Looking at Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Horrifying and Inspiring Life in ‘Infidel’

“There are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.” 
― Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel

I read Infidel more than a year ago and put it on the shelf, with a promise to one day return to it and write a review. Even left on the shelf, the stories in it still haunted me for months and changed the way I looked at the Muslim religion.

Yesterday, while driving in this Muslim dominated area I saw a group of women gathered on the side of the road, engrossed in something not too far ahead. As I got nearer I saw this man raining slaps on this woman. She was trying to get away, her hijab slipping from her head, her bag falling and the man continued with his paws on her. I slowed down and my four-year-old at the back, in panic, asked if the man was also coming to fight with us. I drove off but later beat myself up for not doing anything, like those spectators. That whole revolting incident took me back to Infidel. That scene reminded me of something I had read in the book about the beatings of wives, daughters and sisters and the degree of such an allowance.

Ayaan tells the story of her life, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, growing up in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and eventually her escape to the Netherlands. She was forced to undergo genital mutilation at a young age, went through her adolescence as a devout believer, survived a civil war and escaped a forced marriage. This personal record takes us through the mental terrors she experienced, the unequal treatment between her and her brother, being shackled to a marital decision made by her father and having no say in it.

If you’ve never experienced or had any knowledge of the religion and its traditions, you’ll learn and be shocked by the extent of male supremacy, female sexual repression, the oppression of women, sadism, abuse and other demeaning and dehumanizing treatment subjected to women in some countries.

When she changes her route from the dutiful acceptance of her fate in an arranged marriage, to possible freedom, the experience is both relieving and chilling. The gradual liberation that she goes through is tough but necessary and a moving series of incredible moments to read. Her determination to get educated and break the shackles she’s known all her life, and the way she raises the volume of her voice to speak for Muslim girls and women, is incredibly inspiring.

Infidel is an illuminating read, filled with shocking revelations of conditions some people would’ve never imagined. When she becomes a Member of Parliament and a voice worth listening to, you can’t help but admire her courage. It’s not the easiest thing to stand up against religion or any long-existing traditions when you know the risks and fatal consequences you could face. She has persevered through death threats from extremists and having to move around with security, and not many would do that.

I wouldn’t limit Infidel to a specific category of readers with specific preferences because it’s a necessary read for just about anyone. You may agree or disagree with her views, her cause and approach, but you will gain insight into a world that desperately needs attention.

This memoir is an extraordinary testimony of courage and a willingness to risk a lot for the greater good.

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