For three years Ayaan has been a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. About the class she conducts she writes:
I have no problem with discussion and debate. That was the point of the course... I had not designed the course to be a seminar on my personal vision of Islam. I had been careful not to assign my own writings. Instead, I had drawn up a balanced list of scholarly articles and academic books, points and counterpoints around the nature of political theory in Islam. This material was what I had intended to discuss in class.
She complains about some of the Muslim students who attended her seminar: "For them, simply to ask a question about Islam was a grave offense." Ayaan asks, "Why it is so hard to question anything about Islam?"
Her chapter titles are:
1. The Story of a Heretic: My journey Away from Islam.
2. Why Has There Been No Muslim Reformation?
3. Muhammad and the Qur'an.
4. Those Who Love Death.
5. Shackled by Sharia.
6, Social Control Begins at Home.
8. The Twilight of Tolerance.
Today there is a war within Islam – a war between those who wish to reform and those who wish to turn back to the time of the Prophet.
For the moment the latter side seems to be winning ... (what in the West we call radicalization).
She writes that a Muslim Reformation is "actually under way." There is a "growing number of active dissidents and reformers around the world. It would be quite wrong of me to publish this book without acknowledging them and their often courageous contributions." She adds:
There is a growing number of ordinary Muslim citizens in the West who are currently braving death threats and even official punishment in dissenting from Islamic orthodoxy and calling for the reform of Islam.
She looks to history and writes about the similarities and differences between the Christian and today's Muslim Reformation. Technological advances in communications play a role in each: printing in the 1500s and the internet today. She writes that a Muslim Reformation does not look exactly life the Christian one, but there are "some important resemblances that give her hope.
Ayaan writes about "the incompatibility of certain key facets of the Muslim faith with modernity" and she complains that passages in the Koran feed the Islamic State narrative.
My reading about the Prophet Muhammad is that he thought he was creating an Islam that was a brotherhood ruled over by the ever-present power of God. His brotherhood contained no workable prescription in human affairs for representational politics succession or peaceful political succession. This left violence as a primary political instrument, beginning with the first caliph, Abu Bakr, the Prophet's father in law and the death of a rival, Sa'd ibn-Ubada, said to have been killed by Allah. Muhammad didn't establish the democratic institutions that were ideas that develop hundreds of years later and produced the peace and stability became the norm in today's Western democracies.
Ayaan has left Islam altogether, but she wants to make Islam compatible with the politics of Western democracies, including their adherence to civil liberties. She wants to see Islam more supportive of life and less devoted to brutal punishments and less glorifying of death and an afterlife. She wants the same kind of free interpretation of scripture practiced by those Christians who are not fundamentalists. She lists five these that she in nailing to Islam's virtual door:
1. Ensure that Muhammad and the Qur'an are open to interpretation and criticism.
2. Give priority to this like, not the afterlife.
3. Shackle sharia and end its supremacy over secular law.
4. End the practice of "commanding right, forbidding wrong."
5. Abandon the call to jihad.
She writes that she is not a trained theologian or historian of Islam, that it is not her purpose "to engage the Muslim world in a theological debate." She writes that her purpose is "to encourage Muslim reformers and dissidents to confront obstacles to reform – and to encourage the rest of us to support them in whatever way we can.
Rather than refute Ayaan by describing with substantial detail why and how they differ. We have those who cannot differentiate between any critical comment about Islam and "Islamophobia" And one critic, Harron Moghul, a liberal academic and commentator on Islam and public affairs, appears unable to get beyond a childish negativity.
Today at Amazon.com are 412 reviews of Ayaan's book. Seventy-three percent give her five stars, 14 percent four stars, and 9 percent one star. Among the one star reviews, someone writes that "You are better off reading the Quran for yourself." Another expresses doubt that "a religion so pelleted (sic) with violence unto others can be reformed" and complained that Ayaan was writing "the same old anti islam diatribe." Another one-star review claims with detail that Ayaan is inaccurate regarding various minor points, such as what she writes about the intellectual Al-Ghazali (1058–1111) and who was responsible for the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983. This critic then demonstrates his own deficiency by accusing Ayaan of "being blatantly intellectually dishonest simply for the sake of selling more books."
A more reasonable four-star review reads:
This is an incredible book by an extremely brave woman. As a non-Muslim, it is refreshing to see a searching assessment of the Islamic faith by someone who is not an Islamophobe.
Another four-star review:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not the uncomplicated Islamophobe she has been portrayed as. She has a nuanced and important perspective to share. That is not to say that I agree with her every particular. But what is the point of only reading those you whole heartedly agree with?
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.