Laila Lalami on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji

Here is an article writtten by a Muslim women that gives constructive criticism of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji . I was suprised this appeared in the Nation magazine because in general, the political right and left have similar attitudes about Muslim women.

Here are just a few excerpts from the article

This lumping together of various Islams–the geographical region, the Abrahamic religion, the historical civilization and the many individual cultures–is symptomatic of the entire book, and makes it particularly difficult to engage with Hirsi Ali in a useful way. Her discussion of female genital mutilation (FGM) is a case in point. In at least six of the seventeen essays, she cites the horrendous practice of FGM, which involves excising, in whole or in part, young girls’ inner or outer labia, and in severe cases even their clitorises. Hirsi Ali is aware that the practice predates Islam, but, she maintains, “these existing local practices were spread by Islam.” According to the United Nations Population Fund, FGM is practiced in sub-Saharan Africa by Animists, Christians and Muslims alike, as well as by Ethiopian Jews, sometimes in collusion with individual representatives of the faiths. For instance, the US State Department report on FGM reveals that some Coptic Christian priests “refuse to baptize girls who have not undergone one of the procedures.” And yet Hirsi Ali does not blame Animism, Christianity or Judaism for FGM, or accuse these belief systems of spreading it. With Islam, however, such accusations are acceptable. A few years ago, Hirsi Ali proposed a bill in the Dutch Parliament that would require young girls from immigrant communities to undergo a vaginal exam once a year as a way to insure that the parents do not practice FGM. The suggestion is all the more interesting when one considers that the vast majority of Muslim immigrants to the Netherlands are from Turkey and Morocco, where FGM is unheard of. But there is a personal reason for this passionate stance: When Hirsi Ali was 5 years old, her grandmother had the procedure performed on her, without her father’s knowledge or approval. The experience marked Hirsi Ali profoundly, and the fervor and determination she brings to the fight against this horrifying practice are utterly laudable. By making inaccurate statements like the one quoted above, however, she muddies the issues and alienates the very people who would have the religious standing in the community to make this practice disappear.


So now what? Where does this leave feminists of all stripes who genuinely care about the civil rights of their Muslim sisters? A good first step would be to stop treating Muslim women as a silent, helpless mass of undifferentiated beings who think alike and face identical problems, and instead to recognize that each country and each society has its own unique issues. A second would be to question and critically assess the well-intentioned but factually inaccurate books that often serve as the very basis for discussion. We need more dialogue and less polemic. A third would be to acknowledge that women–and men–in Muslim societies face problems of underdevelopment (chief among them illiteracy and poverty) and that tackling them would go a long way toward reducing inequities. As the colonial experience of the past century has proved, aligning with an agenda of war and domination will not result in the advancement of women’s rights. On the contrary, such a top-down approach is bound to create a nationalist counterreaction that, as we have witnessed with Islamist parties, can be downright catastrophic. Rather, a bottom-up approach, where the many local, homegrown women’s organizations are fully empowered stands a better chance in the long run. After all, isn’t this how Western feminists made their own gains toward equality?


August 5, 2007 - Posted by | Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christianity, feminism, FGM, Irshad Manji, Islam, Judaism, Laila Lalami, Muslim, Nation magazine, politics, women's rights


  1. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is correct about FGM being practiced in Muslim countries far more than any others. And it is not just in sub-Saharan countries. In September 2007, Egypt was in the news regarding FGM, and it was being called “purification season.” Ninety-five percent of Egyptian women undergo FGM, according to a September broadcast. Up until then I had thought it was mostly third world countries which practiced it. What can we do to help Muslim women?
    Linda Harvey Kelley, author of Toropo ~ Tenth Wife

    Comment by Linda Harvey Kelley | November 23, 2007 | Reply

    • In Egypt. The practise of FGM goes back to the days of the Pharaohs. It’s a product of ancient Egyptian culture, not Islam.

