At, Birmingham’s Gina Khan writes movingly of her efforts to overcome the fear and oppression instilled in her by the religion of her youth, and the inspiration that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is to her:

I admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Muslim woman who fled an arranged marriage to live in Holland where she became famous as an MP, a writer, a fighter for Muslim women’s rights and an opponent of terrorism. In her remarkable books Infidel and The Caged Virgin she tells us important truths that many of us have maybe suppressed. There are men who have written disparagingly about Ayaan who clearly have no idea how much courage that took. Ayaan shows us that personal trauma can be the spur to speak out against patriarchal communities which lock us away and religious preachers who say we are inferior.

Because of my Mum, my Islam was always different to the dry and rigid literalist Islam that indoctrinated Ayaan. But the ‘caged virgin syndrome’ she writes about resonated powerfully with me. I too was coerced into marrying a first cousin. The marriage was a mental prison, as I lived to a script others had written for me. I set myself free when I broke my silence, but freedom came at a price. I have been called mentally unstable by Islamists and my children have been harassed. But my children will live their lives authentically, and not be what others expect them to be.

After I divorced my husband I spent years believing I was inferior. I felt I had disobeyed my parents and would face the wrath of God. It took years of self-therapy to reclaim my authentic self. My depression was mixed with anger and I had to go back to my childhood experiences of oppression, to get rid of those tapes playing in my head.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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