Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

Ayaan balcony, washing clothes, Ali’s grandmother said, “a

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir, Infidel, is a story about her journey of her life: from a childhood in Somalia to Saudi Arabia, and to Kenya, where Islam played a major role in the lives of women. Growing up, Ali faced a lot of hardships for she was a Muslim woman. Her mother and grandmother preferred Mahad, her brother, over his two sisters, who received daily beatings for even the smallest mistake made. Ali and her sister’s, Haweya, life was full of domestic ‘adventures’- heavy housework-cleaning house, dishes and clothes-and the practice of circumcision. Excision was justified in the name of Allah, even though it wasn’t even mentioned in Quran, and it was ‘supposed’ to keep a girl pure until marriage. Another of Ali’s book, The Caged Virgin, is an emancipation proclamation for Muslim women, who have been sexualized and objectified in the name of Allah. Ali is asking Muslims to stand up for the injustice and take steps to prevent women’s suffering and free them from their ‘cage- both physical and metaphysical. On one hand, her story clearly invites the reader’s sympathy because of the miserable experiences in her life, whilst, she stereotypes and portrays the whole Islamic community under the same roof of discrimination and terrorism. Quran, the holiest book in Islam, has many interpretations and Ali uses it to persuade the reader to agree with her. By presenting only the dark side of Islam, therefore, creating misconceptions about the whole Islamic society, Ali bungles to address the positive side of Islam. Although Islam’s prejudice against Muslim women is unacceptable, Ayaan Hirsi Ali uses rhetorical and persuasive elements to convey the reader in accepting a biased view of the discriminatory relationship of Islam and women.Ali accuses Islam of discrimination against women and their roles in an Islamic society. A woman is considered inferior to man, a disgrace to their family if she marries someone who is outside of her tribal group, is at fault-if raped. While sitting in the balcony, washing clothes, Ali’s grandmother said, “a woman alone is a piece of sheep fat in sun..everything will come and feed on that fat…the ants and insects are crawling all over it, until there is nothing left but a smear of grease”(Infidel 9). The notion that women are inferior to men has been one of the most heated debate topics since a very long time not just in Muslim countries but all around the world. Even in United States, women had to fight and protest for decades until they were granted the right to vote. However, Muslim women had a lot more than mental pain to suffer through. Besides facing segregation in her house, Ali encountered the oppression in Saudi Arabia, the holiest place for Muslims. After Ali’s father left on a business trip, her mother had a very hard time to live her life freely, as “she wasn’t supposed to go out on the streets without our uncles…to phone them she had to scuttle down to the corner grocer, with her ten-year-old brother in tow acting as her protective male”(Infidel 41). Houses, buses, trains and schools were segregated based off gender as well. In school, Haweya and Ali learned “how good Muslim girls should behave: what to say when we sneezed; on which side should we begin to sleep, and to what position it was permissible to move during sleep; with which foot to step into the toilet, and in what posture to sit”(Infidel 49). But Ali implies that the girl is not a good Muslim girl in formation but a robot being programed. By reading such vivid and irrational rules and regulations on women-who make up about half of the population and not even held responsible for their own life- Ali obliged to stand up for the prejudice against women. Muslim women are sexualized and objectified, in the name of Allah, and there is no sense of equality between men and women. Women’s “veil functions as a constant reminder to the outside world of this stifling morality that makes Muslim men the owners of women and obliges them to prevent their mother, sisters, aunts, sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces, and wives from having any sexual contact”(Caged xi). But, no matter how many layers of clothing they wear, it won’t stop men from sexualizing them. It was horrific to read about a niece getting raped by her uncle and her parents kept the matter taboo to save the honor of the family. Therefore, there seems to be no importance to a female’s dignity and individuality but only of the family itself. Ali wanted to know that why did all the restrictions- be it sexual or domestic-applied only to women and not to men. People will always blame and question her-why didn’t she wear a  jilbab, a baggy piece of clothing and doesn’t show an inch of a curve, or a niqab, which covers all of the face apart from the eyes(but even eyes are sexualized), or why did she even step out of the house, or karma-she deserved it- by not following all-so-impossible-rules of Islam? She wrote,”in the name of Islam, women