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Infidel: My Life

Infidel: My Life

Book of the month for October

Review By: Theresa O’Kelly

Infidel: My Life is an intelligent, vivid, highly readable and thoroughly absorbing autobiography. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia, raised as a Muslim and spent her childhood and young adulthood in Ethiopia, Kenya and Saudi Arabia. In 1992 she fled to the Netherlands to escape a forced marriage to a distant cousin she had never met. Soon after she received refugee status and went on to gain a masters degree in political science. Her talks on the violation of women’s rights within the Muslim community and the need for the evolution of the thought patterns behind the Muslim religion brought her into prominence in the political arena. In January 2003 she won a seat in the Dutch parliament. The book closes with her flight to the US to escape the numerous threats to her life.

In this memoir, Ali provides a clear and reasoned exploration of the various ideologies behind the Muslim religion. By the end of the book she has worked her way out from underneath all these ideologies to declare herself an atheist. She no longer believes in any type of God but in the goodness and kindness of the human heart. Also included are detailed childhood memories of life in Africa, and Saudi Arabia and vivid descriptions of female mutilation, war, deprivation, and drastic adaptation to new cultures. The book contains wonderful insights and perceptions about the differences between cultures (Somalian, Saudi Arabian, Kenyan and Dutch) about the clash between traditional ways of living and modernity, about the experience of being a refugee and of growing up Muslim and female in both Muslim and Christian countries. Other issues explored in this work include the apparent failure of the concept of multiculturalism in Dutch society and the necessity for open debate on the manner in which immigrant communities can be truly integrated into their new environments. Ali comes across as an unusually courageous and inspiring individual and reading her story reminds us of the importance of tolerance and empathy in all aspects of life.


All members of the book club agreed that this book reads more like a gripping thriller than an average autobiography. They were delighted with Ali’s detailed and often mockingly humorous descriptions of life in Africa and Saudi Arabia and also the innocence of her first impressions of Dutch society. The insights which she provides on the Muslim faith were very much appreciated. The matter of fact tone of the book was also found to be quite remarkable. Ali seems to feel no anger whatsoever against those who abused, mutilated and wronged her. Instead she depicts these people in a very compassionate and empathic manner. This book is large in scope as it explores a wide range of very topical issues. Ali does not attempt to offer resolutions to all of these issues but she is to be thanked for her honest assessment of very difficult and complex  human situations.