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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Renowned Political Leader, National Security Expert, Human Rights Advocate and Islam Reformist; Author of the International Bestseller, Infidel

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1969. The daughter of a political opponent of the Somali dictatorship, Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in exile, moving from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia then Kenya.

As a young child, she was subjected to female genital mutilation. As she grew up, she embraced Islam and strove to live as a devout Muslim. But she began to question aspects of her faith. One day, while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she couldn’t resist asking, “Must our husbands obey us too?”

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1969. The daughter of a political opponent of the Somali dictatorship, Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in exile, moving from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia then Kenya.

As a young child, she was subjected to female genital mutilation. As she grew up, she embraced Islam and strove to live as a devout Muslim. But she began to question aspects of her faith. One day, while listening to a sermon on the many ways women should be obedient to their husbands, she couldn't resist asking, "Must our husbands obey us too?"

In 1992, Ayaan was married off by her father to a distant cousin who lived in Canada. In order to escape this marriage, she fled to the Netherlands where she was given asylum, and in time citizenship. In her early years in Holland she worked in factories and as a maid. She quickly learned Dutch, however, and was able to study at the University of Leiden. Working as a translator for Somali immigrants, she saw at first hand the inconsistencies between liberal, Western society and tribal, Muslim cultures.

After earning her M.A. in political science, Ayaan worked as a researcher for the Wiardi Beckman Foundation in Amsterdam. She then served as an elected member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006. While in parliament, she focused on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society, and on defending the rights of Muslim women. She campaigned to raise awareness of violence against women, including honor killings and female genital mutilation, practices that had followed the immigrants into Holland. In her three years in government, she found her voice as an advocate for an "enlightened Islam".

In 2004, Ayaan gained international attention following the murder of Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh had directed her short film Submission, a film about the oppression of women under Islam. The assassin, a radical Muslim, left a death threat for her pinned to Van Gogh's chest.

In 2006, Ayaan had to resign from parliament when the then Dutch minister for Immigration decided to revoke Ayaan's Dutch citizenship, arguing that Ayaan had misled the authorities at the time of her asylum application. However, the Dutch courts confirmed that Ayaan was indeed a legitimate Dutch citizen, leading to the fall of the government. Disillusioned with the Netherlands, she subsequently moved to the United States.

She is now a Fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Ayaan is currently researching the relationship between the West and Islam. She has to live with round-the-clock security. Her willingness to speak out and her abandonment of the Muslim faith have made her a target for violence by Islamic extremists. 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was named one of TIME Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" of 2005, one of the Glamour Heroes of 2005 and Reader's Digest's European of the Year for 2005.  In 2007, she founded the AHA Foundation to protect and defend the rights of women in the US from harmful traditional practices. The Foundation focuses on violence against women and girls including honor violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation.

Ayaan has published a collection of essays, The Caged Virgin (2006), a memoir, Infidel (2007), the second volume of her memoir, Nomad (2010) and has written and delivered many speeches and articles.  Her most recent book, Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation was published in March 2015. 

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    Activist Ayaan Hirsi Recognized in New York for Work to End Honor Violence

    (Essence) – Ms. Hirsi Ali received the Woman in Public Life Award for her work to end honor violence, which shames, hurts, and kills thousands of women and girls in the United States each year.

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali says complacency is problem on campuses

    (Boston Globe) – Author/activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali sold out Symphony Hall for her appearance as part of Lesley University’s Boston Speakers Series.

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    The first presenter at Lesley’s Boston Speakers Series in 2016, Ayaan Hirsi Ali stirred the audience with her controversial and compelling viewpoints about radical Islam.

    (Lesley University) – Steering away from the humorous personal anecdotes that often characterize the Symphony Hall lectures, Hirsi Ali held the packed audience in rapt attention as she warned of our complacency in the face of terrorism and called for a reformation of Islam.

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    Human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali to keynote Boca event

    Acclaimed international human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali will provide the keynote to 500 women philanthropists at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s annual Lion of Judah Luncheon.

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    Activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2 others awarded Lantos Human Rights Prize

    (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) – Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist and politician who has been publicly critical of Islam, is one of three female leaders of Muslim heritage to be awarded the Lantos Human Rights Prize.

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    3 women of Muslim heritage to receive human rights prize

    The winners earned the honor for their “willingness to defy social and cultural norms” and to risk their safety to expose human rights abuses, according to the The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, which will bestow the awards on Capitol Hill.

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    Former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali Tells Americans to Pull Their Heads Out of the Sand

    (Independent Journal) – Human rights activist and former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali appeared on Fox News’ “Hannity” Monday to address Obama’s policies regarding radical Islamic terrorism.

