when Ayaan was a teen, one of her teachers beat her so bad he gave her a concussion.
But, supported by their clan, Ayaan's mother was able to send her three children to school. They lived in town and moved about quite a bit, going from Somalia to Saudi Arabia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Ayaan's mother really wanted to live in Saudi Arabia because she was a devout Muslim and wanted to be close to the roots of her religion. But Ayaan found the restrictions placed on people and especially on women by the fundamentalist Islamic rulers to be irksome. Since the father was in prison and no other male relative was available, Ayaan's mother had to use her small son as her escort every time she had to run an errand as women are required to be accompanied by a male relative whenever they leave the home.
Back in Africa and Ayaan becoming a teen, she began to become more deeply involved in Islam. She attended Moslem Brotherhood mosques and classes and began wearing traditional robes and performing the required rituals and submitting her will to Allah. But at some point she realized that she was not feeling that spiritual connection to Allah that others claimed to feel.
Her father is eventually freed but her parents marriage is irreparably broken due to the father's long absence and the mother's many grievances against him. He finds himself a new wife and goes off to be with them.
One day he returns with tremendous news: he has found a husband for Ayaan. The man lives in Canada and has come to Africa to find himself a pure bride, as, according to him, the Somalia girls in Canada are too liberated and thus not pure enough. He and Ayaan meet briefly and she decides he is not her type. She tries to get her father and her family to understand but her words fall on unhearing ears. She lets herself be pressured into going through with the marriage.
Since he is living in Canada, the plan is for her to travel alone to Germany and then to Canada, as that is the easiest way to do it. But once Ayaan reaches Germany she realizes all she has to do is disappear and she will have her freedom. So she goes to Holland and applies for refugee status there. In Holland, once she is accepted as a refugee, she is provided a stipend and a place to live, at no cost to her.
Seeing the contrast between her old world and her new world enables her to think more clearly about everything she has been taught and she gradually begins to give up on Islam and on religion in general. She comes to accept that she no longer believes in Allah or in any god and that when you die you are dead and that's all. But as her faith fades, her outrage grows over the way Moslem women are treated by their religion and by their menfolk. She comes to the conclusion that Islam is just the codification of ancient Arab tribal practices and that it doesn't belong in modern life until it undergoes an enlightenment similar to that which Europe underwent during its passage from ignorance to knowledge. And when she goes public with her conclusions, all hell breaks loose. She becomes a target of Moslem hate and is rejected by all her family. Life even in peaceful, advanced Holland becomes unbearable and she is forced to leave her beloved adopted country and go into hiding.
I truly enjoyed reading the story of this brave woman's life, her evolution from devout Moslem to unbelieving infidel. It was engrossing, interesting and a captivating portrait of a life so different from what I, as an Westerner, have ever known. She is a very brave woman. Well done, Ayaan Hirsi Ali!
For another review, see http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/14/books/14grim.html?pagewanted=all.