are subjected to cruel and horrible practices, including female genital mutilation and disownment” and the latter is a common exercise in Muslim community (Caged 2). All the restrictions on women are appalling and gruesome as they discriminate them based off their gender. Muslims commit crime “in the name of Allah”(Caged 4) by interpreting the Quran in a highly narrow and harmful way that not only injures women but also gives the many moderate, mainstream practitioners of the religion a corrupt name.Ali holds Islam accountable for its obsession with a girl’s virginity and, therefore, an obsession with mastery over the sexuality of a woman. Muslim girls are told that “a girl with ruptured hymen is like an used object”(Infidel 20). Muslim girls are considered a property of men and therefore, they have the right to do anything with them. This act of superiority is not only limited to husbands but also to fathers, brothers and uncles. Fathers and brothers have assumed the role of controlling their wives’, mothers’, daughters’ and, sisters’ lives. They can marry or sell off their daughters and sisters even before they are born, in the name of Islam. Moreover, Islam’s obsession with virginity and with a woman’s sexual morality is not a mark of decency but of control. The word circumcision implies as an acceptable practice and according to Ali, culture and religion will never be able to justify “child abuse” (Infidel 122). As early as age four, the girl’s clitoris, the outer labia is cut off, and the walls of the vagina are removed with fine objects like razor blades, or knives. Then, the girls are stitched up and considered pure. The obsession with virginity is so severe that many families wait to see the work of their labor by seeing blood stained sheets on her wedding night- a sign of virginity. By describing such barbaric practice with vivid illustration, she seems to gain sympathy for her story which, therefore, contributes to make her argument stronger. Moreover, women are portrayed as immature, as they cannot make their own decisions, their ultimate price is “reduced to her hymen”(Caged xi) and, are married to men before being born. Ali says that if a girl, who has sex, whether willingly or forcibly, inevitably face a severe honor and shame culture. Ali’s book, The Caged Virgin, addresses some of the ways in which Islam discriminates against women, once again blaming Islam for the prejudice. Ali’s focus was on arranged marriage, genital mutilation, sexual violence, and lack of education. Unfortunately, Ali fails to present anything else but that. Her arguments are rooted in exaggeration, bias, and stereotypes. Although her story is very depressing and empathetic, her arguments are only based off of her personal experiences, therefore, could be one-dimensional. Moreover, Ali had a very generalized portrayal of the Islamic community, Ali wrote, “Mistrust is everywhere and lies rule”(Caged 19), which is an overstatement because this is a wrong accusation on the whole Muslim society. All the accusations might be partially true but Ali generalized them to represent Islam, itself. For political rights, Allah grants women the permission to “select their leader and publicly declare so”(EXPLAIN MORE!). Quran doesn’t necessarily specify gender roles for men and women; however, gender roles are evident themselves, partly because of distinct allocation of expectations and rights, by male elitists. The Quran 4:124 states: “If any do deeds of righteousness be they male or female and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them”(Ganeri, The Quran). One may argue that the fundamentalist interpreters are at fault, not the Quran itself. Different interpretations of Quran, the holiest book in Islam, leads to different viewpoints concerning not only men and women’s roles but also life under Islamic rule. For example, Allah assures a place in Heaven only for those who die, nobelly, in a jihad- a fight against the enemies of Islam- or those who die on the pilgrimage to Mecca- holiest Islamic place. So, one might interpret dying in a jihad as fighting for their country but the radical interpretation would be terrorism-fighting against any non-Muslim. Whilst in the book, Infidel, Ali fails to address the dark side of Quran’s connotation. Ali’s provocative perspective could be based off her personal experiences, while growing up in Somalia and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, she has lost two of her good friends in a terrorist attacks by Muslims. Theo Van Gogh, who worked with her on the short film Submission-which question the misogyny and culture of violence and discrimination against women- was killed by an extremist who completely disagreed with them. She was very enraged by it; hence, this contributed to her anger towards Islam and indelibly shaped her perspective. Ali fails to see that she’s on the path of questioning difficult extremism and that is not the only side of Islam. On the other hand, Laleh Bakhtiar wrote, “the oppression does not come from Islam, but from laws made, in many cases, by Muslim men”(Bakhtiar, “How