97. ‘Infidel’ by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

This was a deeply moving read. The author grew up in Somalia in practically medieval circumstances, a Muslim girl child subjected to female circumcision like so many others, living a life dominated by submissiveness as a female. One particularly moving account early on the book describes her grandmother, a village girl bride, delivering her twin baby girls by herself while out herding the goats and walking home afterwards. She was about 18, and they were her third and fourth children. No one was impressed – after all, they were only girls. One of them would walk out of the desert fifteen years later, and find work in Aden, housekeeping for a British family – this was the author’s mother, and her action proved to be one of the circumstances that changed Ayaan’s life.

The book is almost two books in one – on one level, the memoirs of an extraordinary woman, and on another, Ayaan’s journey of self discovery, her attempts to find the joy she was promised in submitting to her religion, and her eventual total rejection of it. She survived civil wars, forced migrations, life in four different countries under dictatorships, eventually fleeing from an arranged marriage and claiming refugee status in The Netherlands, where she became a Member of Parliament and has fought since for the human rights of Muslim women in particular.

Understandably, given her narrative, Ayaan is no holds barred scathing about Islam. She paints a vivid picture of a little girl being terrorised by threats of hell, considered stupid and virtually worthless, and enduring regular sanctioned beatings and humiliations. Her stance after she fled led to her estrangement from her family, and, after making a film with a Dutch filmmaker who was then shot by Islamic reactionaries, facing death threats herself. This book was written by a brave woman, and I recommend it.

Interestingly, my only personal experience of living in a Muslim society was in Indonesia, where I taught for a year, and worked with mostly women, all of them Muslim – and it certainly felt like an entirely different society to that described by Ayaan. I’m given to understand that the interpretation of Koranic law varies from state to state – and this certainly appears feasible, both reflecting on my time in Surabaya, and in the next two books I read, by a Palestinian female author, which I’ll be reviewing very soon for you.

This book however is well worth a read; apart from anything else, it gives a deeply moving insight into a life so far from the world I, for example, grew up in. Uncounted numbers of people have suffered horribly in the civil wars in East Africa – the famines, the lack of even basic education or medical care, compounded by the yoke of religion – and many have become refugees or migrant workers, leaving their family and homeland far behind. It’s a strange world we live in. And I was left feeling incredibly grateful for my own life.

As always, I’d love to find a new home for this book, so please get in touch, either here or on the Facebook or Instagram pages – happy to send this anywhere in the world!