Heretic : Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now Hardcover – 24 May 2015
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Praise for Infidel: “Brave, inspiring, and beautifully written…Narrated in clear, vigorous prose, it traces the author’s geographical journey from Mogadishu to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and her desperate flight to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage.” (The New York Times)
“Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of Europe’s most controversial political figures and a target for terrorists. A notably enigmatic personality whose fierce criticisms of Islam have made her a darling of...conservatives...and...popular with leftists...Soft-spoken but passionate.” (Boston Globe)
“Crammed with harrowing details, Hirsi Ali’s account is a significant contribution to our times.” (Kirkus (starred review))
“A powerful, compelling read…Put simply, this woman is a heroine.” (The Christian Science Monitor)
“A charismatic figure...of arresting and hypnotizing beauty...[who writes] with quite astonishing humor and restraint.” (Christopher Hitchens)
“The five areas for Islamic reform highlighted by Ayaan in this book require deep consideration by my fellow Muslims…I thank Ayaan for having the resilience and determination to help in continuing this ongoing conversation.” (Maajid Nawaz, Co-founder and Chair of Quilliam, counter-extremism think-tank)
“She is absolutely right to raise difficult issues that must be addressed worldwide, especially by Muslims...I hope that this book will help to stimulate vital discussions for the future of Islam, and in fact for the future of humanity.” (Sheikh Dr. Usama Hasan, imam and Islamic scholar)
“Audacious? Quixotic? Visionary? Necessary? All of the above. This an urgent, complicated, risky subject, and Hirsi Ali, valiant, indomitable, and controversial, offers a potent indictment, idealistic blueprint, and galvanizing appeal to both conscience and reason.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist)
“Whatever one may think of her solutions, Hirsi Ali should be commended for her unblinking determination to address the problem.” (Andrew Anthony, The Guardian)
“A book full of compassion.” (Paul Steenhuis, NRC Handelsblad)
From the Back Cover
Is Islam A Religion of Peace?
In what is sure to be her most controversial book to date, Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a powerful case that a religious Reformation is the only way to end the terrorism, sectarian warfare, and repression of women and minorities that each year claim thousands of lives throughout the Muslim world. With bracing candor, the brilliant, charismatic, and uncompromising author of the bestselling Infidel and Nomad argues that it is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts of Islamic extremists can be divorced from the religious doctrine that inspires them. Instead we must confront the fact that they are driven by a political ideology embedded in Islam itself.
Today, Hirsi Ali argues, the world's 1.6 billion Muslims can be divided into a minority of extremists, a majority of observant but peaceable Muslims, and a few dissidents who risk their lives by questioning their own religion. But there is only one Islam, and as Hirsi Ali shows, there is no denying that some of its key teachings—not least the duty to wage holy war—inspire violence not just in the Muslim world but in the West as well.
For centuries it has seemed that Islam is immune to historical change. But Hirsi Ali is surprisingly optimistic. She has come to believe that a Muslim "Reformation"—a revision of Islamic doctrine aimed at reconciling the religion with modernity—is at hand, and may even already have begun.
Partly in response to the barbaric atrocities of Islamic State and Boko Haram, Muslims around the world have at last begun to speak out for religious reform. Meanwhile, events in the West, such as the shocking Charlie Hebdo massacre, have forced Western liberals to recognize that political Islam poses a mortal threat to free speech. Yet neither Muslim reformers nor Western liberals have so far been able to articulate a coherent program for a Muslim Reformation.
This is where Heretic comes in. Boldly challenging centuries of theological orthodoxy, Ayaan Hirsi Ali proposes five key amendments to Islamic doctrine that Muslims must make if they are to bring their religion out of the seventh century and into the twenty-first. She also calls upon the Western world to end its appeasement of radical Islamists—and to drop the bogus argument that those who stand up to them are guilty of "Islamophobia." It is the Muslim reformers who need our backing, she argues, not the opponents of free speech.
Interweaving her own experiences, historical analogies, and powerful examples from contemporary Muslim societies and cultures, Heretic is not so much a call to arms as a passionate plea for peaceful change and a new era of global tolerance. As jihadists kill thousands, from Nigeria to Syria to Pakistan, this book offers an answer to what is fast becoming the world's number one problem.See all Product description
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Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s
Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now (Penguin Random House, 2015)
Dr. Shabir Ally
June 11, 2015
The book is not only a criticism of Islam but of religion more generally. For example,
Ayaan Hirsi Ali states that there is no life after death, and that God is created by mankind
and not the other way around (p. 44).