Islam Confirms Women’s Rights”). Therefore, why are women prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia, yet are allowed to drive in other forty eight Muslim countries? Clearly, this has to do with different ideologies in different regions. All forty eight Muslim countries worship and preach Allah with the same level of devotion and loyalty but they have different interpretations of Quran, resulting in different opinions on the treatment of women. Consequently, the prejudicial rules on women are made by male elitists, who have decided to preach the literal meaning of Quran. All of this happens under the roof of radical Islam and Ali failed to differentiate the practice of moderate Islam-majority of Muslims practice it- and fundamental Islam. She has put all Muslims under one category and blamed all of them. Furthermore, Ali compared John Stuart Mill, who wrote “the Subjection of Women”(1869), and Prophet Muhammad on their views of women. Mill deemed his wife a well-educated woman; “Muhammad was a polygamist and wrote that men have authority over women because God made one superior to the other”(Chadwick, “‘The Caged Virgin’: A Call for Change in Islam”). Although this statement is true, it’s not a fair comparison as Mill was a philosopher and an activist for women’s rights whilst, Muhammad is the Almighty and, believes that husbands have the power of life and death of their wives. Moreover, by asking rhetorical questions, Ali obliged the readers to empathize with her. She asked, “to what extent are family violence against women unintended consequences of the striving after an unattainable ideal that is meant to secure an agreeable place in the afterlife?”(Infidel 33). One would agree with her on the topic of using violence against women is wrong. But, Ali fails to address the fact that, today, many Muslims practice Islam moderately. She blames the “Islamic world”(Ali 33) for the violence used against on women, while only a small fraction of Muslims are the culprits. She draws extreme cases from her life and manipulates the reader to sympathize with her. Ali said, “Islam is being held hostage by itself”(Caged 54) which is true because the source of Islam, Quran, is open to many interpretations which are taken acutely literal. Some Muslims interpret it to build a wall between men and women and show that men are superior. The the radical interpretation leads to some of the important issues in today’s world- degradation of women’s rights and widespread terrorism. Whilst, others interpret it to let women practice their rights, such as to vote, pray and stand equally to men. There are some sections of the Islamic community are hotbeds of radical fundamentalism, and is therefore taken to an extreme level. Ali is right to say that Muslim women’s misogyny is an important issue, whilst only practiced by a minority, particularly those living in radical countries such as Saudi Arabia or Somalia, and in order to have a reformation, Ali should only point fingers at those who do it and not at the whole Islamic community. However, her rage makes the essays inspiring and lively, when she reminds women that they are equally as strong as men and that they don’t have to be oppressed, any longer. Irshad Manji is another outspoken activist for Islamic upbringing and women’s rights. Ms. Menji’s memoir The Trouble with Islam Today is about…. Although they are allies on one level, they practice Islam in, strikingly, different ways, “with one working outside the religion and one within”(…. “Muslim Rebel Sisters: At Odds With Islam and Each Other”). Ali is an atheist who denounces not only  radical Islam but also Islam in general whereas Ms. Menji seeks to change Islamic community from within. Menji wants an “Islamic Reformation” ()Ali’s smart move to emotionalize the reader with her and by not addressing the facts, that played against her, makes her arguments unrealialbe. Ali used persuasive elements  and diction to make her sway the reader to sympathize with her. She wrote, “Islam was our ideology, our political conviction, our moral standard, our law, and our identity”(Caged ix) and it would be very difficult to change Muslims’ mentality but people should make an effort to bring about a change, for women and children. The use of the pronoun, our, implies that she is portraying the whole Islamic society under one category. She uses our so many times in one sentence is to create a sense of unity among all Muslims (because they can relate to it)……There are only few countries which have a very strict Islamic regime and the practice of circumcision is highly common.  In rural Somalia, the family’s future and honor was dependent only on their girl’s “virginity, marriage prospects and continued acceptance in vital social networks”(………….”Somalia | Circumcision ‘Light”). Uncircumcised women were often perceived as the promoter of sex and promiscuity in Muslim women. Ali didn’t mention that Somalia is the only country where about “95 percent of girls” undergo genital mutilation(CITATION). Instead, she portrayed radical Islam and moderate Islam, the same.Ali had a very compelling way of telling a story with a lot of vivid description of some of the practices, such as circumcision, and the treatment of women like a domestic creature was very sad and miserable. The mistreatment of women, therefore, persuaded the reader to believe in and sympathize with her.  