Ayaan Hirsi Ali leaves the Islam religion and writes to her dead Grandmother.
From the book NOMAD by Ayaan Ali
I do not wail for your passing. You were ready to go. Ma said you kept asking your forefathers to take you. Your legs refused to carry you. Your joints jammed. When straight, they hurt you to bend them; when bent and curled for a few minutes, they refused to straighten.
They creaked with effort. Your side ached from sitting and from lying down. Your skin creased into folds hard to clean; the sweat collected in them and you itched. Your long, thin, and lovely fingers curled inward into stiff and crooked branches. You scratched the itch in your side with them, but the nails cut you instead. Your ears refused to serve you any longer; your eyes wouldn't see anymore. Your daughters and granddaughters comforted you as best they could, but they could not ease the pain of old age.
I do not wail for your passing, but I am filled with a sense of guilt: I wish I too had been there for you. You held me in my childhood when I was in pain; you whispered words of consolation in my ears as I was shaken by the fevers that attack a body so young it doesn't know how to defend itself. You called in the help of your forefathers on my behalf; you chided me not to give in; you took me to the witch doctor, who took your money and your sheep and burned wounds in my chest with a long blacksmith's nail he held with tongs. That hurt me more than the fever, Grandmother, and I still have the scars. They are spurred me to fight the demons in my blood and recover.
I am sorry, Grandmother, that I was not there in your old age as you were there in my childhood. I would have summoned the spirits of my new world. Here, they have salves to cleanse and soothe the itch in folded skin; they have hearing aids; they have walking sticks on wheels to help you roll smoothly along the road. They have all these props and more, and painkillers. I am sorry, Grandmother, for abandoning you when I could have been a source of comfort in your old age I have lived with the infidels for almost two decades. I have come to learn, appreciate, and adopt their way of life. I know that this would make you sad. Before he died Father tried to convince me to change my mind, and Ma does the same every time I speak to her on the phone. I think, at first, you would do the same as my parents, and tell me to respect the traditions of our fathers and forefathers. But I have this odd feeling that you, Grandma, would come to see my point of view. Still, I do not wail for your passing.
Gone with you are the rigid rules of custom - "Repeat after me: I am Ayaan, the daughter of Hirsi, who is the son of Magan, who is the son of Guleid.” Gone with you is that bloodline, for better or for worse, and gone is the idiot tradition that meant you cherished mares and she-camels more than your daughters and granddaughters.
When a boy was born into the family you rejoiced. Your eyes twinkled, you smiled, and with a burst of energy you would weave impossible numbers of grass mats to give away as gifts. As you wove you would tell us your warrior legends—about courage, resistance conquest, and sharaf, sharaf, sharaf. Honor, honor, honor.
When we heard news of the birth of a girl in the family you clicked and pouted and sometimes sulked for days. Squatting under the talal tree in Mogadishu, on the huge straw mat, you wove, your fingers orange with henna, working away with your muda needle. You would chase us away and speak of ominous events. Then, when you had been quiet for days, you would tell us endless tragedies of the misfortunes that befall a family of too many girls—gossip, betrayal, bastard children, and a'yb, a’yb, a’yb - Shame, shame, shame.
You squinted and clenched your teeth as you wove the grasses tightly into mats and bowls, cursing if ever the pattern was even remotely wrong. Grandma, you were so diligent and you preached the same diligence to us. "Here, girl, sweep this dust. Shake the mats. Go milk the goats. Light the fire. Fetch more water. Clean the meat, chop and cook it. Pick the rice.” I hear your endless orders still, today. You taught us to memorize our father's bloodline instead of the ABCs. You will be sad, very sad, to learn that Abeh is dead and there is only one son, my brother Mahad, to carry on the bloodline. And although Mahad is over forty he has only one child, Jacob, who was born two weeks before Haweya died, almost eleven years ago.
Jacob cannot be taught his culture by his elders, because the lessons they will try to teach him are no longer valid in the time and place in which he lives. Those lessons will seem even more fragmented and nonsensical to him than they did, long ago, to me.
