Why ‘Infidel’?

“Who here has read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel?” For the first time in three years, not a single person raised their hand. At book club meetings, church gatherings, women’s groups, and Islamic presentations across this country, countless hands usually shoot up in the air in response to my question. My predominantly non-Muslim American audiences love to embrace Hirsi Ali’s experiences as applicable to Muslim women the world over. Why are they so quick to believe one ex-Muslim woman’s autobiographical tale?
Is it because she denounces Islam as ‘barbaric, backward, and bigoted’ – all traits which resonate with people unfamiliar with Islam?  If people are truly curious about Islam, then why aren’t books by practicing Muslim women flying off the shelves – books like Why I Am A Muslim by Asma Gul Hassan, War on Error by Melody Moezzi, or Living Islam Out Loud by Saleemah Abdul Gafur?

My sneaking suspicion is that people are willing to believe the worst about Islam because they can then justify the public airing of their private intolerance – they are given free rein to voice their misconceptions, smug with complacency that anything they read in print must be true, especially when it’s spreading poisonous hatred about Islam.  This willful ignorance seems particular to the topic of Islam because, funnily enough, books like In the Shadow of the Cross: The True Account of My Childhood Sexual and Ritual Abuse at the Hands of a Roman Catholic Priest by Charles L. Bailey Jr. or Sex, Lies, and Rabbis: Breaking a Sacred Trust by Charlotte Schwab didn’t seem to garner either the public’s interest or the media’s attention. According to Amazon’s Sales Rankings, Bailey’s book, released January 2007, just one month prior to Hirsi Ali’s book, presently comes in at 566,088.  Schwab’s book languishes at 2,173,819 sales rank seven years after publication.  Infidel is ranked 1,386.

I’m troubled by this disconnect.  True, Amazon’s sales rankings certainly aren’t the definitive word on America’s book buying habits, but as a useful barometer of mainstream popularity, I do find these statistics to expose an undercurrent of Islamophobia/Islam Allergy.  In these uncertain times people seem willing to believe the very worst of their neighbors, and are all too eager for propaganda books like Infidel which offer a politically correct outlet for their otherwise concealed bigotry.  Hating Islam outright isn’t socially acceptable (yet), but if it is done in the name of women’s liberation or equal education, one goes from a lowly bigot to a lofty crusader for social change.  This disturbing media trend gives people license to maintain hateful views about other people, all under the convenient guise of justice.

Regardless of the many intelligent, reasonable Muslims who strive in word and deed to prove their essential humanity, the masses seem to be massing, restless to blame the ‘other.’ When the hushed whispers of hatred become a drumbeat across this country, it’ll be too late to turn the tide.  We need to redouble our efforts, whether they be interfaith dialogue, community service, public service, media, the arts, education, sports – speak up to define Islam!  You don’t need to be a religious scholar; after all, Hirsi Ali acknowledges her total ignorance about Islamic principles but her admission didn’t give millions of people pause when they accepted her pronouncements as coming from the voice of an authority.  This article is not an incitement for proselytizing, but rather a plea for us to open our eyes to the damage one woman has single-handedly done to the understanding of Islam.  It’s up to us to painstakingly suture this gaping wound before American Muslims find their wellbeing as citizens of this country irreparably damaged.

As co-author of The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook, my son, Imran, jokes with me that he could have sold ten times the number of books if he had written a book titled Rebellion: One Boy’s Escape From The Tyrannical Clutches of Islam.  Sad…but true.  It is far easier it is to believe the worst about a group when you simply don’t know them.

In case you’re curious about the last presentation – we were speaking to a progressive Jewish reconstructionist group.  It seems one religious minority had no interest in reading the narrow-minded ravings of a person out to slander another religious minority.  Thank you, Kadima – you made my day and gave me hope that there are others out there who are willing to suspend judgment until they’ve actually met a Muslim.

(Photo: Mutasim Billah Pritam)

Dilara Hafiz is the co-author of The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook and the former VP of the Arizona Interfaith Movement.


