TRYING  TO  LIVE  THE  ISLAMIC  RELIGION (all  black  lettering  is  mine  -  Keith  Hunt)


From  the  book  “Infidel”  by  Ayaan  Hirsi  Ali





CHAPTER 7

Disillusion and Deceit



As soon we came out of the plane in Mogadishu the heat hit us. I loved it. I was so excited that Farah Goure's assistant, who was traveling with us, burst out laughing at me. But I was taken aback by the chaos. The airstrip was a path swept in the sand. Passengers scrabbled and tugged at a huge heap of battered suitcases that were dumped, unceremoniously, under the plane. Outside the airport, a swarm of men descended on us, urging us to ride with them into town. There was no order, no systems in place at all.


It didn't matter; this was just the airport. I was prepared to forgive almost anything from the place where I would at last be at home.


Mogadishu was beautiful at dusk. In those days, the city was not the scabbed, burned-out ruin that it is today, devastated by the violence of the clans. It was gentle and pleasant. As we rode to Maryan Farah's house in a taxi, the streets looked deeply familiar. Downtown, the Italian buildings were stately, and the streets were fine white sand. All the people looked like me. They walked high and tall, the women striding down the street in long patterned dirhas. I fancied that I was truly coming home.


We went to Maryan Farah, my father's first wife, who lived in a big white villa in the Casa Populare neighborhood, right near Tribunka Square. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this: a prosperous, self-confident stepmother with a government job……..



It felt good to belong. This is what the bloodline was: this self-evident feeling of not having to justify your existence or explain anything. We joked around. We had fun. Mahad was always gallant and pleasant, even to Ijaabo. His friend Abshir was dark-skinned and handsome, very polite and civilized, and bright. He was an imam in the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which was rapidly capturing the imagination of young people in the city. 


Abshir was intensely devout. He had put his mind to learning how to be a good Muslim, an example to others. I admired this in him and also that, like me, Abshir sought explanations. Whenever we were alone together we would have deep discussions of religion, in Somali and English, which he had taught himself to speak and read. He was nothing at all like any imam I had ever met.


In Somalia the Muslim Brotherhood was cool. Siad Barre's dictatorship was anticlan and secular. The generation that grew up under his rule wasn't driven so much by clan: they wanted religion. They wanted Islamic law. The Brotherhood was above politics—and clan; it was fighting for God's justice. And it had money. Funds were pouring in from the oil-rich Arab countries to support and promote the pure, true Islam.


By the time I arrived, little congregations had formed all over Mogadishu. People called them the Assalam-Alaikums, the Blessed-be's. That was how they greeted you on the street, in Arabic, which in a Somali context was like someone suddenly spouting liturgical Latin. The most fanatical Brotherhood members, who were usually in their teens and twenties, spoke only to other Brotherhood people, and they attended their own mosques and Quran schools, in houses. They sneered at the big official mosques that older people attended, where the imams reported to the government. A Muslim Brotherhood mosque was a place of inquiry and conspiracy, where people muttered against Siad Barre and shouted doctrine at each other in corners.


As Abshir took Mahad to places like that, Mahad was becoming more of a believer, too. 


I liked Abshir's influence on my brother. As the weeks went by, and we spent almost every evening all together, I found myself telling Abshir about Kenya, about myself He liked me, too, and sought me out. One twilight, as we sat on the verandah at Maryan Farah's house, he said to me, "I wish I could meet a girl like you." I looked up at him and answered, "And I wish I could meet a man like you." He took my hand and very poetically expressed his desire.


After that, our legs and hands seemed often to brush against each other. We happened to find each other alone. We held hands. After a few weeks, I decided to tell Mahad and Haweya that I was having some kind of relationship with Abshir; that way, Mahad could untangle matters with Abshir's older brother.


It made Mahad very angry to have to write a letter to Aden to explain that I would not, in fact, be marrying Abdellahi. I told him he was wrong to have promised such a thing anyway. He yelled at me, only this time, it wasn't the old Mahad, twisting my arm. He lectured me on honor, and the clan, and the impact of my decisions on our kinsmen. Certain decisions, he informed me, were better made by the men of the family.


Ijaabo and the others were also scandalized by my announcement. Many kids had relationships—they kissed and touched in corners—but you weren't supposed to admit it. It was shocking, un-Islamic, un-Somali to fall in love. You were supposed to hide such a thing. Of course, someone would have noticed and gossiped; but you were supposed to wait until the boy's family asked your father, and then you were supposed to cry. I was violating all the codes. Gossip was rampant.


In Mogadishu I felt the tension between the new wave of Brotherhood Islam and those who thought of religion as important but not all-pervading. 