I am far away from the shade of the talal tree now. Like hordes and hordes of our relatives and fellow Muslims, I have settled, forever, in the land of the infidels.
I find it hard—as I always did—to explain to you what countries are. I remember putting my school atlas on your lap in Nairobi when we came to live in Kariokor. You were deriding Haweya and me about getting too close to our Kenyan schoolmates; you called them slaves. I told you that we need to respect people in whose country we live. You were puzzled by this word country, just like you were puzzled by the idea of a country called Somalia. You asked how the proud sons of the great clans, Isaq and Darod, could accept some invisible line that they were not allowed to cross. You pushed the atlas off your lap and said that, through tricks and magic illusions like these pictures, the infidel convinced people who belonged apart to accept silly fences and imaginary borders. You insisted that we remain loyal first and foremost to God and the bloodline.
Grandma, countries do exist. But your instinct about the disunity of the proud sons of Darod and Isaq was right. There is no Somalia. We are famous now for lawlessness and vicious violence; we are known as bandits of the sea and for our religious zeal, our will to kill and die for nothing.
Everywhere today Muslims live in trying circumstances. Most Muslim countries are ruled by violence and threat; they fail to produce goods and minds of quality. There is no union in such countries, no sense of making a better future.
But in the Qurbe, the lands of the white infidels, life is different. Here, flags represent real union. You taught me to admire strength, to learn and to keep an eye open for strategies of survival that work. Grandmother, the infidels' strategies for survival work better than ours.
Remember how the milk ladies in Mogadishu would crouch for hours, tugging and pulling and squeezing between the legs of those grouchy cows to get as much milk as they could? How I wish you were with me the day I visited the farm in Holland where Ellen, my first Dutch friend, grew up. Her family had fewer cows than the Hawiye milk maids, but they were much fatter and more patient. When it came time for them to be milked, Ellen's brother unhooked thin tubes, like the ones we used when we ran water from the storage barrel to our bucket. He attached them to the udders of the fat cows while they grazed on hay. Then he turned on an electrical switch, like the one we used to turn on the lights in Saudi Arabia. And to my amazement and wonder the tubes sucked and transferred the sweet milk from their swollen udders to the empty pails. Within the hour Ellen's brother had more milk than all the women in the markets of Hodan and Hawlwadag.
The wonders of the infidel are not limited to the milking of cows. I see firsthand their way of life and think that if you had had the chance, like me, you would have been glad to witness it and grateful to learn a few of their tricks to keep you alive.
The secret of a Dutchman's success is his ability to adapt, to invent. The Dutchman's approach to solving problems encourages him to bend nature to his wish rather than the other way around. In our value system, Grandma, like the thorn trees, like the baobabs, like dawn and dusk, we are all set firmly as who or what we are. We bow to a God who says we must not change a thing; it is he who has chosen it. When our people wandered through the desert from oasis to oasis, we did not create permanent wet spaces, we didn't bend rivers and lakes to our will or dig deep into the earth for wells.
Grandmother, do you remember when you traveled from Sool, in the Dhulbahante lands, across the sea, to Yemen? You must have walked several days to the road, wondering what you would find there. Perhaps you paid a man with a cart or a truck to take you across the desert to the port of Berbera. Then you crossed the sea on a small boat. You voyaged in a time machine. You sat in a magic boat that carried you to a different era. You did not realize it, but you had sailed, all at once, hundreds of years into the future.
You were not alone in this adventure. Thousands of others also moved from their huts built in the shade of thorn trees, from their springs, wells, and oases and the routines of millennia, from their kith and kin, from their gods, their spirits, their narrative of what life is, what to look forward to, and what pitfalls to avoid. Thousands from all corners of the world made the same sudden leap into the future.
But even if you had done nothing and stayed in your hut made of thorns, even if you had lived all your life dismantling the hut, loading it on the back of patient camels, traveling in a caravan to the next green pasture with your husband and children, and their children, and the wives and children of your husband's kith and kin—even so, modern life would have come to you. In the shape of bullets and bricks, decrees, men in uniform—it reaches into every part of the world.
