Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Theology

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Theology

by Rev. Frank Julian Gelli

‘Islamic extremism’: what causes it? Answer: prioritising life after death over life before death – at least so claims undistinguished ‘theologian’ Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Hirsi Ali is a Somali person of complicated background who campaigns for a ‘reformation’ of Islam. She believes jihad, suicide bombings and martyrdom operations flow from Islam’s stressing the superiority of life in the Hereafter over life this side of the grave. ‘We’ll kick you out’, she would say to Muslims who disagree with that. Huh!

Way back, Hirsi Ali advocated converting Muslims to Christianity. But hope in a future life is also part and parcel of Christian teaching.

‘If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied’

writes St Paul. Eventually Paul shed his blood in martyrdom under Emperor Nero. Of course, like all the early Christian witnesses, the Apostle had the luminous, non-violent example of Christ as a pattern. It would not have occurred to Paul to kill his executioners. Entry into eternity could not be gained by violence.

However, the medieval Church hit a problem while struggling with Islam. His religion assured the Muslim that if he was killed in jihad he would go to Heaven. The soldier of the Cross instead dreaded that, unless he had done penance for his sins, his soul would be lost. Not quite fair, is it? To allay such fears, Pope John VII in AD 877 promised crusaders who should die defending the faith absolution for their sins. Thus the fallen crusader became a martyr. An ideal of martyrdom different from that of St Paul…

Commonality between Cross and Crescent on the value of the Hereafter apart, Hirsi Ali’s argument is fallacious. Belief in a next life seems neither necessary nor sufficient a condition for killing others. Consider the case of Communism. An atheistic, immanent and materialistic ideology which scoffs at any supernatural belief. ‘Religion is the opium of the people’ Karl Marx put it. Innumerable militants of that arid creed have laid down their lives violently in the name of Communism. Yet, by their lights, they had nothing to gain, nothing look forward to after physical death. Yet it did not stop them from fighting like hell for the revolution, did it?

Or take Rajiv Gandhi. A former Indian PM, he was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber in 1991. Tamils are technically Hindus, a religion with rich post-mortem realms. But Tamils themselves appear to be largely disinterested in life after death. It is unlikely the terrorist who killed poor Rajiv cared a jot about it. Yet she did the deed OK.

Judaism is even more apposite. The Hebrews originally had a shadowy view of the Hereafter. The word for it was Sheol. Not the blissful dwelling of the righteous, filled with heavenly rewards, but a place of darkness and destruction. A dismal land of silence from which God is absent. The dead in Sheol are forgotten, they lie beyond God’s care. Implausible to imagine that any Hebrew warrior would eagerly look forward to a future existence in Sheol. Yet the great military hero Judas Maccabeus fought like a lion, accomplishing glorious deeds for the sake of his God and his people, with nothing more than Sheol to expect after death.

Hirsi Ali seems to believe that, if not all, vast numbers of Muslims are itching to fight and die in jihad, in order to enjoy the literal promises the Qur’an grants to believers after death. The reality is different. Mullah Omar, the former leader of the Taleban, has been in hiding since the invasion Afghanistan. His behaviour evinces no burning desire to enter the ranks of the people of Paradise. Bin Laden spent the last years of his life huddled into a house with sealed windows in Pakistan, watching old videos. When the Yanks at last burst in and shot him dead, he was not even wielding a Kalashnikov. As to dubious Khalifa al-Baghdadi, the current ISIS leader, he too is keeping a very low profile, probably living in fear of overhead drones. Martyrdom does not seem one of his highest priorities.

Moreover, why should belief in Paradise necessarily go in one direction, that of violence? Enjoying eternal bliss – or indeed suffering the just penalties for sinners – can just as well be a spur to caring for others. In St Matthew’s Gospel Jesus separates the sheep from the goats at the Last Judgment. The former are those who have fed the hungry, visited the sick, prisoners and so on: they will enter Paradise. The latter, consigned to eternal flames, are those who have stood by and given not a jot for their neighbour. A vision that has always strengthened Christians to do the right thing. Similarly, Muslims who give alms and go on the Haj know how necessary are those duties with a view to the afterlife. Trust in heavenly rewards does not motivate only suicide bombers, does it?

Ayaan Hirsi is a very good looking lady but her logic is as poor as her theology. Opposing belief in the Hereafter to life here and now is a false contrast. In actual fact, believers must value both, as the latter is a prelude to the former. Belief in a glorious existence beyond the grave is what distinguishes human beings from beasts. And you cannot enter Heaven by doing beastly things but only by doing heavenly things.

FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 627 9 April 2015