Infidel (Review)

Book cover for "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.Title: Infidel

Author/Narrator: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Publication Year: 2008

Pages: 384 (audio length: 16 hours 33 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Source: Audiobook version purchased from

From the cover:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of today’s most admired and controversial political figures. She burst into international headlines following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist who threatened she would be next; and she made headlines again when she was stripped of her citizenship and forced to resign from the Dutch Parliament.

Infidel shows the coming of age of this elegant, distinguished — and sometimes reviled — political superstar and champion of free speech — the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice done in the name of religion. Raised in a strict Muslim family, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female circumcision, brutal beatings, an adolescence as a devout believer, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four countries under dictatorships. She escaped from a forced marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she fought for the rights of Muslim women and the reform of Islam, earning her the enmity of reactionary Islamists and craven politicians.

I will admit that I was a little … reluctant to read this book. I’d heard so much about Ali, most of it bad, that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to try. But then I figured: How can I criticize her if I haven’t even read what she says?

And so it was that I gave Infidel a shot. It was the only of her books available on Audible, and it was even narrated by the author herself. So I figured that this was the best it was going to get.

Let’s start with the good: Infidel is a decent memoir. When she’s talking about the events of her life, Ali’s personality really shines through and her story is quite fascinating. It was particularly compelling to listen to her talk about her life in her own voice. I found her stories about helping refugees in Somalia, and about her later work as a translator in the Netherlands, especially interesting.

Having said that, I wish that Ali had left the book as only a memoir, a narration of her life thus far. Instead, she includes quite a bit of commentary about Islam in the book, an awful lot of it offensive and – worse – factually inaccurate. For example, early on in Infidel, Ali describes the ritual movements of Islamic prayer … and her description is faulty. She also makes broad, sweeping statements about Islam – both about the history of Islam and about religious principles – that are either incorrect or are about the practice of Islam within a certain specific (Somalian) community, without clarifying that there is a difference between widespread Islamic practices and what some people claim to be Islamic practices but are really cultural traditions.

Furthermore, Ali presents the Quran as something that is not up for interpretation, and then proceeds to quote passages from it out of context, using them to explain both why she left Islam (after 9/11, a section of the book which left me in a complete rage due to the way she claims that the hijackers were following “real” Islam and non-violent, moderate Muslims are not) and why she thinks Islam is a terrible religion. The description on the back of the book is incorrect; Ali does not hope to “reform” Islam, at least not in Infidel. She makes it abundantly clear in this book that she thinks Islam is loathsome and that she wants to expose it as something violent and awful that people should not respect.

I’m not sure what her other books are like, but I can only hope that they are more personal and less political than Infidel. Like I said in the beginning, I would recommend this book as a memoir of Ali’s life. But please, please do not read it and assume that what she is telling you about “the real Islam” is the truth about my religion and that of billions of people around the world.

It isn’t.


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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