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali: We need to face problem of radical Islam

    (Fox News) – Activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Islam Reformist and Founder of the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation, shares her thoughts about the Paris terror attacks on ‘The Kelly File’

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    Paris attacks: Destroy extremism, and look to Israel for answers

    (The Australian) – French President Francois Hollande declared the terrorist attack in Paris an “act of war” by Islamic State, and he was right, if belated, in recognising that the jihadists have been at war with the West for years.

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    The Price of Modesty

    (Huffington Post) – Sharia codifies Islam’s many rules and governs everything from how to worship daily to personal behavior, economic and legal transactions and the governance of a nation. However, it is most commonly used as a tool to rob women of their most basic rights, including sexual autonomy.

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    The Dissenter: Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Her Controversial Views on Islam

    (Broadly) – Since she first started voicing extreme criticism of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has attracted both death threats and vehement criticism from fellow feminists. Still, she has no intention of backing down.

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Why the United States should back Islam’s reformation

    By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    (The Dallas Morning News) – We have a problem — not a problem from hell, but one that claims to come from heaven. That problem is sometimes called radical, or fundamentalist, Islam, and the self-styled Islamic State is just its latest iteration. But no one really understands it.

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    Another strong voice for an Islamic Reformation

    (Patheos) – This time the voice is that of one of the bravest women in the world.  She is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a native Somali who was a member of the Dutch Parliament, and now lives in the United States.

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    To Medina and Back

    In April of last year, Brandeis University offered Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree for her tireless campaigning for women’s rights in the Muslim world. But little more than a week after announcing that she would be honored at the university’s commencement ceremonies, Brandeis rescinded its offer owing to Hirsi Ali’s record of bluntly criticizing Islamic oppression. “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” read the official withdrawal statement. The sad irony of this cowardly betrayal is that Hirsi Ali would soon write a book arguing that Islam is not an irredeemable theology of hatred and violence and that the key to its integration into the modern world lies in the religion’s vast majority of peaceable adherents. That book is Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, an important work whose impact will depend on its acceptance from Western thinkers and dissemination among Muslims across the nations.

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    A Problem From Heaven

    An article in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Why the United States Should Back ?Islam’s Reformation

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    Opinion Journal: Ayaan Hirsi Ali: How to Reform Islam

    American Enterprise Institute Fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali on her book, “Heretic,” and how to fight radicalism.  Watch Video

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    Fox News Special: “Defying the Sword”

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells Megyn Kelly why she chose to distance herself from the Muslim faith she grew up with in a ‘Kelly File’ special on Fox News.

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali Examines Islam in the 21st Century

    (Santa Barbara Independent) – Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most renowned, and most controversial, religious commentators of our day. Her straightforward critiques of radical Islam have drawn admirers and detractors on both sides of the political spectrum, and she has become a hero to some and an enemy to others. She experienced the horrors of religious extremism growing up in Somalia, and she later moved to the Netherlands, where she rose to a seat in the Dutch parliament before immigrating to the U.S. In this year’sHeretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, she argues for a wholesale critical reexamination within Islam. She brings her life story and firebrand politics to the Granada Theatre this Saturday.

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes Islam as a religion of violence

    (The San Francisco Chronicle) – Forty-seven strong, the biggest-ever gathering of the Monday Group — which assembles to break bread together while listening to a range of authors and civic leaders — welcomed Ayaan Hirsi Alilast week at Park Tavern.

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Jihad Comes to Texas

    By: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    (TIME Magazine) – Just before 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 3, outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, two men got out of their vehicle and began firing. They hit one man, a security officer, in the ankle. A Garland police officer returned fire with his handgun and killed the two men.

    I repeat: This happened in Garland, Texas. It did not happen in Paris. It did not happen in Peshawar. It happened in the heart of Texas, in the town that inspired the cartoon series King of the Hill.

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    The case for Islamic heresy: Ayaan Hirsi Ali risks all with her call for a Muslim reformation

    By Clifford May

    (The Washington Times) – By now, you should be familiar with the name Ayaan Hirsi Ali. You should know at least this much about her: She is brilliant, beautiful, black and she has been banned near Boston.

    You might also have learned that she was born in Somalia and raised as a devout Muslim in Africa and Saudi Arabia. While a teenager, she joined the Muslim Brotherhood, “believed in jihad” and was “ready for holy war.” But in 1992, to avoid an arranged marriage, she sought asylum in the Netherlands where she eked out a living cleaning factories, learned Dutch, went to college, entered politics and won a seat in the Dutch Parliament.

