I’m going to make this a short post, hopefully, despite my absence of the past couple of weeks. I just finished reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s autobiography Infidel, and let me first state that I am in love with this woman. She has a wonderful voice, and a compelling story. My primary critique comes from not only her book, but also from my interactions with various atheists and Muslims (the former including my dear friend the Homosecular Gaytheist, who loaned me the book).
One of Ali’s major criticisms of contemporary Islam is its inability to adapt to the modern world, which is a necessary and painful transition. “The West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred towards women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life.”
I absolutely agree with her on this point- any way of life that mandates inequality based on any criteria, let alone biological sex, should not be supported by any government. This is why it is occasionally necessary to legislate equality, something you’d think would be common sense to all people.*
Hirsi Ali praises this transition, citing the centuries of Enlightenment Christianity has face as a kind of skipping-stone that Islam can use. “Muslims don’t have to take six hundred years to go through a reformation in the way they think about equality and human rights.”
Yet again, this is something I can agree with. My problem arises from the what-comes-next arena. What Islam is facing, and needs, is a reformation that allows them to update their religion, as Christianity has done, and in order to do this, it will need to look to the spirit of the text, and not the hard copy. Just as Christianity has been able to rebuild itself as a peaceful religion (in a number of ways, at least), Islam needs to be allowed to be re-interpreted. Unfortunately, even Hirsi Ali denies modern scholars the ability to do this.
“Wishful thinking about the peaceful tolerance of Islam cannot interpret away this reality: hands are still cut off, women still stoned and enslaved, just as the Prophet Muhammad decided years ago.”
“When people say that the values of Islam are compassion, tolerance, and freedom, I look at reality, at real cultures and governments, and I see that it simply isn’t so.”
Hirsi Ali was involved in some of the worst that modern Islam has to offer. We cannot deny that atrocities such as those she encountered and lived through still occur. What needs to happen is a realignment of values under the flag of Islam, such as her father wanted to believe. It will require that people stop looking at the Qur’an as uninterpretable, yes. But even Hirsi Ali will need to allow it to be interpretable: you cannot say “Learn to take this metaphorically!” and then shout down the people who are seeking to do just that, with examples from those who are not as progressive.
Yes, Hirsi Ali is an atheist, and that is her right. But just as atheists clamour for freedom from religion, we must also remember to allow the religious among us their freedom to religion. Some people will want to maintain their religious faith, even when tempering it with reason. Hirsi Ali gives lip-service to the idea of updating Islam, but then has a sad disregard for those who are attempting to do just that. Reformers in Islam deserve support, the same as those Christian philosophers who struggled for centuries to allow reason and faith to coexist–which they can.
If we want Islam to skip the centuries of transition that Christianity required, we should support those who are striving for a moderate, modern Islam, instead of disregarding based on the actions of the literalists.
I’ll have to revisit this later to streamline it, I believe, but I’m afraid Two Smokin’ Hot Freethinkers are expecting me next door.
*The next Two Smokin’ Hot Freethinkers podcast will feature more opinions on legislation and the church-state division, once we re-record it.