I try not to believe everything I think.
Both belief and thought are larger and more ineffible than I like to … think?…believe? … they are. It isn’t easy trying to keep track of what it is that I actually believe or think about believing. I have been loping along on conceptul cruise-control for quite a while, and I suspect I am not alone in postponing a thorough examination of the convictions that underlie most of my actions and opinions.
So, when a friend passed on Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I quite literally did not know what to think.
The book’s introduction informed me that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Goverment, prolific writer and lecturer, a Muslim born in Somalia, raised in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and, since 1992, a resident of the Netherlands. She sought and won asylum, worked cleaning factories, and was elected to the Dutch Parliament. Her first published work, Infidel, an autobiography, met with considerable hostility. She was labeled by critics of her condemnation of female genital mutilation and the subjegation of women as an Islamaphobe, single-minded and reactionary. Collaborating with Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh, she released a documentary entitled Submission, the English translation of the word Islam. Both she and Van Gogh were threatened with death; Van Gogh was assasinated in 2004.
There’s controversy galore with every chapter of Ali’s recent history; she probably lied a good bit in petitioning for asylum in the Netherlands and cost the country a pretty Euro in requiring a safe house and security detail, not only in Holland, but also on her travels promoting her ideas and her books. Big flap, by which I mean Kerfuffle, when Brandeis University withdrew the awarding of an honorary degree after an outpouring of protest from those who find her Islamaphobic, unless, as Brandeis maintains, the university had ony hoped to include her in a group of people to be admred. Time Magazine names her as one of the 100 most influential, but her critics slam her for painting all of Islam with the same brush, essentially arguing that Islam, in its unchanging rigidity, is radical Islam. That’s a tough stance for lberals to accept, but, then again, she is a fierce advocate for the rights of women in the Islaic world and outspoken in describing the effect of genital mutilation – hard for a liberal to ignore.
Heretic : Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now is Ali’s fourth book, published in 2015. Her views have changed somewhat in that she called for the defeat of Islam in earlier publications, but now suggests that reformation might be the more appropriate hope as Islam encounters Western modernity. Much of the book describes the inherent structures of Islamic thought that have made reformation unlikely; reformation might be the best of all outcomes, but there appear to be very few ways in which reform can find traction. She divides the Islamic world into three factions, each of which contend for authority of the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith. “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah; and Muhammad is His messenger.”
She identfies herself as belonging to the third and smallest group: Muslims who have fallen away from Islam because of practices they cannot endorse but who would embrace the fath if it were to be reformed. The group Ali terms “Medina Muslims”, Sunni or Shiite, see the enforcement of sharia, Islamic religious law as a an absolute religious duty. Zealous Shiites look for the restoration of the Twelfth Imam and the global estabishment of Islam, Sunnis to the establishment of a new caliphate, but both, Ali contends, practice fundamentalism allowing no change of religious law as established in the Seventh Century. “Mecca Muslims”, the more moderate Muslims, abide by religius observation in what they wear and eat, butdo live in what Ali terms an “uneasy tension with modernity.”
Ali believes that five central foundations of Islamic faith have to be reformed, recognizing that no questioning of these precepts is currently open to question or discussion among Muslims.
- Muhammad’s semi-divine and infallible status, along with the literalist reading of the Qur’an.
- . Investment in life after death rather than life on earth.
- Sharia and the rest of Islamic law.
- Allowing individuals to enforce Islamic law.
- The imperative to wage jihad or holy war.
Oddly echoing the Trumpist call to arms, Ali hopes the West will come to its senses and label zealotry “Radical Islam” as the five precepts above allow radical enforcement of sharia.
So, what does any of this have to do with what I think or believe?
I am only recently aware that I have moved through the last half century with the abiding conviction that modernity, in all its aspects, would inevitably bring rationality, compromise, tolerance, and mutuality of enterprise, seeing as how we are all stuck on the same planet and all.
I continue to be surprised by opinions other than my own, particularly when they appear to operate against all observable reality. How is climate change a question of partisan politics? How does grotesque inequality of wealth and resources serve the general good, or, at the most crass level, general prosperity? How does fundamentalism not only survive but grow in an age of scientific and technological attainment? How is it acceptable to live in a nation in which violene has become normal, in which children go to bed hungry every night, in which an increasing number of people fall into poverty even as they work at any job available to them?
So, this week I am contendng with the growing certainty that modernity, technology, invention, medicine, satellite television, the World Cup, Coca Cola, I Phones are not likely to persuade a Medina Muslim not to hold women in subjegation, not to practice genital mutilation, not to see me and those I love as “pigs” and “monkeys”.
Obviously, I need to stick to reading books that allow me to sleep at night. Except … I have also just finished Makers and Takers: The Rise and Fall of American Business.