The older generation was bothered by the mixing of the sexes but had learned to accept it, as part of the modern culture of life in the city, the magalo; in fact, some modern older women wore Western skirts, too. And not all young people in Somalia were traditional. Many wanted to fall in love and date just like Westerners. 


But the younger generation was split into two blocs: those who looked to the West for inspiration, and especially entertainment, and those who subscribed to the sermons of men from the Muslim Brotherhood like Boqol Sawm.


On my visits to Arro's campus, where she was studying medicine, I saw crowds of young students strolling on the grounds; beautiful girls dressed in the latest Italian designs actually held hands with their boyfriends. Arro had to pinch me and hiss in my ears not to stare. In Arro's crowd, staring was considered something that only bumpkins from the miye would do, and Arro had been boasting that her sisters had come to visit from abroad. Among her friends, having relatives abroad enhanced your status and proved how worldly your family was.


At the university Ijaabo attended, Lafoole, the students seemed to be divided almost equally between the West and the Muslim Brotherhood, characterized by their choice of dress. Some girls wore Western skirts and high heels; when they passed they left a trail of Dior, Chanel, or Amais Amais, not frankincense. The boys who hung around them had fitted shirts that they tucked into their trousers and drove cars.


The girls in the other group wore the jilbab or were shrouded in the nine-yard-long cloth that my grandmother once wore as guntiino. The boys they associated with wore white robes; if they did wear trousers they never tucked in their shirts, and the trousers, like their robes, stopped short of their ankles. They looked peculiar, with wispy beards and scrawny lower legs, but this was a way of showing how strong you were in your belief. They had as much confidence as the kids in the cool cars……..



Nobody told the "adults" about me and Abshir, and because Mahad, Haweya, Ijaabo, and the rest of the family respected Abshir, they began to leave the two of us alone more often. Abshir and I talked constantly about the Prophet. Abshir thought of himself as a pure, true believer. He persuaded me to get another robe, even thicker than the zippered hidjab I already wore, with material so stiff it showed not one curve of my body. I confessed to him that I found it difficult to keep up the five daily prayers and steer my mind from sinful thoughts.


I was having more and more sinful thoughts. 


When we were alone Abshir would kiss me, and he could really kiss. It was long and gentle and thrilling and therefore sinful. 


Afterward I would tell him how bad I felt in the eyes of Allah, how much that bothered me. And Abshir would say, "If we were married, then it wouldn't be sinful. We must exercise willpower and not do it anymore." So for a day or so we would steel ourselves and refrain, and then the next day we would look at each other and just kiss again. He would say, "I'm too weak. I think of you all day long."


Our attraction was definitely mutual. But it was beginning to seem as if we were taking God for a ride. Abshir would tell me, "We must repent," so we did, and tried to steel ourselves; but then we would kiss again, sometimes even before the next evening's prayer.


From Sister Aziza and from my own reading, I knew that what mattered was not just the act, but the intention. It was not only the kissing that was forbidden—or even breaking your promise to God—it was wanting to break that promise. I enjoyed those kisses, longed for them, thought about them constantly, wanted more. I fought these thoughts, but they seemed uncontrollable. I wanted Abshir; he wanted me. And that was evil.


Ramadan began, the Holy Month of fasting, when everyone must behave in the holiest possible way. Somalia is an entirely Muslim country, and Ramadan is also a month of family togetherness, the great festive event of the year. Mahad came over to see us almost every day; when we heard the call to prayer at twilight, we would all break the day's fast together, with three dates and a glass of water. We would pray three rakhas and then eat out of a big communal dish, laughing, happy, all the young people sitting together around our own dish, separate from the adults.


At 8 p.m., when the call would come for the last prayer of the day, all of us young people walked together to the mosque. Although Abshir was an imam at his own mosque, he sometimes asked a friend to replace him in leading prayers so he could accompany us. 


All the shops were lit; there were people laughing in the street and huge crowds heading to the grand central mosque. 


Inside, the large, carpeted men's area was ornate. The women's area behind it was much less showy—just a white hall with sisal mats—but even so, there was an architectural sense of awe in a space so large, so charged with meaning.


After the evening service, some of the older women would go home, but Ijaabo and I always continued to pray, as did Mahad and his friends. Every night of that Ramadan we prayed the whole Taraweh, the long, optional Ramadan prayer, an intensive stream of chanting and bowing that could go on until eleven o'clock. Tucked in the back, we women didn't face an imam, just a loudspeaker. But the mosque was full: there was a feeling of oneness and union, a huge sense of community from everyone involved in a small space doing just one thing, and doing it voluntarily.