Grandmother, I have compared the infidels' morals to those that you taught us, and I must report that they have, in practice, a better outcome for humans than the morals of your forefathers.
You taught us the virtues of suspicion and distrust, and Islam taught us to survive by taqqiyah, pretending to be something you are not. You were fierce to me when Mahad threw me into a latrine pit full of excrement, because in your eyes, trust, even of my brother, was equal to stupidity. "Be wary" was your motto. But wariness leads to weariness. It is exhausting never to let down your guard in case someone takes advantage of you. It means you cannot truly collaborate with anyone, and you cannot risk public error for fear of shame.
The infidel insists on honesty and trust. Everywhere you turn here, you must trust someone: to fly the airplane you travel in, to teach your child, to take care of you when you are sick and feed you food that is edible. And everywhere your trust is borne out.
The infidel does not see life as a test, a passage to the hereafter, but as an end and a joy in itself. All his resources of money, mind, and organization go into making life here, on Earth, comfortable and healthy. He is obsessed with cleanliness, a good diet, and the right amount of rest. He is loyal to his wife and children; he may take care of his parents but has no use for a memory filled with an endless chain of ancestors. All the seeds of his toil are spent on his own offspring, not those of his brothers or uncles. He shows special love, generosity, and compassion to people he chooses to befriend, on the basis of common interests rather than the dictates of blood relations.
Because the infidel trusts and studies new ideas, there is abundance in the infidel lands. In these circumstances of peace, knowledge, and predictability, the birth of a girl is just fine. There is no need to pout and sulk and every reason to celebrate and rejoice. The little girl sits right next to the little boy in school; she gets to play as much as he does; she gets to eat as much as he does; she gets the same care in illness as he does; and when she matures she gets the same opportunity to seek and find a mate as he does.
Grandma, I know this will shock and offend you when you first hear it, but when you calm down and think about it with a cool head, you will understand that there is no need to groom one child to obey and be a slave to the other child when they reach adulthood. And there is no need to cut and sew a girl's genitals to preserve her for a man who will purchase the right to her body.
The infidel praises frugality, just as you did, but here the display of wealth is everywhere considered important, so much so that they have classes of people divided according to their wealth or lack of it. They are also divided along ideas and ideology. These divisions—for man shall always live to dispute—are more practical than the false promise of brotherhood in the name of a shared great-great-grandfather. Organized around real and practical common interests, the association is more genuine and forthright than the pretense of unity between men just because they can recite their lineage to a common ancestor. Do you remember Farah Goure, the clansman who took care of us in Nairobi? He worked, earned, invested, and saw his wealth grow, but in the name of your morals he had to share, to give away his wealth to the family of the man who never bothered to leave his bed, the man who chose not to work, the man who abandoned his wife and children. They all fed off Farah Goure until he was squeezed dry. This is now happening to your favorite grandson, Hassan, who lives in America, the country where Abeh went to university, before he met Ma.
Abeh is dead now, and so are you, and I do not wail for you, or for the passing of your world. You recited old poems and tried to make me memorize them. I did not. I failed you and the next generation. I did not learn them by heart; I did not write them down. Now you are gone, and all those poems of adversity and triumph, of longing and love, of fear and valor, pride and humiliation, generosity and pettiness—they are gone with you. The parables of intrigue and old wisdom were buried with you when you were laid in a hole in the sand. I wail for that loss of memory, but in this new world those poems no longer have the power to sustain us. The Somali clans are now adrift on a violent sea of uncertainty whose waves bring sudden, sweeping changes, and we have no props, or tools, or boats for support. The bloodline is tired and impotent; adhering to it leads only to violence. It is no strategy for unity and progress.