However, she fails to provide enough factual evidences to back up her argument. Indeed, the Quran gives evidence that counteracts Ali’s perspective and her take on the relationship of Islam and women. Quran doesn’t address women but men first. The Quran required men to not gaze at women and not to be promiscuous. The Quran 24:13 states: “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do”(Ganeri, The Quran). Moreover, men are instructed to oblige to wear a hijab if they choose to be a Muslim. Some of the Muslim countries doesn’t even require women to wear any sort of headscarf, so clearly, there’s more to the story than Ali’s blame on Islam for discriminating based off gender roles. One may suggest that Quran is nowhere near to an advocator of oppression of women. Allah require men to “observe your duty to Allah in respect to the women, and treat them well”(Ganeri, The Quran). So why do Muslim men still treat women so crudely? Most of the time, they don’t read the Quran properly, taking out verses out of context. Moreover, Quran states that women” have rights similar to those against them in a just manner,…” (Holy Quran, 2:228). There is no sense of discrimination in Quran, and therefore, by Allah, but it’s still blamed for being unfair to women. Male elitists refers to the Quran with their ideas and find “verses that confirm what they want to hear”(Power, “What the Koran Really Says about Women”). By presenting only her standpoint, she creates a danger of one-sided story. Although she is a well-balanced fighter and promoter of human rights and security for women, she makes general identity markers-with the help of persuasive elements and the articulation of her stories-for the whole Islamic community which in reality, should only represent a small part of the society. On the contrary, Quran advocates a relationship with Allah is out of submission and fear and, not out of dialogue and love. If the word of Prophet is broken then, “he punishes you cruelly if you break His rules, both on earth, with illness and natural disasters, and in the hereafter, with hellfire”(Infidel 235).  Ali’s message to all the Muslims, in the world, is that one can have a relationship with Allah of dialogue and love rather than that of the master-slave one.  In Saudi Arabia, the source of Islam and where Islam is practiced in its purest form, Muslims take every step which is “infused with concepts of purity and sinning, and with fear”(Infidel 347). What life is this where one only thinks about the Hereafter? And one can only go to Heaven is by following an unattainable fundamentalist regime. And where one is not allowed to question or object the words of Allah. Moreover, the Quran also, asks men to wear a metaphorical hijab, women are supposed to wear a physical one. One of Ali’s stronger accusations on Islam was that Muslim women should be allowed to dress according to their will. Women, who make up half of the population, should be given freedom and free will to take decisions for themselves-be it to have an interaction with Allah out of love or by not wearing hijab. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s books The Infidel and The Caged Virgin are a waking call for all Muslim women to stand up for their own rights. She tells her story in a very compelling and enthralling way with striking and evocative description of her childhood, her nomadic life, her freed life and, her journey while promoting women’s rights. Ali describes her journey “from the world of faith to the world of reason”(Ali, Infidel 287). Her story is very horrific and depressing with all the situations she was in- circumcision, discrimination, physical and verbal abuse, lose of two of her good friends. This, therefore, impacted her view of Islam and which is why her books were filled with anger, grief, generalizations and extremism. She persuaded the reader to sympathize with her and presented her perspective on gender roles with the help of persuasive and stylistic elements. Ali even used Quran to justify her arguments but it was proved that Quran has many interpretations, so that didn’t strengthen her accusations. However, she’s an advocate for women’s rights, a feminist and, a politician and, has helped in improving the suffering of Muslim women all over the world.Islam has been falsely associated with fundamentalist groups such as Al Qaeda. Countries such as South Africa, England and even America have had tragic experiences with the (presence of these radical groups.) The recent attack in New York City or the numerous ones in London has influenced our understanding of Islam, in general. It’s the preaching of radical Islam is Ali stands up for what’s morally right and doesn’t follow her religion blindfoldedly.

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