Muslims who explore sources of morality other than Islam are threatened with death, and Muslim women who escape the virgins' cage are branded whores. So asserts Ayaan Hirsi Ali's profound meditation on Islam and the role of women, the rights of the individual, the roots of fanaticism, and Western policies toward Islamic countries and immigrant communities. Hard-hitting, outspoken, and controversial, The Caged Virgin is a call to arms for the emancipation of women from a brutal religious and cultural oppression and from an outdated cult of virginity. It is a defiant call for clear thinking and for an Islamic Enlightenment. But it is also the courageous story of how Hirsi Ali herself fought back against everyone who tried to force her to submit to a traditional Muslim woman's life and how she became a voice of reform.
Born in Somalia and raised Muslim, but outraged by her religion's hostility toward women, Hirsi Ali escaped an arranged marriage to a distant relative and fled to the Netherlands. There, she learned Dutch, worked as an interpreter in abortion clinics and shelters for battered women, earned a college degree, and started a career in politics as a Dutch parliamentarian. In November 2004, the violent murder on an Amsterdam street of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, with whom Hirsi Ali had written a film about women and Islam called Submission, changed her life. Threatened by the same group that slew van Gogh, Hirsi Ali now has round-the-clock protection, but has not allowed these circumstances to compromise her fierce criticism of the treatment of Muslim women, of Islamic governments' attempts to silence any questioning of their traditions, and of Western governments' blind tolerance of practices such as genital mutilation and forced marriages of female minors occurring in their countries.
Hirsi Ali relates her experiences as a Muslim woman so that oppressed Muslim women can take heart and seek their own liberation. Drawing on her love of reason and the Enlightenment philosophers on whose principles democracy was founded, she presents her firsthand knowledge of the Islamic worldview and advises Westerners how best to address the great divide that currently exists between the West and Islamic nations and between Muslim immigrants and their adopted countries.
An international bestseller -- with updated information for American readers and two new essays added for this edition -- The Caged Virgin is a compelling, courageous, eye-opening work.
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May 01, 2006
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Excerpt from The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Breaking Through the Islamic Curtain
The attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, prompted the West to launch a massive appeal to Muslims around the world to reflect on their religion and culture. American President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and numerous other leaders in the West asked Muslim organizations in their countries to distance themselves from Islam as preached by these nineteen terrorists. This plea was met with indignation from Muslims who thought it was inappropriate to hold them responsible for the criminal conduct of nineteen young men. Yet the fact that the people who committed the attacks on September 11 were Muslims, and the fact that before this date Muslims in many parts of the world were already harboring feelings of immense resentment toward the United States in particular, have urged me to investigate whether the roots of evil can be traced to the faith I grew up with: was the aggression, the hatred inherent in Islam itself?
My parents brought me up to be a Muslim -- a good Muslim. Islam dominated the lives of our family and relations down to the smallest detail. It was our ideology, our political conviction, our moral standard, our law, and our identity. We were first and foremost Muslim and only then Somali. Muslims, as we were taught the meaning of the name, are people who submit themselves to Allah's will, which is found in the Koran and the Hadith, a collection of sayings ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad. I was taught that Islam sets us apart from the rest of the world, the world of non-Muslims. We Muslims are chosen by God. They, the others, the kaffirs, the unbelievers, are antisocial, impure, barbaric, not circumcised, immoral, unscrupulous, and above all, obscene; they have no respect for women; their girls and women are whores; many of the men are homosexual; men and women have sex without being married. The unfaithful are cursed, and God will punish them most atrociously in the hereafter.
When my sister and I were small, we would occasionally make remarks about nice people who were not Muslim, but my mother and grandmother would always say, "No, they are not good people. They know about the Koran and the Prophet and Allah, and yet they haven't come to see that the only thing a person can be is Muslim. They are blind. If they were such nice and good people, they would have become Muslims and then Allah would protect them against evil. But it is up to them. If they become Muslims, they will go to paradise."
There are also Christians and Jews who raise their children in the belief that they are God's chosen people, but among Muslims the feeling that God has granted them special salvation goes further.
About twelve years ago, at age twenty-two, I arrived in Western Europe, on the run from an arranged marriage. I soon learned that God and His truth had been humanized here. For Muslims life on earth is merely a transitory stage before the hereafter; but here people are also allowed to invest in their lives as mortals. What is more, hell seems no longer to exist, and God is a god of love rather than a cruel ruler who metes out punishments. I began to take a more critical look at my faith and discovered three important elements of Islam that had not particularly struck me before.