When you pray, you are supposed to feel the force of God and know that you are in His presence. But though I tried hard to open my mind to that force, I never seemed to feel it. To be honest, I prayed because I knew I should, but I never felt very much during prayer, only the discomfort of the grass mat pressing against my feet and the unpleasant odors of some of the bodies around me as the imam droned, monotonously, for hours. I never felt as exalted by prayer as Ijaabo said she did. Ijaabo had a mystical, beatific look on her face during Taraweh. Afterward she would talk about how wonderful it was, how she had seen the light of Allah and felt the presence of the angels, how she had traveled in her mind to a place that resembled Paradise. I never reached a transcendental state; there was no inner light.


One evening, just as Ramadan was ending, we went to see Abshir preaching in his little mosque. It was just a storefront really, in a house in Wardhiigley, a formerly poor neighborhood where people were beginning to build fancy houses. Abshir had a beautiful voice; he had learned the whole Quran by heart, and the way he led prayer was compelling. When he commented on the Quran, he really seemed to understand it.


WOW  LEARNED  THE  WHOLE  QURAN  BY  HEART……IT  IS  VERY  DIFFICULT  TO  READ  AT  TIMES……IT  BLOWS  ME  AWAY  THAT  SOMEONE  COULD  LEARN  IT  ALL  BY  HEART  -  Keith Hunt


Abshir had a following. Although many of them were older than he was, they were still young people, all of them Muslim Brotherhood. The boys wore their sarongs or kaftans short and had wispy beards. The girls, behind a partition, were silent. Standing in that women's room, I heard Abshir preaching, through a loudspeaker. He preached that intimacy before marriage is forbidden. He talked about purity—-purity in deed and thought—and said the remedy for forbidden thoughts is more prayer.


Afterward, he tried to kiss me.


It was Ramadan, which made it triply worse. I was repelled. My reaction was completely physical: my skin crawled. I found I couldn't bear him to touch me any more. There was something creepy about it. I detached myself from Abshir—he saw how shocked I was—and asked him to take us home.


In hindsight I don't think of Abshir as a creep at all. He was just as trapped in a mental cage as I was. Abshir and I and all the other young people who joined the Muslim Brotherhood movement wanted to live as much as possible like our beloved Prophet, but the rules of the last Messenger of Allah were too strict, and their very strictness led us to hypocrisy. At the time, though, I could see only that either Abshir or Islam was thoroughly flawed, and of course I assumed it was Abshir.


I told Mahad I wanted to end things with Abshir. My brother was exasperated with me; he thought I was typically female, incapable of knowing my own mind. I wrote Abshir a letter. He pleaded and begged; it was as if he had lost his mind. He took to hanging out at Maryan's house, lamenting to Ijaabo. The whole family—the whole Osman Mahamud clan—began looking after him.


Most of the family, including the women, explained my sudden change of heart as the result of female indecision. 


They said women were in the grip of invisible forces that played with their minds and made them switch from one extreme mood to another. That was why Allah had ordained that the testimony of two women is equal to that of one man, and also why women should not be allowed to govern or accept public offices, for leadership requires mindful contemplation and judgments reached after careful thought. Women lacked all these by nature. We were flighty and irrational, and it was much better for us if our fathers and other male guardians decided who we should spend the rest of our lives with.


Only Haweya understood me. She liked Abshir, but she hadn't liked seeing the way I was with him: didn't like the robe he had me wearing, and my recent Brotherhood behavior. Somehow in that period she managed to lay her hands on some books and passed them to me. Even the bad ones came as a cool stream to a dry riverbed. They provided me with an escape.


I was loath to admit it to her, but I was disappointed with Somalia. 


I had expected a country where everything made sense to me—a country where I would belong, where I could be accepted, where I could root and discover myself as a person. But even though I loved the heat, the wind, the smells, I didn't fit in. 


There was a sense of belonging in Somalia: I could take for granted who I was, and enjoyed the easy acceptance of my family and clan. But even though Haweya had warned me, I was not prepared for the limitations and the price I had to pay for that sense of belonging. Everyone was involved in everyone else's business. The complete lack of privacy, of individual space, and the social control were suffocating.


Conforming to my allotted role in Somali society—in a clan, in a sub-clan, in Islam—might have brought me peace of mind: a fixed destiny and a secure place in Heaven. I had less trouble with obedience than Haweya did. But still, I wanted more than to marry Abshir and bear his children, a destiny just like my mother's. I wanted a challenge, something daring. I felt, suddenly, that the price of my sense of belonging in Somalia would be my sense of self.


Religion gave me a sense of peace only from its assurance of a life after death. 