More specifically to Islam, she rejects the belief that God is the author of the Quran, and
she rejects Muhammad (pbuh) as a moral guide (p. 44). For her reform project, she needs
credibility. So, she tries to reposition herself as a heretic as distinct from her previous
posture as an infidel. Why this new posture? The reason, she explains, is that when she
squarely positioned herself as an apostate and an infidel she found herself being shunned
by both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences (p.17). She is thus blatantly honest about this.
And for her honesty she deserves credit, though we should not be naïve about her agenda.
She recalls that when she wrote her previous book, Nomad, she had believed that Islam
was beyond reformation, and that perhaps it would be best for Muslims to pick another
god (p. 74). But her present distinction between infidel and heretic is merely semantic,
for she maintains even in the present book that she remains outside of the faith, and that it
is too late for her to embrace the faith again (p. 75)—although I would maintain that it is
never too late.
She thinks that the best choice for someone who feels trapped between their conscience
and the commands of Muhammad is to leave Islam as she did. “However, it is unrealistic
to expect a mass exodus from Islam.” (p. 51) Therefore she proceeds to reform Islam as
the next best option.
But her proposed reformation, as she describes it, turns out to be really more like the
renovation of a historic building. She proposes gutting out such a building and replacing
all its internal elements with modern ones leaving only a few historical elements (p. 73).
I have seen a building like this in Toronto. Once a church, it is now a retirement
residence. What remains of the old church is only the façade. The problem is that one can
no longer say that this is a church. Is that what Hirsi Ali wants Islam to become—devoid
of its inner reality? So, in sum, she wants to either effect a mass exodus from Islam or to
leave Muslims with an Islam which maintains only a historical façade but none of its
original inner reality.
Here are Hirsi Ali’s five specific suggestions on what Muslims need to do to achieve her
proposed reformation (p. 74):
1. Ensure that Muhammad and the Quran are open to interpretation and criticism.
2. Give priority to this life, not the afterlife.
3. Shackle sharia and end its supremacy over secular law.
4. End the practice of “commanding right, forbidding wrong.”
5. Abandon the call to jihad.
Obviously, each of Hirsi Ali’s five recommendations can be contested. Take, for
example, her second point, her suggestion that we need to give priority to this life over
the life hereafter. To Muslims, it is not a choice between this life and the life hereafter,
but to work for both simultaneously. In fact, in the Islamic view, looking after the
physical needs of this life in the right way is a way of working for the life hereafter. In
this way work, study, and simply making a living and serving one’s family is a way of
serving God. Service to humanity is service to God.
If it comes down to a choice between this life and the hereafter, however, Muslims will
choose to set their life hereafter in order rather than gain this world and lose the next. But
notice that it is not only Muslims who give priority to the life hereafter. Many Christians,
for example, give priority to the life hereafter, and this makes sense given the belief that
the life hereafter is real. According to Hirsi Ali, Muslims need to realize that “What we
do in this life is more important than anything that could conceivably happen to us after
we die.” (p. 235) Many Christians will disagree with her.
Hirsi Ali writes:
“Scientific and medical advances have radically modified the Christian
conception of the afterlife, rendering it metaphorical for many believers. To be
sure, there are still many Christians who regard the Bible as a factual account of
the history of the world from the Creation to the Resurrection. But there are at
least as many for whom it is a largely allegorical work, the spiritual meaning of
which transcends the acts, miraculous and otherwise, that it purports to record.”
I agree that there are many Christians who regard the afterlife as metaphorical. How the
metaphorical view of the hereafter affects life on this planet is another subject. But, as Ali
admits, many Christians still regard the Bible as factual. They take concepts such as
Creation and Resurrection as literal. They believe that we were created by God and that
after death we will be resurrected by God. Hence for many Christians also, since the
hereafter is forever, and the life of this world is temporary, if it comes down to a choice
between the two, the hereafter trumps this life. So, if the problem is that Islam needs a
reformation on this score then some other religions likewise need a reformation on the
Priority to this life fits well with the Atheist philosophy: there is only one life, so eat,
drink, and be merry. The same philosophy can allow people to rape, rob and cheat, for, if
they feel they can get away with it, then they think there is no hereafter to worry about.
