Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali born American activist, politician and writer. She is known for her criticism of Islam and female genital mutilation, alongside her activism for Women’s Rights and Atheism.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born Ayaan Hirsi Magan Isse Guleid Ali Wai’ays Muhammad Ali Umar Osman Mahamud on 13 November 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her father was imprisoned after her birth due to his resistance to the Siad Barre regime. However, he soon escaped prison and fled Somalia along with his family. He first reached Saudi Arabia, after which he travelled to Ethiopia and then to Nairobi, Kenya, where he and his family lived a comfortable life. Hirsi Ali attended the ‘English Language Muslim Girls School’ in Nairobi where she was persuaded to adopt the “stern Wahabi (Saudi Arabian) interpretation of Islam”.
Hirsi Ali requested political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, which she obtained in a period of three weeks. At first, she worked numerous menial jobs, after which she obtained a job as a translator and an interpreter; a position that she held between 1995 and 2001. During this time, Hirsi Ali took numerous courses at the Lieden University, from where she obtained a Masters Degree in 2000. Due to her travelling experiences, Hirsi Ali could speak six languages, namely Arabic, Swahili, Amharic, Dutch, Somali, and English. She often worked at the Dutch Immigration Center where she had to tend to at-risk Somali women who were physically or emotionally abused.
Hirsi Ali decided to renounce Islam in 2002 after the events of September 11, and after reading The Atheist Manifesto of Herman Philipse. She heavily critiqued Islam thereafter; especially after she began appearing on several television news channels and public debate forums. She also wrote a book titled “De Zoontjesfabriek” or “The Son Factory” in 2002, which discussed her ideas at length. This was when Hirsi Ali started receiving numerous death threats.
In 2003, Hirsi Ali ran for a seat at the Dutch Parliament under the labor party. Her electoral campaign revolved around the argument that the Dutch Government had seriously overlooked the abuse of several Dutch Muslim Women and had thereby contributed to their isolation and oppression.
In 2004, Hirsi Ali collaborated with Theo Van Gogh to release a documentary titled “Submission”, which heavily and controversially critiqued the treatment of women in an Islamic Society; for instance, a nude woman was shown wearing a burqa that sported verses of the Qur’an that somehow justified the subjugation of women in Islam. As a result of the film, Theo Van Gogh was violently assassinated in November 2004; a note was then pinned on Van Gogh’s body that identified Hirsi Ali as the assassin’s next target. It was later revealed that a sum of over 3.5 million pounds had been spent on Hirsi Ali’s protection by the Dutch Government from 2003-2007. However, she ultimately chose to leave the country after it was revealed that she had provided false information on her asylum application of 1992. Hirsi Ali resigned from the parliament and moved to the United States following the issue in 2006.
Hirsi Ali’s activism against Islam proved difficult to continue in the United States where allegations of Islamophobia were consistently made against her.
In 2007, Ayaan Hirsi Ali released her autobiography titled “Infidel: My Life”. In 2008, she was awarded the Richard Dawkins prize by the Atheist Alliance International.