Two great women

9 06 2016

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Recently I have been thinking about religion. The catalyst was the latest book by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the incredibly brave, eloquent and forthright critic of Islam. I first became a fan after reading “Infidel”, in awe not only of her tumultuous life story as a Somali girl-turned Muslim fanatic, refugee runaway bride, Dutch MP and finally leading intellectual, but her electrifying honesty.

In “Heretic” she argues for the urgent need of the Muslim world to reform Islam, and crucially, for Western liberals to stop acting as apologists for the ideology. She argues, very persuasively, that when well-meaning Westerners call Islam a “religion of peace” or seek to distance terrorism from “mainstream Islam” they in fact misunderstand the true nature of the religion and shield Muslims from the painful self-examination which is exactly what they need. She calls for Muslims to face up to the violence of the concept of “jihad” and rescind rampant and entrenched discrimination against minorities of all kinds: atheists, Christians and gays, as well as women. And to she asks for Westerners to offer their support to those Muslims who, against all odds, have embarked on the dangerous mission of re-imagining Islam.

At the other end of Africa from Hirsi’s native Somalia, another woman was also initiating a conversation about human rights and religion. Mpho Tutu, the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town has left her role as a minister to marry her (white, atheist) girlfriend.

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It was bittersweet to think that she should have to forfeit her role in the church, but amazing to think of how much has changed for the better under the institution of democratic rule in South Africa ( a female priest! A proud gay African woman! A black-white couple in Capetown! A loving and respectful Christian-atheist couple!)  Could such transformations also be possible, one day, for Hirsi’s Africa (and the Muslim world beyond?)





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