Who is Ayaan Hirsi Ali?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born American activist, writer and feminist. She is known for her extensive work fighting for the rights of Islamic women. Her story is one of perseverance and success against all odds. She grew up in a strict Islamic family and experienced the abuse she so passionately advocates against first-hand. She was a victim of genital mutilation. What makes Ali's stance against Islam so unique is she is the first woman from an Islamic country to publicly denounce and criticize ills related to Islam. Ali gave up her career in Dutch politics to come to the United States, where she produced 3 autobiographies. She also opened a foundation, named after her, that has helped countless Islamic women escape the abuse handed down by their families. Ali continues to periodically write opinion pieces for national newspapers to further the agenda of her foundation.
Childhood & Early Life
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born on November 13th, 1969 in Somalia. She is the daughter of Hirsi Magan Isse, a well-known politician in Somalia's opposition party.
Ali moved around often during childhood. She left Somalia in 1977 with her family. They had short stays in Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia before settling in Kenya.
In 1992 she sought and received political asylum in the Netherlands and began her pursuit of higher education.
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Ayaan Hirsi Ali's road to a career in politics began in 2000 when she received a master's degree in Political Science from the State University of Leiden.
Her first job in politics came in 2000 with the Netherlands' Labor party. She worked as a researcher on immigration issues.
Ali changed political parties in 2002. She began work with the Liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. She was elected to the lower house of the Dutch Parliament in 2003.
While in Parliament she became known for her outspoken stance on the treatment of women in Islam. She also attacked Dutch immigration policy towards Muslims.
In 2004 Ali took her activism mainstream by partnering with Theo Van Gogh to make the documentary Submission. This documentary highlighted the ways Islam promoted abuse of women.
Ali received her first death threat a few weeks after the film aired on Dutch television. It came in the form of a note pinned to the body of Van Gogh, who was stabbed to death.
She resigned from parliament in 2006 amidst some controversy. Ali falsified information on her asylum application, which made her ineligible to hold political office.
In 2006 Ali made her first trip to the United States. Her purpose was to promote The Caged Virgin, her debut novel. The novel focuses on the lack of intervention by western cultures in Islamic countries where women are abused.
She settled in Washington D.C, where she got a research fellowship from the American Enterprise Institute. Here she continued her research on the discrimination of women in Islam.
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She published a second novel, Infidel, in 2007. In the same year she established the Ayaan Hirsi Ali foundation in Philadelphia. The organization's mission is to help western Islamic women escape abuse.
Her third novel, Nomad, was released in 2010. While this autobiography was a best-seller, it caused her much opposition from Western Muslims.
Ali currently is a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. She works on project regarding future diplomatic strategies towards Islamic countries.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali made her first big splash in 2004 with the documentary ‘Submission’. This documentary, directed by Theo Van Gogh, opened western eyes to how Islam justifies abuse towards women.
The documentary contained controversial scenes showing passages of the Quran on the uncovered body of a woman. These passages all contained language that justifies mistreatment of women.
’Submission’ made Ali and Van Gogh plenty of enemies within the Islamic world. On November 2, 2004, Van Gogh was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a Muslim assassin. The assassin pinned a death threat for Ali to Van Gogh's body.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's first book, The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman's Cry for Reason, was published in Dutch in 2004 and in English in 2006. It highlights Ali's firsthand experience of the familial abuse endured by Islamic women.
The Caged Virgin is significant because it is one of the first anti-Islam works written by an Islamic woman. It solidified Ali's place among the forefront of female Islamic activists.
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Awards & Achievements
She won the freedom prize in Denmark in 2004 from the Liberal party for her work on women's rights
Ali the Harriet Freezerring Emancipation prize in 2005, awarded by the magazine Opzij
Ali Received European Bellwether prize in Norway in 2005 for her work on human rights.
In 2008 Ali received the Anisfield-Wolf book award for her autobiography, Infidel.
Personal Life & Legacy
Ayaan Hirsi Ali got married to Niall Ferguson, a British historian. They had their first child, Thomas, in 2011.
She was named as one of Time magazine's most influential people in 2005.
Ali has a foundation named after her in Philadelphia, the ‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali foundation’.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has denounced religion and is now an Atheist.
Ali escaped to the Netherlands because she did not want to follow through with her arranged marriage to a distant cousin.
Ali is a victim of the genital mutilation process prominent in many African cultures.