They can do all these things in good conscience, since on their view there is no God to
guarantee the reliability of our good conscience. On the other hand, the Muslim character,
shaped by Islam’s concept of the hereafter, and in belief in God, prevents the Muslim
from illicit gain in this life which will cause God’s displeasure and, inevitably, loss in the
This brings us to the most fitting reply to Atheist attacks on religion. Atheism does not
recognize God as the foundation of absolute morality, and hence is in need of another
foundation. If religion needs reformation, Atheism needs an absolute moral foundation,
and Hirsi Ali needs to criticize such a philosophy.
THE TERM ‘REFORMATION’
The term ‘reformation’ in religious discourse refers primarily to the protestant
reformation which began with Martin Luther’s protest against papal authority. In that
sense it is fallacious to say that Islam needs this, since the majority of Muslims subscribe
to nothing comparable to papal authority.
But the term has come to be used more widely in the sense of revisiting religious dogma
in the light of modern knowledge. In this sense, it can apply to Islam. Some people use it
to speak of going back to the original core of the faith. Others, such as Hirsi Ali, use it to
speak of abandoning that original core.
But this is where Hirsi Ali trades on ambiguity, thus falling into one of the standard
logical fallacies in argumentation. She is using the term to abandon the core of Islam
while trying to gain acceptance as a sort of Martin Luther. But Luther was not
abandoning the core of Christianity but only the papacy. He was attempting to recapture
the core of Pauline Christianity.
Take, for example, Luther’s principle of sola scriptura: scripture alone. On this principle,
Christians should follow the Bible alone, and not papal pronouncements. If Hirsi Ali was
a Muslim Luther she would have to call us to the Quran alone. But her first thesis is that
we should criticize the Quran and that we should regard it as “just a book” (p. 235).
When did Luther ever say that we should criticize the Bible and regard it as “just a
Similarly, Hirsi Ali writes:
“Until Islam can do what Judaism and Christianity have done—question, critique,
interpret, and ultimately modernize its holy scripture—it cannot free Muslims
from a host of anachronistic and at times deadly beliefs and practices.” (p. 90)
But I similarly ask, “When did Luther ever modernize Christianity’s holy scripture?”
Thus it becomes clear that Hirsi Ali is incorrect to suggest that she is a Muslim Luther.
Rather, she betrayed the error of her approach when she argued in the same book that
Islam needs a Voltaire and a John Locke (p. 209). Now let’s consider Voltaire, the first of
these two figures. Who was he? According to Owen Chadwick, in his A History of
Christianity, Voltaire loved to make fun of the extraordinary stories in the Old Testament
(p. 237). Do Muslims need a fellow Muslim to make fun of the Quran? But what is more
important to notice is that Voltaire and John Locke were not the spearheads of the
protestant reformation. Rather, they are fathers of the renaissance, the rebirth of learning
after Europe’s dark ages.
It then becomes clear that what Hirsi Ali wants for Islam is not a reformation like the
protestant reformation, but for Islam to adopt the enlightenment ideas of the renaissance.
Hence she has confused the reformation with the renaissance. She writes:
“The Enlightenment, evolution, Einstein: none has modified the overarching
Islamic vision of paradise or hell, nor its centrality in Islamic theology.” (p. 114)
I would argue that Islamic theology does not resist but rather welcomes the positive ideas
of the enlightenment. But no discovered truth in the enlightenment has disproved the
existence of paradise and hell. Hence, from a faith perspective, there is no reason to
abandon these beliefs while embracing the enlightenment. Here Hirsi Ali attributes the
attitudes of some Muslims to Islam itself. But we can hardly credit to Islam everything
that Muslims do. Yet this is a mistake Hirsi Ali makes throughout her book. For example,
when in a Muslim majority nation many women were raped, Hirsi Ali blamed this on
Islam (p. 146). Thus she failed to see that in a case like this the fault is not with the faith,
which forbids rape, but with the rapists for failing to follow the faith.
In sum, then, what Hirsi Ali wants for Islam is not something similar to the protestant
reformation, although she spent many pages of her book asking why Islam could not
follow Christianity and have its own reformation. What she really wants is for Islam to
welcome those enlightenment ideas that are contrary to both Christianity and Islam. She
wants Muslims and, obviously Christians as well, to abandon belief in God and in life
after death. The reformation she is calling for is not a return to the religion’s core, but to
an abandonment of the two concepts which are most central to Islam: belief in God and
belief in the hereafter.
This book becomes important as this calls for Muslims themselves to introspect and arrive at what is best for them.
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