From Caged Virgin to Infidel to Nomad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali milked the memoir, which is fine because she has an important story to tell and it bears reiteration and elaboration. Now there is Heretic (Harper Collins, 2015, 272 pages), which continues the catchy one-word titles that Ann Coulter has made into an art form but which jumps genre. Heretic is not primarily a memoir; it is a structured call for reformation within Islam. It also represents a mind change.
In Nomad Hirsi Ali “believed that Islam was beyond reform, that perhaps the best thing for religious believers in Islam to do was to pick another god”. In Heretic she not only calls for reform but believes in its feasibility and possibility. While I think she was right in Nomad – as I will explain – that doesn’t take away from the instructive value of Heretic; for non-Muslims and, perhaps, even more so for Muslims prepared to be seen reading it.
“It simply will not do for Muslims to claim their religion has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists. The killers of IS and Boko Haram cite the same religious texts that every other Muslim in the world considers sacrosanct.”
There are a multitude of books critiquing Islam. But, certainly, of the relatively small number of popular books that I have on my shelf – including works by Mark Durie, Oriana Fallaci, Peter Hammond, Robert Spencer and Mark Steyn – Heretic provides, in my view, the clearest insight into the fault lines of Islam and what would need to be done to make it compatible with open and tolerant societies.
It should be a required primer for the simpleminded in the West who, having studied nothing of relevance, imagine that Muslims will eventually, inevitably, adopt our mindsets; become like us. Hirsi Ali has personally experienced Islam. She knows its corrupting nature.
As a nineteen-year-old, with a devout Muslim mother, Hirsi Ali accepted the justice of the 1989 fatwa on Salman Rushdie. She subsequently changed her beliefs around. Not many people do change. It’s best to remember that. We start out shapeless; but once moulded most people become stuck. It’s not safe to assume that minds conditioned in Islamic societies, enclaves, schools, and families will eventually adopt Western values.
Hirsi Ali breaks down the Muslim world community into three groups which cut across different versions of Islam. In one group are the fundamentalists, who take their inspiration from the intolerant and violent passages in the Koran and Hadith. These reflect Muhammad’s life in Medina and Allah’s vengeful side. ‘Medina Muslims’ she calls this group.
In another group are the vast majority of Muslims who reject violent jihad but who are “loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly”. She calls these ‘Mecca Muslims’. They implicitly take their inspiration from Muhammad’s earlier life in Mecca. When there, he sought support through persuasion rather than through the sword, and Allah was in a more forgiving mood.
Muslim dissidents are the third group. Though she has left the faith, she still puts herself in this third group whose aim is the reform of Islam; to bring it, if you like, into compatibility with the modern Western world. She knows there is no chance of swaying Medina Muslims.
The Mecca Muslims are in her sights. Even so, she is under no illusions about how hard it will be. She quotes various numbers from Pew Research demonstrating high levels of religious intolerance among Muslims no matter what shade they are. For example, 75 per cent of those polled in Pakistan favoured the death penalty for leaving Islam.
So then we come to Hirsi Ali’s reform agenda, which she breaks into five parts. Echoing Martin Luther (“five theses nailed to a virtual door”) she summarises them as follows:
- Ensure that Muhammad and the Qur’an are open to interpretation and criticism.
- Give priority to this life, not the afterlife.
- Shackle sharia and end its supremacy over secular law.
- End the practice of “commanding right, forbidding wrong”
- Abandon the call to jihad.
Only number 4 is not completely self-explanatory. It refers to rules of social conduct which inhibit freedom; dictating, for example, what to wear, how to act, and what to say. Of course, these rules are particularly applied to girls by their families; the breaching of which can result in so-called honour killings.
Getting to grips with Islam has proved elusive for most Western politicians and commentators who can’t quite believe that a religion can be anything other than peaceful. Religion and peace are synonymous in their minds. Ali’s reform agenda provides a set of headings under which she clearly lays out what’s seriously wrong with Islam and why “it is not a religion of peace”. She gives no respectable place to hide to post-modernists preaching moral relativism.
When reading Heretic, I thought of a comment by Baroness Caroline Cox on the plight of Muslim women in the UK, some of whom complained to her that their treatment within Muslim communities was worse now than in the countries from which they’d fled. What an indictment this is of the cowardly and pathetic apologists for Islam. Vulnerable women thrown to the wolves; where can any moral value at all be found in that?
Tellingly, as good as the book is at explaining what is wrong with Islam and how it can be righted, it stops short of describing what would be left over to worship. Hirsi Ali’s reform agenda would mean deleting/altering large swathes of Allah’s very words and Muhammad’s words and actions; placing man’s law over Allah’s; and valuing this earthly life over the hereafter – mammon over God. Now this simply isn’t tenable. Nothing would be left.
The unitary creator and lawgiving God belongs to Judaism. The pathway to God’s grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ belongs to Christianity. As it is, I struggle to see what Islam adds of any materiality on the Abrahamic religious front. But take away its supremacist worldview, the primacy of Allah’s law and the subordination of this life to the afterlife and I wonder what Muslims would pray for.
Even Christianity would struggle under this agenda. Consider how the value of this earthly life plays out in Christianity:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. — Matthew 6:19-21&24 (KJV)
The critical factor is not how highly you value the afterlife but what you must do to earn your spurs. Must you love your neighbour? Or, must you (at least to get automatic accreditation) slaughter infidels, heretics, blasphemers and apostates. Those Muslims who believe the former might consider becoming Christians. Though, the risk of being slaughtered by fundamentalist followers of the religion of peace – earning their spurs as it were – would need to be weighed.
Maybe Hirsi Ali will write another book setting out what a reformed Islam would look like stripped of its current core components. I am sceptical. I don’t think it can be done. I don’t think Islam can be reformed. I think Hirsi Ali was right in Nomad.
Muslims have the option of sticking with an unsalvageable religious affront to enlightened thinking, or of changing religions, or of worshiping mammon. This last option might be the way to go. After all, it is increasingly the option of choice in the ‘Christian West’. The proof of that not only lies in declining church attendances but in the evident lack of spiritual firepower combating Islam. Hirsi Ali bravely fills the breach.