      Comment by Ivriniel | April 23, 2013 | Reply

  2. If you want to help Muslim women, have western governmnents stop supporting brutal dictators and kings who do their bidding. Since we in the West live in democracies this should be easy to do, right?

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali was pro-invasion Iraq ; look at how the conditions of women has deteriorated since this has happened. Ironically, it was the United States and its allies that helped Saddam Hussein into power and supported him, strategically and financially when he was committing his worst atrocities. The Iraqi people have become scapegaots of U.S. foreign policy. How come Western feminists have nothing to say about this?

    IF you want speople to change their ways, you do not insult them and demonize them. There are women and men , who live in Muslim countries, who are fighting against the practice of FGM, but not by insulting and misinforming about Muslims, the way Ali does it. Also when Ali was an MP in the Netherlands she would not meet with Muslim women groups who were fighting for woments rights. These women’s lives were in danger but they didn’t get the same media attention that Ali gets.

    This shows Ali is more concerned about making a name for herself rather than helping Muslim women.

    Here is an article about how an Egyptian nurses was suspended for performing circumcisions on two girsl. Why did this not appear in mainstream Western media?

    Here is another article written by an Iranian-Dutch women whoexplains why she disagrees with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s approach to “helping ” Muslim women.

    Comment by randalljones | November 23, 2007 | Reply

  3. Well lets go into the roots of Hirsi ali’s life .. she had a bad childhood. … she was given a wrong conception about submission to God.. she was made to believe that islam is about forgetting our own identity and submitting to the will of Allah whether you like it or not…. or in short she was made to lose her own self for something she was not ready for.. n finally we cant forget that she went through (FMG).. hirsi went through pain and how she writes or says against Islam is an obvious reaction..But she should understand its not Islam that had made her suffer but people who misused her in the name of Islam …..just a little about history .. before the advent of Islam into Arabic world , burying of female child was a common practice but it was only stopped with the spread of message of Islam… and there is not even a hint of some thing called female genital mutilation the so called FMG any where in Quran.. Hirsi had suffered because of the backwardness of her culture and illiterate countrymen.. Her struggle should have been against those people who made her suffer not Islam …Even i live in the place withh 99 percent muslim population …. i don’t cover my head and wear the clothes that suit me … n never let my personal identity be threatened ….Even i face people jeering at me but fight them back saying look its a matter between me and my God, me and Islam instead of going to Tv channels and western media and openly criticizing islam without knowing the reality. Islam came to solve human sufferings not to add to them ….And hirsi often says Islam limits our imagination but never explains how .Islam never limits imagination it only defines our limits….. Islam never strangles anyone’s freedom it only prevents pollution and impurity ……

    Comment by yamberzal | June 30, 2010 | Reply

  4. That was a waste of time.

    All Laila does is point out other religions who suffer from the same things. As for Morocco being a tolerant place, we all saw how that went with the expulsion of 130 Christians accused of practicing their faith.

    Comment by farouk | July 21, 2010 | Reply

  5. I admire ayan alot tho I do not agree with her on everything. I think she has a ton of courage as she has faced many death threats and lost friends who spoke out.

    I think it too simple to say, well its just cuz she had a bad childhood. I had a bad childhood too, i grew up orthodox jewish, i was horrifically abused. Now some of it was simply my dads crazyness. but there were lots of other crazy abusive people in my community, and some it had to do with orthodox judaism- its sexism- men thanking god each day for not making them women, the exclusion of women from religious leadership, segregation of women during the services, not counting women in a quorum/minyan and generally seeing women as temptresses who need to be covered up so as not to arouse men, whose sexuality is seen as out of control.

    there wAS a lot of sexual abuse in my community, and the rigid sexual mores-i was constantly told to cover up-did not make me or other girls and women safe. It helped make the men uptight, miserable with no heathy consensual outlet.

    I was molested by 2 orthodox rabbis, covertly sexually abused bya nother ortho man and touched by a gross old man- he didnt touch my genitals or breasts like the others but it was sexual and creepy.

