Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Faith, Feminism and Fearlessness

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a courageous, outspoken and inspiring woman. As a politician, writer, speaker, feminist and advocate she has continually challenged the position of women in Islamic societies and the practice of female genital mutilation.  

Infidel: My Life (2007) details Hirsi Ali’s childhood and youth in Africa and the Middle East. She enlightens readers with her first hand account of life as a young Muslim woman in an increasingly oppressive society.

Hirsi Ali was born into a political family in Somalia. With her father often absent, Hirsi Ali’s mother and grandmother raised her and her siblings. Her mother was a harsh disciplinarian and her grandmother was insistent on circumcising the young girl despite her father’s opposition. Moving to Nairobi, Hirsi Ali went to an Islamic school and became increasingly devout.

Later her father arranges her marriage, and while en route to Canada to live with her husband, she seeks asylum in the Netherlands. Lying to authorities to claim refugee status, she is permitted to stay in the Netherlands. Here she attends university, becomes a politician and is elected to Parliament. When her film maker friend Theo van Gogh is killed by Muslim extremists, Hirsi Ali goes into hiding and lives under armed guard because of constant death threats.

Infidel: My Life is more than a memoir. It is a biography, certainly, and a coming of age story. But it is also a treatise on women in Islam, a free speech, on immigration and on Islam itself.

I particularly enjoyed the way Hirsi Ali describes her early devotion to Islam and her gradual awakening and growing atheism. Overall it is an excellent read and a compelling story of an inspirational woman.