Your children and grandchildren are left without foundations or guidance. Take Ladan. You were always full of contempt for her because of what you saw as her waywardness, her attraction to the music and entertainment of the infidel. She is in Britain now, and the people who once felt sorry for her and gave her food, shelter, and alms are now also full of contempt for her. She cannot meet your standards, nor can she meet those of the infidel. She feels a part of the clan, but it means nothing to her. She is lost.
Salvation lies in the ways of the infidel, Grandmother. He has printed and bound books full of memory. He peeks through lenses that allow him to see an invisible world of creatures that live in us and with us, and he has sought and found remedies that attack them and defend our bodies. Grandma, fevers and diseases are not caused by jinn and forefathers rising from the dead to torment us, or by an angry God, but by invisible creatures with names like parasites and bacteria and viruses. The infidels medicine works better than ours, because it is based on facts, inquiry, and real knowledge.
The sooner we adopt the infidel attitude toward work, money, procreation, and leisure, the easier and better life will be. I know your thoughts on the easy life: too much ease leads to a loss of discipline and moral muscle. You passionately condemned even the washing machine. If machines washed our clothes and dishes, you seethed, young girls and women would find themselves with too much time on their hands. We would be tempted into all sorts of mischief and risk becoming whores.
In a way you were right about washing machines, and in a way you were wrong. The best medicine against decadence is to focus on goals. You might add prayer too, but I don't know if that helps anything at all. Since I came to the lands of the infidel, where machines wash our clothes and dishes, where we order food from stores online and where we save hours and hours of the day, I have not been idle. I have been more useful, and I have had pleasure. And pleasure is good.
Grandmother, I no longer believe in the old ways. The world began changing in your lifetime, and by now the old ways are not useful to me any more. I love you, and I love some of my memories of Somalia, though not all. But I will not serve the bloodline or Allah any longer. And because the old ways hamper the lives of so many of our people, I will even strive to persuade my fellow nomads to take on the ways of the infidel.
WOW, QUITE THE LETTER; IT GIVES YOU THE OLD BASIC WAY OF LIFE FOR FAR TOO MANY UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE RELIGION OF ISLAM. I CAN ONLY TRY TO GET A LITTLE GLIMPSE FROM THE WRITINGS OF AYAAN ALI, AS TO THE LIFE SHE LIVED UNDER ISLAM. I CAN ONLY TRY TO GET A LITTLE GLIMPSE OF WHAT SHE CAME TO SEE IN THE WAY OF LIFE IN WESTERN NATIONS, COMPARED TO LIFE UNDER ISLAM. NEVER HAVING EXPERIENCED LIFE UNDER ISLAM, IT IS THEN ONLY A GLIMPSE WE CAN GET COMPARING ISLAMIC LIFE TO LIFE IN THE WESTERN WORLD. CERTAINLY THE BOOKS BY AYAAN ALI DO INDEED SPELL OUT FOR US LIFE IN ISLAM AND LIFE IN THE WEST.
THE WESTERN LIFE STYLE IS CERTAINLY NOT FULLY RIGHTEOUS; IN THE WEST WE HAVE MOVED AWAY FROM THE WORD OF GOD, AND ARE BECOMING MORE AND MORE SECULAR WITH EACH PASSING YEAR. BUT AS AYAAN ALI CAME TO SEE, THE WESTERN NATIONS STILL HAVE THE BETTER WAY OF LIFE, THAN DO ISLAM PEOPLE IN ISLAM COUNTRIES.
THE DAY IS COMING, WHEN THE AGE TO COME, WILL BE HERE. ALL NATIONS WILL LEARN TO LOVE THE WAYS, STATUTES, PRECEPTS, AND COMMANDMENTS OF THE TRUE GOD.
IT IS WRITTEN THE EARTH SHALL BE FULLY OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA BEDS.
AN AGE IS COMING THAT THE HUMAN MIND CAN HARDLY COMPREHEND ALL THE GOODNESS AND HAPPINESS, IT WILL BE.
IT IS SO WRITTEN IN GOD’S WORD THE HOLY BIBLE AND SO SHALL IT BE.