  • Omer says:

    A major problem for Muslim Americans is that there are many Muslims in the world (many being a relative term) who are committing acts of terror. There are also many Muslim countries, including places considered tolerant like Indonesia and Malaysia, that are practicing what many Westerners see as a very rigid and discriminatory religious legal system.

    These are obvious facts. Of course there is media bias out there, but some of what Muslims consider “bias” is only a reporting of the facts, such as Muslims engaging in violent acts.

    These factors are what I believe cause many Westerners to have a predisposition of being suspicious of Islam and Muslims. Bias is a problem, but the total problem facing Muslims is the fact that there are many Muslims who are committing violent acts of terrorism (for whatever reason).

  • HijabMan says:

    Sorry, point of contention:

    Asma Gul Hassan is just as misinformed, if not more so, than Ayaan Hirsi Ali 🙂

    Her “American Muslims” was so full of errors I can’t begin to even fathom how people take her seriously.  Her appearance on a panel at the United Nations on Tolerance and Islam was also cringe worthy.

  • HijabMan says:

    Also:  I think it is also a matter of creating some sort of sensation.  The best way, in my humble opinion, to get your book out there, Dilara, and others like it is some sort of viral, sensational marketing campaign.  I feel like most people who write happy-shiny-normal books about Muslims haven’t truly mastered that yet… research on google keywords, blogging campaigns, etc.

  • DH says:

    Salaams Hijab Man – I think you missed my point.  I’m not complaining about my sales.

    I was commenting on the appalling success of Hirsi Ali’s book which demonizes Islam – yes, she had substantial Islamophobe/neo-con support, but her basic message is one which most Americans seem to welcome. 

    Muslims who write intelligent, analytical books on Islam don’t make the headlines because their message of ‘normalcy’ doesn’t suit the temper of the times.  Marketing & publicity can depend upon one’s internet-savvy, but it also comes down to telling people what they want to hear…many Americans don’t want to acknowledge Islam’s commonalities w/ Judaism & Christianity.  It’s always easy to hate someone once you’ve demonized them – that’s my point!

  • katseye says:

    Omer, with that logic, the white male should be the most feared species in the planet.

  • Kaz says:

    The obvious point here is that Hirsi Ali sells books because she has the entire neo-conservative establishment supporting her. She gets reviewed by the NY Times, gets on all the necessary talk shows, she shows up in the media for no other reason than her perspective is aligned with powerful forces in the country including the military industrial complex, the conservative christian groups, the Project for a New American Century types and many others.

    if you want to sell copies, you either need to build your own “establishment” or you need to sell out like Hirsi Ali did.

  • HijabMan says:

    Wasalaam, buddy.

    Dehumanize/essentialize a people so they are one-sided monsters and you can hate them.

    I get that that is your point, I’m just saying: We already know that’s happening. 

    And while you may state that you aren’t complaining about your sales, that really is what it comes down to.  Heck, I’m complaining about your sales!  People aren’t hearing about or reading your book, or the countless others by everyday, practicing Muslims. 

    My point is, we need to make humanizing Muslims—- sexy, for lack of a better term 🙂

  • DH says:

    Ha – sexy Muslims…I think there’s already a book titled ‘Burqas & Bikinis’!

  • Adrienne says:

    I fear that no matter how many positive books/articles/blogs are written about Muslims and Islam, the majority of Anti-Islam people will always search for and find the negative. They already believe the negative, they are only searching for confirmation that what they believe is true. They don’t want to learn, they don’t wish to see the other side.

    And to say that many Muslims commit acts of violence is not exactly helpful. Every race/religion/culture/ethnic group has good and bad people. There are many people that commit acts of violence against others.

    People who practice Islam are seemingly solely defined as Muslim. The rest of the world does not see anything past that. Muslims are seen as a homogeneous group of people with no individual characteristics or individual ideology.

  • Flame says:

    Positive thing about islam.. for example what?

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