What Catholics Can Learn About Islam from a Former Muslim
Many Catholics look upon Islam as an ally in the struggle against militant secularism. Since Muslims are opposed to permissiveness, pornography, same-sex “marriage,” and other aspects of the secularist agenda, many Catholics assume that they must share similar values about marriage and sexuality.
But this is not the case. The Islamic emphasis on modesty and chastity shouldn’t be confused with the Christian standard. Christian sexual ethics are based on respect for women, whereas Islamic sexual ethics are motivated in large part by a disparagement of women.
Islamic family values are not about honoring women, but about protecting a man’s honor. And, in Islam, a man’s honor is bound up with his ability to control the women in his life. If a wife, daughter, or sister does anything to jeopardize the honor of her husband, father, or brother, she risks severe punishments and even death. In the West, a disobedient Muslim daughter may have her head shaved; in the Muslim world she may be killed.
The Muslim male’s control over women and girls is manifested in many ways, but one of the most disturbing is the widespread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). According to the Population Reference Bureau, approximately half a million women and girls in the United States have undergone the procedure or are at risk of the procedure. In a recent interview with Tucker Carlson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali pushed for laws that would ban the procedure, which she said is designed to “kill the sexual libido … and ensure virginity” before marriage.
Who is Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Born and raised in Somalia, where genital mutilation and forced marriages are common, Ali eventually left her tribe and family and escaped to Holland. There she began a public campaign to bring attention to the mistreatment of Muslim women. In the course of time, Ali was elected to the Dutch Parliament and—partly as a result of her bad experience with Islam, and partly from her study of the Enlightenment—she became an atheist. She also became a target of radical Islamists, and, under increasing pressure from the Dutch government (which considered her to be too provocative), she left Holland for America.
The author of several books, Ali is currently a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. In addition, she heads a foundation which defends the rights of Muslim women. The AHA Foundation is dedicated to protecting girls and women from forced marriages, honor violence, genital mutilation, and from oppressive sharia laws.
What might Catholics learn from Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Two important lessons come to mind. The first is that Islamic values are quite different from Catholic values. Many Catholics, including those in leadership positions, have been content to get by with a multicultural lite view of Islam. In other words, they believe that while Muslims may have different foods and customs, they’re just like us when it comes to basics.
But as Ali and other former Muslims have pointed out, there is a world of difference. The central family value in Islam is not mutual love, but family honor. This is not to say that Muslim families are devoid of love for one another; it’s to recognize that they are under enormous cultural and religious pressure to put other things first. Nonie Darwish, a Muslim convert to Christianity, makes the case that Muhammad viewed a normal family—one in which a man’s first love and loyalty is to his family—as an impediment to jihad. “It is not uncommon,” she observes, “for a man who is loyal to one wife and treats her with love and respect to suffer ridicule for not being man enough.”
Catholics seem largely unaware of the extent to which the code of honor suffuses Muslim life. Practices such as genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, wife-beating, and easy divorce (for men) are not cultural outliers, they are part of the warp and woof of Islamic societies. But the Catholic leadership has been so focused on proclaiming its respect for Islam that it has largely ignored these matters.
However intended, these proclamations of respect and even esteem for Islam are likely to be interpreted by Muslims as an endorsement of the status quo and also of Islam’s all-male leadership. When Catholics declare their solidarity with Islam, what they usually mean is solidarity against “Islamophobia,” or against restrictions on Muslim immigration, or similar fashionable causes. But, too often, these solidarity statements come across as blanket endorsements.
Muslim leaders can elicit these endorsements by the simple expedient of playing the victim card. They understand Catholic psychology far better than Catholics understand the psyche of Muslims, and they know that Catholic leaders reflexively side with those who claim victim status. By constantly portraying Islam as a victim of bias, bigotry, and “Islamophobia,” Muslim leaders know that they can win the support of Catholics for whatever agenda they wish to pursue.
Yet Islam is much more victimizer than victim. And among its chief victims are Muslim women and children. Who speaks for them? Well, Ayaan Hirsi Ali does and so does Nonie Darwish. But I don’t recall any prominent Church leaders speaking out about the oppression of Muslim women. Indeed, the Church’s current policy of avoiding any criticism of Islam can easily be mistaken for an endorsement of Islam’s misogynistic practices. Church authorities speak often about their concern for the most helpless and vulnerable in society, but that concern does not seem to extend to Muslim women and children, who are among the most vulnerable people in the world.
