Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Call for An Islamic Reformation

It is contended that Hirsi Ali’s suggestion would threaten to unravel important tenets of Islamic doctrine.

When an adolescent at school gleefully told me that the tooth fairy was not the one generously enriching my piggybank, and that it had to be one of my parents leaving the treasured coins under my pillow, I was shocked, even scandalized. I grew out of that childish belief though, only to discover that more of the world is not what it appears to be. This included personal ideas about life and death, poverty and disease, and Karma. These ponderous questions weighed on my mind, forcing me to reevaluate things I had always assumed to be indubitable.

It is difficult to grow out of beliefs that have been engrained in an individual since childhood, particularly religious dogma. But when that individual does manage to grow out of them, it is simultaneously liberating and enlightening.

So, in the spirit of a truly liberated soul, Somali-born author and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her latest book, “Heretic: Why Islam Needs A reformation Now,” proposes five amendments to reform Islamic doctrine. These amendments are:

  1. Remove Sharia law.
  2. Remove the notion of a Muslim enforcing his ideas of right/wrong on others.
  3. Remove an obsession with the afterlife over the current one.
  4. Remove the idea of Jihad (holy war).
  5. Finally, remove the infallibility of Muhammad which is the Quran’s literal interpretation.

While the first four amendments with some persistent nudging, may get tepid consideration by ultra-moderate Muslims, the last amendment is unlikely to be entertained by even the most liberal Muslims. It is contended that Hirsi Ali’s suggestion would threaten to unravel important tenets of Islamic doctrine; all the more reason for frank argumentation from both sides of the fence with regard to the last amendment.

Apologists and cultural relativists all too readily produce a panoply of justifications for Islamist inspired conflagrations across the globe, and have assiduously sought to shield the faith from any kind of intellectual challenge and critique. This lack of rigorous questioning of core doctrine has rigidified into a set of misogynistic and unyielding dos and don’ts. Islamic countries are able to erect a shield of infallibility around the faith by promulgating blasphemy laws, and liberal democracies are able to accomplish this by enacting anti-hate speech laws.

It is this shield of political correctness surrounding Islamic doctrine that Hirsi Ali proposes to pierce. But Hirsi Ali’s proposition is far from revolutionary. Other belief systems have gone through similar reformations in the past, and continue to grapple with emerging scientific innovations.

Beginning in the 17th century, Christianity went through a reformation that forced it to commence a laborious but gradual reconciliation with modernity and ideas born out of science and logic. This encouraged the faithful to reexamine their beliefs with greater scrutiny. Today, as Dr. Koenraad Elst, a historian and scholar of repute, asserts that many formerly devout Christians in Europe have left the Church and its teachings. This mass exodus was made possible due to an unforgiving combing of scripture and attempting to compare it to reason.

christianStill, many have chosen to remain Christian. But the crux is that at present, people have the liberty in predominantly Christian countries to choose whether they wish to remain believers. The choice is theirs. An ex-Christian will not face beheading or any sort of painful consequence for renouncing the Church and Jesus Christ. There are countless Christian versions of Hirsi Ali in the West, and they are not threatened with dire consequences by a lunatic Christian fringe, but boldly assert themselves.

Hindu Dharma on the other hand, needed no prodding, no great catastrophe to exhort an atmosphere favorable to reason. Questioning practices and beliefs, and conducting debates on sacred philosophy, has been fundamentally engrained in Hinduism throughout the ages. The lively debate between Gargi and Rishi Yajnavalkya is a Vedic example of Hinduism’s openness to the world of new and challenging ideas. A woman in those ancient times could pose questions to a learned sage. Moreover, the Lokayata (atheist) philosophy is another example where Hinduism made room for new schools of thought.

It is now Islam’s turn to embrace logic, and walk down the isle of reason. Many Muslims may find the idea of questioning the sanctity of their beliefs repugnant. But this persistent needling of the core beliefs, will lead many to liberation from a straight jacketed ideology. Persistent questioning and open interpretation of Quranic texts may prompt some to leave Islam forever. Still others will be enraged and resort to bloodshed. But the violent elements would no longer be able to claim infallibility of their prophet, and will have to accept that Islam is just another belief system. Thus, removal of mental shackles will far outweigh any negative fallout, and in the long-run, Muslims will be grateful for reform.

From infancy, to childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood, and eventually into old age, our evolution as individuals blessed with the gift to formulate seemingly unanswerable questions never dries up. Our curiosity leads us to discover and seek evermore complex answers to life’s riddles.

If I still believed in the beneficent tooth fairy, I would be stuck in a time warp of futility. Similarly, holding onto beliefs that clash with reason and ideas of coexistence could prove pernicious for not only the individuals insisting on practicing those antiquated ideals, but threaten the unbelievers around them as well. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, contrary to her critics, is not anti-Islam in her latest pronouncement, but is proffering a long-term solution that will inevitably bring Muslims a sense of dignity.

adity@ifrc.co.in'
Adity Sharma is a student at St. John’s University School of Law in New York. She has previously written for Vijayvaani, Chakranews, and Beliefnet.
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  • LondonLynne

    I think Ayaan would prefer an atheist world but that can’t happen over night, hence the suggestion to reform Islam. Ayaan discovered many people need religion. At one time she suggested Muslims could join a calmer religion where they can question their GOD and not feel the need to chop heads off for doing so. However, Muslims must evolve their own way.

    It doesn’t help that people in UK with religious belief are still granted more respectability than atheists. Some adoption services insist on religion being a part of adoption family ‘attributes’. The royals have to be seen attending religious services. Un-elected religious bods are in our parliament. How can UK atheists expect Muslims to drop ‘faith’ when UK Christians have so much difficulty doing so – and in many cases are even rewarded for their beliefs.

  • Dr. MS

    I have a lot of respect for Ms Hirsi Ali. She is a smart daring woman…and the world needs more like her. But that woman faces death threats everyday, and she had to leave several countries because of those threats…that were real and dangerous.

    I also find some of her suggestions impractical. How does one remove Sharia Law from Islam? It is the core of Islam and very important part of the learning, knowing and practice of the Koran. I asked several Muslim friends if this was possible. They all laughed and said “No”. If Sharia law goes so does the the very essence of Islam for millions of Muslims. Even the Shia practices or beliefs are unacceptable to the Sunnis.

    Best wishes to her…and a good article. (Better than the one on Ayyaa. :)) ).

  • Saturnsson

    With due respect to Adityji or even Ayaan Hirsi Ali I dont think ISLAM will change.Too many people who are powerful within the Islamic World have radical views and as long as the Saudis have their Oil Money Terrorism,Killings,Rapes & Genocides will continue.Konerad Elst keeps saying that Muslims are not bad its ISLAM which is the problem and I think we Hindus cant be naive about Muslims wanting to make the changes suggested here in Islam.Eventually I fear that we Hindus might have to fight a bloody war whether we like it or not and mentally we must be prepared in the meantime there is nothing wrong in trying to or wanting to change Islam’s radical views but in the back of the mind should never forget that the war is inevitable.

    • guest

      I have thought of the same, and fear that it will mean bloodshed. There should be other ways, peace will only happen if the moderate muslims wake up and take a stance.

    • Abyss

      I’m not sure about the war but I concur about the reforms (or rather, absence of them) in Islam.

    • Sree Charan R

      But, the Zionist influence on the current Islamic politics and violence is one serious issue that is,more often than not, ignored woefully!!
      Islam definitely has many opportunities to reform;and I believe it is not a particular faith, but the whole of modern human thinking needs a major reform…..
      And, HOPE is the dangerous four letter word that everybody dreams about,but the saddest part of the story is–it is just a dream……