Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Muslim Women: A Secular Solution (4)

Post 26—

Intreoducing Ayaan Hirsi Ali 
This is my fourth post on Muslim women and, for now at least, the last.  Time to move on.  The last post presented the views of mostly traditional Nigerian Muslims. The one before that was an article written by a modern Indian Muslim.  Today’s is about a radical woman who was brought up as a Muslim and struggled with the Muslim perspective as she experienced it, but whose current Muslim credentials I cannot vouch for—the Somalian Dutch Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When a person publicly expresses doubt about the existence of Allah, as Ali does in the preface to her book, The Caged Virgin, I am not sure Muslim authorities will still consider her a bona fide Muslim.  I describe her as “radical” because she tries to get to the “radix” or root of things. Though this post is for now the last one on women, it will certainly not be the last on Ali.  She is too interesting and challenging to ignore in a Christian-Muslim environment.

Folk Religion
 Ali wrote a number of books during her sojourn in my native land, The Netherlands.  They go totally against the grain of all that is politically correct, including the issue of women in Islam.  While in The Caged Virgin she writes on the position of women in Islam in general and calls for their emancipation, in Infidel she writes her own story and development. She grew up in a very folksy Muslim environment.  Folksy Islam, like folksy Christianity, is a mixture of a very conservative form of the religion and the local culture.  It usually means that the official structures, both religious and social, are shaped by the religion but the dominant spirit underlying it all and providing its dynamic is shaped more by the culture than by the religion. Both those structures and that spirit are usually very rigid and resistant to change.  If change does come, it is often regarded as an attack on the religion rather than on the culture. If that culture is cruel with respect to women, then the religion will display the same cruelty, except in the case of a religious revival, when the social furniture can get shuffled around into new configurations.  My comments here are based not only on observation and reading, but also on personal experience as a Christian living in tight folksy Christian communities. 

I am not about to summarize all the problems, difficulties and sufferings of Muslim women as experienced and described by Ali.  You can find those stories everywhere, in books, especially Ali’s own, in the popular media and on the internet.  They are horror stories, many of them. 

Ali's Solution
But what is Ali’s solution?  She urges Muslim women to “Stand up for Your Rights,” the title of her first chapter in The Caged Virgin and she encourages the West to aid them in this process.  This is not a call for a violent and bloody revolution so much as a call for enlightenment. She is jealous of the Western Enlightenment inheritance and wishes a similar process for Islam. That means first of all for Muslims to take a critical look at themselves.  They must regain a “balance between religion and reason.”  She opts for the secular solution: “We must structurally drive religion back to the places where it belongs: in the mosque and in the home” (The Caged Virgin, pp. 13-14); a most unMuslim solution—or un-Kuyperian, for that matter.

Islamic Diversity
One of the theses throughout this blog is that, except for some deep core tenets, it is difficult to pinpoint the true Muslim perspective on almost any topic.  Ali writes, “There are as many Islams as there are Muslims.”  “…a single Islam does not exist” (The Caged Virgin, p. 9).  If that is true of Islam in general, as I in the company of many others have argued, it is also true of the “Muslim view of women.”  This mini-series is a demonstration of this diversity. For this reason, Christians must be careful when they discuss Muslim issues, whether women or anything else. 

Secondly, Christians must become more aware of the nature of folk religion within both their own religion as well as in Islam, in both their historical as well as current versions. 

Possibility for Change
Adhering to these two guidelines may help us become aware of the beam in the eyes of both religions, keep us from hasty condemnation and judgement, and make us optimistic with respect to future developments.  If one religion, Christianity, once so resistant to change but became more malleable due to the forces of the Enlightenment and its aftermath, why not view Islam as changeable as well?  There are any number of books that give good reason to expect an enlightenment of Islam. The current revolutions among Arab nations are indications that some form of enlightenment and change may be acomin'.  
I am aware that neither Ali’s call for the secular solution nor my apparent approval of the Western Enlightenment will not sit well with some of my fellow Kuyperian readers.  I will address that in due time, after I have completed my series from Christian Courier.


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