LEWISBURG, Pa. – Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an advocate for women's rights in Muslim society, sparked impassioned debate with her talk at Bucknell University on Tuesday.
A noted leader and author who has faced death threats for her criticism of Islam, Ali said a central conflict between Muslim and Western society is the treatment of women.
"There are many differences, but I think the central point of conflict is with women, the relationship between women and men and the position of women in society," said Ali, who was born in Somalia and raised in a traditional Muslim family and authored the best-selling memoir Infidel. || Audio clips
Standing room only Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 campus and community members, Ali was the latest speaker in the new Bucknell Forum speaker series, "Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century."
The Trout Auditorium talk was recorded by WVIA-TV and will air on the PBS network in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania at noon Sunday, April 5; 7 p.m. Monday, April 20; and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 26. Check local listings for details.
Ali said two schools of thought have shaped the public's current view on Islam.
Hijacked by bandits The first is that Islam is a "great and peaceful religion" that has been hijacked by a small group of "bandits," such as al-Qaida, to promote hatred and intolerance and to commit acts of terror. The other major view, which she said is more accurate, is that Islam is not a religion of peace, but a theology of female subjugation and global conquest.
She pointed to the "strong incompatibilities between Western liberal thought and practice on the one hand and Islamic cultural and political thought on the other hand."
"Those like me who argue that Islam is about expanding its powerbase say that reforming Islam is very, very difficult – if not impossible. For a true reformation of Islam to get any chance at all, the roots of Islamic jurisprudence should be critically reviewed and revised by all Muslims," she said. "For reform in Islam to occur, Muslims must abandon the idea that the commands in the Quran are applicable to all times instead of only the 7th century when they were composed."
Question and answer period During the public question and answer period, several of those attending the talk criticized Ali's position on Islam and said she was unfairly caricaturing the religion by not distinguishing between radical Islam and other views.
"I feel like you're giving a negative, maybe more hopeless, future for young Muslim people," a female Muslim student said.
"We will progress as Muslims and will make peace with ourselves and non-Muslims if we look at the blemishes of our own faith and our culture and then polish them," Ali answered. "But first we need to get over the fact that the most important thing that we have been put on Earth to do is keep the image of Islam perfect. If we get over that, I think we will achieve progress."
The Bucknell Forum The next speaker in the Bucknell Forum series is Matthew Bogdanos, a best-selling author, internationally recognized speaker, medaled veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bucknell graduate. He will discuss "The End of the Citizen-Soldier? Questions of Leadership in a Time of War" at 7:30 p.m. April 15 in Trout Auditorium.
The Bucknell Forum series, "Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century," began in January and runs through spring 2010.
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