    I spoke out about the sexism and was ridiculed, vilified and raged at.

    this does not mean jews are inherently bad or justify anti-semitism etc. jUdaism has many great things about it, a big focus on justice, a spirit of inquiry and questioning,identification wth the under dog, beautiful rituals and customs, and a very rich set of teachings etc. but I do believe we jews have problems and that our culture and religion is far from perfect.

    for example, I do not like the way we treat the palestinians one bit, and i do speak out about this issue and think jews need to publiclly, spaek out on this and other issues.

    I think the same is true for Christianity and Islam as well, and it does seem that if one openly challenges Islam-ie Rushdie, ayan hirsi ali, irshd manji they are threatend with death and the threats are not idle.

    I admire ayan for speaking publically, and working for womens rights.

    However, i am not for and was never for war with iraq or Afghanistan, I dont think she fully understands how the US SUPPORTS DICTATORS and how we invade to steal oil etc, and that when we destory countries we only end up hurting women and men and fostering more extremism and chaos.

    Maybe we can all be more willing to speak out about our own peoples shortcomings, and to stand up not just for ourselves, but for other oppresed peoples even when it is our group doing the oppressing.

    we are all a part of one another.

    Comment by shifra | October 30, 2011 | Reply

    • Thank you for contributing your experiences and views to the discussion

      Comment by randalljones | August 3, 2012 | Reply

    • The thing is she HASN’T done ANYTHING for women. She lied about her back story, religion, etc. They exposed her in a documentary, she agreed she never lived in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Somalia, etc. She lied about being in force marriage and visited her husband in Canada, which is what the flight records say. She was evicted from her apartment and almost kicked out of Holland because of her lies. Whatever she does in relation to religion is between her and God/Allah (SWT). But she lied about Somalia and culture and being in a civil war. That is SICK! That’s like someone lying they been through a holocaust/genocide to gain money and fame which is what she did. She never established an organization, charity, or foundation to HELP women. But marry a rich guy who was married and had three kids. Basically had an affair with a married man, which is really not FEMINIST type behavior but that of a home wrecker so is the man by the way. She isn’t right about anything except FGM being practiced. Its typically happens with poor Somalis in villages.It happens all over Africa because of the Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs centuries ago. She isn’t an inspiration but a fraud indeed. I am Somali myself, and have been in my country. My parent fled the war,

      Comment by Basma | May 19, 2013 | Reply

  6. The best way to help all women is to have them analyze thier macro & micro envoroments from their culture to their innermost thoughts. Many muslim women have an existance the is encompassed by islam! Would it not be good for these women to be able to make decisions about their lives rather than being treated as property! In many cases the true value of a muslim women is as a breeder.and if she can produce male children her station in life is somewhat better than those who don’t produce sons! Many muslim women around the world have no idea what it is to think for themselves and given the opputunity to learn and to learn to think, I know most importantly, understanding that the truth they have believed is not really the truth at all! Having read the koran and watching how many of the localized imam’s send down edicts(I know thats not the right word) that are purely for the benefit of the local males! I could go on and on but will stop I am confident in saying muslim women will never have rights or even understand they exist in a theocratic muslum thugopoly! I am learning and trying to love people as Christ does and commands, to bad love is mysteriosly absent from mind of allah and the pages of the koran! If I have angered anyone that is not my intent, please enlighten me as to where I am wrong!

    Comment by Mr 1911 | July 27, 2012 | Reply

    • While there needs to be reform in Islam, we in the West don’t need to advise Muslims; there are Muslim reformers, but they don’t get the same media attention as those who give Islam a bad name. For those of us who live in the West, if we want to help should try do something about our governments supporting dictators, kings and extremists that keep Muslims from progressing. The West doesn’t just do this in the Muslim world, look at the suffering the West has contributed in Christian countries such as the Congo and Haiti.

      Comment by randalljones | August 3, 2012 | Reply

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