A Muslim Woman, Her Leadership and Its Costs

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 28, 2007 | Go to article overview

A Muslim Woman, Her Leadership and Its Costs


Byline: Sol Schindler, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

How does a pious young Muslim girl who loves and obeys her parents turn into a T-shirt-blue-jeans-wearing vocal feminist? Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was that young girl, has written about the process in a book called "Infidel," a term some Muslims have used to describe her.

Ayaan was the daughter of a proud, strong woman who divorced and later married the man of her choice, the charismatic Hirsi Magan. He had just returned from the United States with a degree from Columbia in anthropology, and was putting his considerable talent and energy into making a new, democratic Somalia. Thus when Siad Barre led a coup and became dictator, Mr. Magan was outraged and began working against him. In time he was arrested and thrown into prison, leaving his wife and three small children in care of her mother.

When Ayaan was five, with her father in prison and her mother traveling, her grandmother, very much a traditionalist, decided it was time for the children to be circumcised. Male circumcision is mandatory in Islam, but female circumcision, though practiced in several Muslim countries, is not and is unknown in the larger Muslim countries of Central and South Asia.

Mr. Magan being what was known as a liberal in those days was against it, but he was in prison. The grandmother, daughter of a nomad, believed in djins, evil spirits and demons, and felt it was time to make her grandchildren pure. Female circumcision consists of the excision of the clitoris and inner labia, with the outer labia being sewn together with a small opening for urination, a very bloody and painful operation that became etched in the memory of the small child.

In time Mr. Magan was able to escape from prison with the help of a friendly official (later executed for his act of friendship) and took refuge in Ethiopia. From there he flew to Saudi Arabia where his family could join him.

Mr. Magan secured employment and the family for once had ample funds, but again happiness was elusive. He was discontent because the Saudis constrained all political activity although he persisted in secrecy; the mother could not go anywhere without a male escort, inhibiting mobility; while the author resented being called aswad abda, black slave girl, by her Arab teachers. These problems ended when the family was given 24 hours to leave the country and they took refuge in Ethiopia, and later Kenya.

In Nairobi, Ayaan matured with the usual teenage problems, but the pivotal point in her life was when her father selected the man to be her husband. Osman Moussa had come all the way from Canada to find a traditional Somali spouse, because the Somali girls in Canada were according to him loose and immoral.

He was not bad looking and had lots of money. Everyone considered him a marvelous catch, except for the author who found him "an idiot, dull, trite, and a bigot." She expressed her misgivings to her father but these were waved aside. She had no easy way out and decided to go through with the ceremony which had already been arranged.

But when it came time for her to join Osman in Canada, who was waiting for her while she secured a visa, she planned simply to disappear. She spoke English, which she had learned in Kenya, and had a certificate from a secretarial school which she felt would enable her to gain employment. She felt England would be the best place for her to go. …

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