By consistently standing with institutional Islam and its representatives, the Church is, in effect, turning its back on the Muslim victims of the Islamic power structure. The Church’s respect-Islam policy will, unfortunately, only increase the sense of hopelessness that many Muslims already have. Islam is an oppressive religious and social system, and many Muslims feel trapped in it. When Christian leaders won’t acknowledge the oppression, it reinforces the “trapped” Muslim’s belief that she has nowhere to turn.
There is a second lesson to be learned from the work of Hirsi Ali. Catholic leaders, along with many secular leaders, seem to think that the only threat from Islam comes from militant extremists. Moreover, they contend that these violent jihadists have nothing to do with Islam. According to Ali, however, the threat is much larger, and it most assuredly does have something to do with Islam. She writes:
In focusing only on acts of violence, we have ignored the ideology that justifies, promotes, celebrates, and encourages those acts. By not fighting a war of ideas against political Islam (or “Islamism”) as an ideology and against those who spread that ideology, we have made a grave error.
Ali refers to the method by which the Islamist ideology is spread as “dawa.” In its narrow sense, “dawa” means proselytizing, but in the sense that Ali uses it, it is roughly equivalent to the term “cultural jihad.” It is similar to what twentieth-century communists called the “long march through the institutions.” Islamic cultural jihad is an attempt to infiltrate and influence institutions such as media, schools, courts, and government bureaucracies with the aim of advancing sharia law.
Armed jihad is one way of spreading Islamic law and doctrine, but it is not the most common way, and it is not always effective. Cultural jihad, on the other hand, is very effective because it’s hard to detect and harder still to resist. Cultural jihad is difficult to counter because it takes advantage both of Constitutional protections and of the Western abhorrence of discrimination. Thus, the special rights that Muslim leaders demand are always presented as the civil rights of a victimized minority.
One of the institutions that cultural jihadists aim to influence is the Catholic Church. And, indeed, they seem to have been quite successful in their attempts to manipulate Church leaders into supporting their various agendas. European bishops have enabled the spread of Islam through their endorsement of open-borders policies. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been one of the key players in the resettlement of Muslim refugees of the unvetted variety. Through Muslim-Catholic dialogue programs, the same bishops have lent legitimacy and respectability to Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups such as the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), thereby facilitating their stealth jihad activities.
Whichever direction Islam’s long march through the institutions takes, Catholic leaders seem anxious to fall in line. They have joined forces with CAIR’s hate-crime campaign and with its Islamophobia campaign—even though the latter is essentially an anti-free speech movement. Like trained seals, the bishops can be relied on to perform in the expected ways. Every time non-Muslims are blown up in the name of Allah, some bishop or other is sure to voice his concern about backlash against the Muslim community, and to make yet another plea for solidarity.
It’s not just the bishops, of course. Catholic schools have raised a generation of students to believe that “Islam” means “peace,” and that “jihad” is an “interior spiritual struggle.” Catholic colleges, in the meantime, can be counted on to fight “Islamophobia” while keeping quiet about anything that puts Islam in a bad light, such as FGM and wife-beating.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Catholic leaders have been facilitating an Islamist agenda—an agenda which is inimical to the kind of family values Catholics wish for themselves. Presumably, they do so with the best of intentions. But that’s small comfort to the child who is mutilated for life or to the woman whose life is held hostage to her husband’s sense of honor. A large part of the problem is that Catholic leaders have been overly reliant on Muslim Brotherhood masters of dawa for their understanding of Islam. That’s like getting your information on the Nazis from Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda. It’s time that Church leaders paid some attention to Muslims who are not part of the institutional Islamic apparatus—even if they are ex-Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
I don’t agree with all of Hirsi Ali’s views. For instance, her hope that Muslims can be encouraged to accept a reformed—but diluted—version of Islam seems overly optimistic. Nevertheless, that view is preferable to the opinion that Islam doesn’t need reform. Unfortunately, many Catholic leaders seem to think that Islam is just fine the way it is. They see no problem beyond a handful of extremists who pervert a “great faith.” That assumption is built on sand, and it is being washed away daily by the tides of cultural jihad.