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    Human Rights Activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Bring Message of Islamic Reformation to Santa Barbara

    By Lara Cooper

    A Somali-born women’s rights activist and free speech champion who has been a high-profile and vocal critic of Islam will be in Santa Barbara next month to talk about her new book.

    Hirsi Ali, best-selling author of Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, is herself a former Muslim who left her faith for atheism. In her latest book, she outlines the need for Islam’s reform so the religion can exist peacefully in the modern world.

    Ali will be speaking at The Granada Theatre on May 23.

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    Activist: Obama’s Anti-ISIS, Middle East Strategy ‘Incoherent’

    By Paul D. Shinkman
    (U.S. News) – U.S. diplomatic contortions have left it without an apparent strategy for stability in the Middle East, particularly in the war against the Islamic State group, says American activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, herself a former Muslim of Somali descent.

    politically correct word I can come up with now – it’s incoherent,” Hirsi Ali said Tuesday, while speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. She was responding to a question about the limited U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and how that comports with the Obama administration’s hands-off military policy elsewhere in the region, particularly Yemen.

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    America’s Academies for Jihad

    A radical imam threatened me with death—and was later hired to preach in U.S. prisons. I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.

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    Inside the List

    By: Gregory Cowles

    (The New York Times) – The Reformer: At least since the frenzied days after 9/11, some pundits have called on moderate Muslims to criticize the more extreme elements of their faith from within. Ayaan Hirsi Ali would seem to fit the bill: Born in Somalia to a Muslim family, she fled to the Netherlands rather than submit to a forced marriage, and has since been vocal in chastising radical Islam for its embrace of violence as well as its treatment of women, gay people and nonbelievers; in short, she’d like to see Islam evolve to become more secular and ecumenical. (She outlined much of this agenda, along with her life story, in the 2007 book “Infidel,” which spent seven months on the hardcover and paperback nonfiction lists.) So it’s been interesting to see just how polarizing Hirsi Ali — whose new book, “Heretic,” enters the hardcover nonfiction list at No. 8 — has turned out to be

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    Excerpt: Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now

    Excerpted from HERETIC: WHY ISLAM NEEDS A REFORMATION NOW by Ayaan Hirsi Ali by arrangement with Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Copyright © 2015 by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    …For more than thirteen years now, I have been making a simple argument in response to such acts of terrorism. My argument is that it is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts of radical Islamists can be divorced from the religious ideals that inspire them. Instead we must acknowledge that they are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in Islam itself, in the holy book of the Qur'an as well as the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad contained in the hadith.

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Her New Book Heretic: Islam Needs Reformation, Now

    By: Katie Pavlich

    (Townhall) – We can't talk about Islam critically without being called Islamophobic. We can't criticize Islam through the press without being threatened with lawsuits or death. We can't discuss violent Islam without being forced to draw a false moral equivalence. 

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali: By the Book

    (The New York Times) – Sunday Book Review:

    The author of "Infidel," "Nomad" and, most recently, "Heretic" read a lot of romance novels and Jackie Collins growing up.  "We didn't discriminate between good and bad. It is now difficult to imagine that we had so few books."

  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Reform Islam From Within

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali explains why she believes Islam is in desperate need of a reformation similar to Christianity in her book “Heretic.” 

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    Obama Must Confront the Threat of Radical Islam

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes about how ISIS is recruiting young Muslims from around the globe to jihad, and the White House apparently doesn't understand why. 

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    Publisher Moves Up Release for Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Heretic’

    The release date for the latest book by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women's rights advocate and leading critic of Islam, has been moved up from late April to March 24.

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    Ayaan Hirsi Ali Speaks at Ringling College

    Women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali was the most recent guest in this year’s Ringling College Library Association Town Hall lecture series.

  • Response by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to the Statement from Brandeis University

    Yesterday Brandeis University decided to withdraw an honorary degree they were to confer upon me next month during their Commencement exercises. I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me—just a few hours before issuing a public statement—to say that such a decision had been made.

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    Islam’s Jihad Against Homosexuals

    (The Wall Street Journal) – The rise of modern Islamic extremism has worsened an institutionalized Muslim homophobia.

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  • "Eloquent and classy…with the heart of a lion."

  • "…[the audience] appreciated your candor in not pulling any punches but, instead, painting Islam exactly as you see it."

  • "Please know how much you have touched the lives and the thinking of all of us fortunate enough to hear you."

  • "An international human rights icon!"

  • "Ayaan is such a compelling speaker, with mixtures of humor, insight, wisdom, and passion about profoundly important issues today. The audience was utterly captivated by her presentation and her presence."