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Why This Former Muslim and Atheist Changed Her Mind

Why This Former Muslim and Atheist Changed Her Mind

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an intellectual heavyweight. She is a New York Times bestselling author, has served in the Dutch parliament, and is friends with Richard Dawkins.

She also was once Muslim. She wore a burka, proselytized for Islam, and followed the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood. Then, she changed her mind and became an atheist, and that well-publicized change in perspective came with death threats and the need for around-the-clock security. Now, she’s written a bombshell testimony, “Why I am now a Christian.”

What convinced her that Islam wasn’t true, and what, in turn, convinced her that atheism wasn’t true either?

Earlier this month, Ali spoke onstage alongside Richard Dawkins at the inaugural Dissident Dialogues conference in New York City, during which she gave more personal remarks about her faith journey that have since been shared widely online.

Ali was born a Muslim in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1969 and spent much of her childhood in Ethiopia and Kenya. In 1992, she fled an arranged marriage and sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she went on to became a member of the Dutch House of Representatives.

These events coincided with the 9/11 terror attacks, which presented another time of choosing for Ali, whose commitment to Islam had begun to waver.

“They had done it [9/11] in the name of my religion, Islam,” she explained in her UnHerd op-ed. Ali had publicly condemned the attacks but also reflected, “If I truly condemned their actions, then where did that leave me?”

It was at this time that she came across Bertrand Russell’s 1927 lecture, “Why I Am Not a Christian.” She explained:

When I read Russell’s lecture, I found my cognitive dissonance easing. It was a relief to adopt an attitude of scepticism towards religious doctrine, discard my faith in God and declare that no such entity existed. Best of all, I could reject the existence of hell and the danger of everlasting punishment.

Here was her escape from the radical Islam of her upbringing—a religion that never satisfied and that had also caused her much suffering as a woman.

Soon, she found herself in the company of the New Atheists:

The more time I spent with them — people such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins — the more confident I felt that I had made the right choice. For the atheists were clever. They were also a great deal of fun.

During and after her time in politics, Ali began pursuing one of her great passions: feminist activism. In 2004, she collaborated on the film Submission, critiquing women’s treatment in Islam. Ali relocated to the United States in 2007, where she continued her advocacy for women’s rights and secularism through her books Infidel (2006) and Heretic (2015).

Grateful for the freedom and safety she now enjoyed in the West, Ali came to identify three powerful forces that were aligning against a civilization she now loved: the authoritarianism of regimes like China and Russia, global Islamism, and woke ideology. Human tools were not enough to push back the tide of these threats, Ali reasoned:

We can’t fight off these formidable forces unless we can answer the question: what is it that unites us? The response that ‘God is dead!’ seems insufficient. So, too, does the attempt to find solace in “’the rules-based liberal international order’. The only credible answer, I believe, lies in our desire to uphold the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Reading Dominion by Tom Holland also highlighted for Ali that “all sorts of apparently secular freedoms — of the market, of conscience and of the press — find their roots in Christianity.” She reflected:

Freedom of conscience and speech is perhaps the greatest benefit of Western civilisation. It does not come naturally to man. It is the product of centuries of debate within Jewish and Christian communities. It was these debates that advanced science and reason, diminished cruelty, suppressed superstitions, and built institutions to order and protect life, while guaranteeing freedom to as many people as possible. Unlike Islam, Christianity outgrew its dogmatic stage. It became increasingly clear that Christ’s teaching implied not only a circumscribed role for religion as something separate from politics. It also implied compassion for the sinner and humility for the believer.

For Ali, there were also personal benefits to faith: “I have also turned to Christianity because I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable — indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?”

Besides mentioning that she was learning a little more about Christianity every Sunday at church, Ayaan Hirsi Ali kept her essay largely focused on politics and the big picture. Which is why her more recent remarks in New York are so striking.

Responding to Richard Dawkins’ protests against Christianity, Ali said, “I know you very well. We’ve been friends for a long time. In fact, in some ways, I think of you as a mentor.”

She nevertheless explained that she could no longer share Dawkins view that “there is nothing.”

“What has happened to me is that I think I have accepted there is something,” she added—“a powerful entity, for me, the God that turned me around.” Christianity, Ali went on,

no longer sounds nonsensical. It makes a great deal of sense. And not only does it make a great deal of sense, it’s also layered with the wisdom of millennia. And so, like you, I did mock faith in general and probably Christianity in particular. But I don’t do that anymore. … I think I’ve come down to my knees to say that those people who have always had faith have something that we who lost faith don’t have.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s is a remarkable journey by a remarkable woman who has seen the world from more perspectives than the average person, and who has suffered more than the average person, too.

Maybe, just maybe, in Ali’s journey are seeds of hope for other wandering Westerners, too.

Image credit: “Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Gage Skidmore” on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Kurt Mahlburg
Kurt Mahlburg

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  • Avatar
    May 17, 2024, 4:30 pm

    This news is an answer to prayer: many years ago I read Ali's first book and was impressed, but disappointed too. She had reacted against her strict Muslim upbringing ("You go, girl!") and was succeeding in life (i.e. she had "come so far" in my Western Christian view), but had not accepted God. Later I learned she was an avowed athiest, which was even more troubling. I said some prayers that she would eventually find her way to faith in God. This article confirms that she has, praise God. I hope she will write a book about her journey: I'm sure it will be worth reading. Thank you for the work of the team of writers at ITO. I read your publication daily.

  • Avatar
    May 17, 2024, 4:32 pm

    As a nonpracticing twentysomething living in NYC in the 1990s, when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were rising. I had become a member of Paul Kurtz's Humanist Society, and from this association I was indoctrinated toward secularism. During one seminar, when I was a volunteer, I met Dawkins, who would be signing copies of his book afterward. I remember peering into the pale-blue eyes of this white-haired aging boomer (while they leered back at me) to tell him the required update and thinking, Why must Dawkins also ridicule and disparage those who DO want to express their religious faith? He's a Brit, yeah? Because his appreciation of America's cherished Bill of Rights seems nil!

    After several more months of listening to a plethora of atheists, primarily from academia, not just decry various religious dogmas but articulate *actively despising* the everyday US taxpayer who wants to practice simply and humbly his or her Judaeo-Christian faith, it was clear to me that these urban coastal secular humanists (as they called themselves, or "the brights," as Dawson liked to say) were quite cultist while "worshiping" at the various anti-altars within their own community of haters–but their Altar #1 was Materialism.

    It's difficult to forgive Ali now, given that she, like Dawson, was at the forefront of the vicious movement to eviscerate the First Amendment of the US Constitution to better compel our "one nation under God" to become a godless, voiceless one in which one's net worth and level of conspicuous consumption are the overriding criteria. But like Ali, I also experienced a paradigm shift throughout the years before and since the DNC-puppet usurper was installed into our White House.

    So, we'll forgive and accept Ali and all sinners. And meanwhile, keep reading and studying the Holy Bible, which is a stunning collection of ancient wisdom writ large.


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