It was fairly easy to follow most of the rules: good behavior, politeness, avoiding gossip and pork and usury and alcohol. But I had found that I couldn't follow the deeper rules of Islam that control sexuality and the mind. I didn't want to follow them. I wanted to be someone, to stand on my own. If I stayed in Somalia and married Abshir, I would become a faceless unit. That prospect seized me with a sudden panic. I was in a state of moral confusion—a crisis of faith.


I spoke to Mahad about my doubts and fears, and he comforted me. He said it was all normal, just part of growing up, that the questions, the feelings of confusion, and the sense of moral crisis were part of the transition into adulthood. He said, "Just remain sincere, and you'll see, everything will be fine."


I took to going to the mosque more often in that period as I searched for answers. I began to attend the Friday noon prayers at the central mosque, to listen to the imam's sermons in Somali. Again, though, I found myself having mental debates with him.


You're not supposed to argue with an imam. You are definitely not supposed to argue with the word of Allah. 


Islam is submission.


You submit, on earth, in order to earn your place in Heaven. 


IT  IS  BY  THE  VERY  WORDS  OF  THE  QURAN,  A  SAVING  FAITH  TO  HEAVEN  BY  WORKS  -  GOOD  DEEDS  -  AND  SUBMITTING  TO  ALLAH  - Keith Hunt


Life on earth is a test and I was failing it, even though I was trying as hard as I knew how to. I was failing as a Muslim. 


When I prayed, I felt that the angel on my left shoulder was growing weary of writing down all my sins. I imagined arriving in Heaven with a slim book of good deeds and a volume of sins as vast as the unabridged Oxford Dictionary. 


A  SALVATION  INDEED  BY  WORKS;  THERE  IS  NO  SAVIOR  FOR  SINS  IN  ISLAM;  THE  WAY  TO  HEAVEN  IS  GOOD  WORKS  AND  SUBMITTING  TO  ALLAH  -  Keith Hunt


I wanted to feel a renewed sense of being a Muslim, a sense of the meaning of Allah. But I felt nothing. I told myself it meant that Allah didn't want me. I wasn't worthy…………


ONE  OF  THE  HUGE  DIFFERENCES  BETWEEN  THE  CHRISTIAN  RELIGION  AND  ISLAM,  IS  THE  QUESTION  OF  “SAVIOR”  -  THE  ISLAMIC  FAITH  JUST  DOES  NOT  HAVE  A  SAVIOR  THAT  DIED  FOR  YOUR  SINS,  AND  THE  SINS  OF  EVERYONE.  HENCE  GETTING  TO  HEAVEN  HAS  TO  BE  A  “SUBMITTING  TO  ALLAH” [WHATEVER  THAT  MAY  MEAN]  AND  “WORKS”  -  DOING  GOOD  DEEDS  IN  LIFE.  AND  TO  FEEL  THAT  YOUR  SINS  OUT  NUMBER  GOOD  DEEDS,  WOULD  SURELY  MAKE  YOU  FEEL  HOPELESSNESS  AND  DEJECTED,  WITH  REGULAR  DEPRESSION  NOT  TOO  FAR  AROUND  THE  CORNER.


ISLAM  IS  A  RELIGION  OF  SATAN  THE  DEVIL.  MUHAMMAD  MAY  HAVE  GOTTEN  VISIONS  AND  WHATEVER,  BUT  IT  IS  WRITTEN  IN  THE  CHRISTIAN  BIBLE,  THAT  EVEN  SATAN  CAN  COME  AS  AN  ANGEL  OF  LIGHT,  MAKING  OUT  HE’S  FROM  THE  GOD  IN  HEAVEN.


ISLAM  HAS  AN  OUTWARD  SHOW  OF  “RELIGION”  IN  ITS  “RITES”  THAT  PEOPLE  PRACTICE  ACCORDING  TO  THE  CLOCK  ON  THE  WALL,  OR  THE  SUN  IN  THE  SKY,  BUT  IT  IS  ALL  IN  VAIN.  ISLAM  REJECTS  THE  CHRISTIAN  BIBLE  AS  INSPIRED,  AND  REJECTS  THAT  JESUS  THE  CHRIST  WAS  GOD,  CAME  FROM  GOD,  IS  THE  SAVIOR  WHO  DIED  FOR  ALL  SINS;  WAS  RAISED  AGAIN  FROM  THE  DEAD  AND  SITS  AT  THE  FATHER’S  RIGHT  HAND  TODAY;  WAITING  FOR  THE  WORD  FROM  THE  FATHER,  AS  TO  WHEN  HE  IS  TO  RETURN  TO  EARTH  AND  RULE  ALL  NATIONS  FOR  1,000  YEARS,  IN  THE  AGE  THAT  IS  YET  TO  COME.


Keith  Hunt