Accessibility links

Breaking News

Civil Disobedience, Reform and Islam

This is the fourth part of a five-part series on Perspectives Within Islam. It includes the views of Somali born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist and outspoken critic of Muslim fundamentalism. Hirsi Ali was recently interviewed by VOA's Carolyn Weaver. Additional information is provided by William Eagle.

Outspoken critic of Muslim fundamentalism, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, compares her efforts to the struggles for racial equality by slain African-American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King. Hirsi Ali told VOA that she accepts that she might not realize the benefits of her activism in her lifetime, because of the Islamic legal pronouncements - or “fatwas” - against her.

“It’s the generation after (King) that’s enjoying the fruits of his struggle.” And in the same way, she said, she now enjoyed “the fruits of other people in the past who’ve struggled for the rights of women, for racial equality, and the rights of individuals in general.” The fatwa has called for Hirsi Ali’s death.

She continues to live under police protection, and her fears are not unfounded: Her screenplay for the film “Submission” portrayed domestic abuse of women, which she said was sanctioned by the Islamic holy book, the Koran. Soon after the film was broadcast in the Netherlands in 2004, an Islamic radical murdered the film’s director. … The killer left a note behind saying that Hirsi Ali was next.

Last year, the activist moved to the United States where she has continued her criticism of radical Islam.

She says the path she has chosen is “like the woman who decided to sit down on the bus” -- a reference to African-American civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who, as an act of civil disobedience in the 1950’s, refused to give up her seat on a public vehicle to a white person. “You have to live with the consequences of remaining seated, and I have to live with the consequences of standing up,” Hirsi Ali stated.

Hirsi Ali told VOA that she had rejected the idea of hell, because she maintained that it elicited fear -- which she says encourages some to embrace the literal – and more violent -- interpretations of certain Islamic verses. She said some of them espouse violence against non-Muslims, or “non-believers.”

“I’ve spoken to thousands of Muslims,” she said, “ who are compassionate people who do not want to kill. If you disobey God, then you go to Hell. So what do you choose, the convenience of having an unbeliever as your friend today on Earth, [and] suffering eternal Hell?”

Mohammed bin Uthman, the chief imam of the Sahaba Mosque in Kano, Nigeria, is critical of Hirsi Ali. He says Islam does not discriminate against minorities, or women.

“The Prophet Muhammed lived in Mecca for 13 years,” he says, “and unbelievers were mistreating his own people. But the Prophet never took action. [However] after migrating to Medina, [God] gave [the Prophet] the order to protect himself.” He says any action against enemies of Islam comes only as a response to attack.

South African scholar Farid Esack criticizes Hirsi Ali for leaving the faith, yet championing reform of it. He told VOA, “She has set herself up against the Muslim community, outside it, and then taken it upon herself to reform [it]…If you want to transform the community, you don’t spit on [it].”

Esack accuses the Somali-born activist of making common cause with groups in the United States and the Netherlands that do not support his view of progress for women – for example, those who criticize family planning, and fail to support single mothers or the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. In his view, these same elements are seeking to force change on Islamic countries.

He says, “[Hirsi Ali and her allies are ] arguing for democracy and freedom for women and on the other hand making alliances with some of the most conservative elements inside the Muslim world…So, on the one hand, you put yourself up …[as] liberators of women and at the same time engage in the curtailment of the rights of women…..”

“I think it is preposterous,” he continues, “when she equates herself with Rosa Parks and others. It was not [Park’s] project to walk over other people…”

The fifth and final part of this series will feature a number of voices that hold opposing views to Ali.