An Open Letter to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Public Dialogue and Debate

I read with disappointment Ayaan Hirsi Ali's recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. While professing to promote peace and understanding, Hirsi Ali claims that "Shariah imposes death for apostasy" or that Prophet Muhammad "imposed Islam on Jews and Christians." Far from peace, Hirsi Ali succeeds only in widening the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Perhaps this is why Jon Stewart refused to accept her claim to want to reform Islam.

Hirsi Ali asks who "owns" the Islamic Shahadah, or Islamic declaration of faith? Is it Mecca Muslims or Medina Muslims -- the two broad categories she lumps the world's 1.6 billion Muslims into.

The Mecca Muslims she claims, while are in the majority and peaceful, are unfortunately, "engaged in a daily struggle to adhere to Islam in the context of a society that challenges their values and beliefs at every turn." I find this claim specious. In my regular interactions with tens of thousands of Muslims, I've understood first hand that Muslims of various sects, nationalities, and cultures have little difficulty reconciling their faith with Western society. In fact, next month I'll be speaking at Harvard University on a panel with various world leading Islamic scholars. Our dialogue will centralize around finding ongoing means of peace through dialogue and communication -- just as Islam teaches and as Prophet Muhammad exemplified.

Hirsi Ali laments that such Meccan Muslims are, "...not likely to heed a call for doctrinal reformation from someone they regard as an apostate and infidel." Perhaps, but as a Muslim my issue is not that Hirsi Ali left Islam -- Islam gives her that right and prescribes no worldly punishment whatsoever for those who leave Islam, certainly not death. My problem in heeding a call from Hirsi Ali on reformation stems from her earlier call to essentially militarily crush Islam "it in all its forms." Historically Hirsi Ali hasn't just called for the reformation of Islam; she has called for the annihilation of Islam. And as long as Hirsi Ali's call to militarily crush and destroy Islam goes on without retraction, she shouldn't be surprised that Muslims aren't willing to heed her calls to anything, let alone to "Islamic reformation."

More confusing is Hirsi Ali's declaration that Muslims "cannot claim their religion has been hijacked by 'extremists' [because] "the killers of the Islamic State and Boko Haram cite the same text that every other Muslim...considers sacrosanct." By that logic, Hirsi Ali herself is liable to Anders Breivik, who cites and praises her and her cohorts numerous times in his manifesto "justifying" the mass murder of 77 innocent Norwegians in July 2011.

Hirsi Ali identifies the "Medina Muslims" as the problem, claiming that they "pose a threat to all people" by imposing Shariah, callings Jews and Christians pigs and monkeys, kill apostates, stone adulterers, hang homosexuals, and beat women in burqas. Incidentally my recent book EXTREMIST debunks each of these myths in a step-by-step manner by citing the core of Islamic doctrine -- the Qur'an, Sunnah, ahadith, and classical and contemporary Islamic scholars. In other words, if any such Muslims hold these views -- and certainly a small minority due -- my book is but a drop in the ocean of existing scholarship demonstrating such Muslims act in spite to Islam, not because of Islam.

Hirsi Ali claims "the only viable strategy for containing the threat posed by the Medina Muslims is to... identify and repudiate those parts of Muhammad's legacy that summon Muslims to intolerance and war and... persuade the Mecca Muslims to accept this change." As a Muslim who accepts Prophet Muhammad's entire life -- Mecca and Medina -- I can say with conviction that nothing in Muhammad's teachings summon Muslims to intolerance and war. On the contrary, Prophet Muhammad's entire life is replete with examples of justice, compassion, and empathy -- all to levels no human in history has ever matched.

Hirsi Ali concludes her piece with five areas she claims require reformation -- the first of which is "Muhammad should not be seen as infallible, let alone a source of divine writ." If anything Hirsi Ali is merely reminding us that she is an atheist. She may well make the same claim about any Prophet of God.

She continues with a second demand to "reject the supremacy of life after death" as that will somehow "remove the appeal of martyrdom." While again essentially reminding us that she is an atheist and likely rejects the concept of life after death, her theory that such a belief promotes martyrdom is meritless. Dr. Robert Pape, University of Chicago professor and founder of The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, performed an exhaustive study of every suicide attack from 1980 to 2003. He concludes that there is, "little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions... Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland," and, "[t]he taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism... an extreme strategy for national liberation." Interestingly, Hirsi Ali makes no mention of the illegal Iraq War, Israel's illegal settlements, or US tax dollars paying to radicalize Afghan youth in proxy wars with books printed at the University of Nebraska.

Hirsi Ali third demands Muslims place "evolving laws made by humans" above those aspects of Shariah that are "violent, intolerant or anachronistic." Once more, an atheist is asking Muslims to accept a subjective moral standard over a Divine moral standard while asking us to simply assume, without merit, that Shariah has "violent, intolerant or anachronistic" teachings in the first place.

Fourth, Hirsi Ali states something I agree with in its entirety, that "There is no room in the modern world for religious police, vigilantes and politically empowered clerics." In fact, Islam itself condemns religious compulsion, has no clergy, and teaches separation of mosque and state.

Fifth and finally, Hirsi Ali again states something I agree with, that, "Islam must become a true religion of peace, which means rejecting the imposition of religion by the sword." Nothing in the Qur'an permits spreading Islam by the sword, and the Muslim clerics who engage in such terrorism do so again in spite of clear Qur'anic injunctions to the contrary.

But of her entire piece, this phrase in particular caught my eye: Hirsi Ali calls herself a "dissident Muslim" and writes, "...we in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice," and likewise, "Muslims need to make a conscious decision to confront, debate and ultimately reject the violent elements within their religion."

On this we again agree -- let us debate the substance of Islamic thought and practice. I welcome such a debate and it is because I have engaged in this debate that I can identify both as a Meccan Muslim and as a Medina Muslim, all the while finding zero conflict between my practice of Islam by declaring the Shahadah, and my oath as an American attorney to uphold the United States Constitution. And far from being some isolated example, I belong to a worldwide Muslim community of tens of millions in 206 nations, united under a spiritual Khilafat. We are a Muslim community that has existed for over 126 years in complete peace -- despite facing violence, persecution, and even death for our attempts at reformation. And we have done this all and only because of adhering to every verse of the Qur'an and every teaching of Prophet Muhammad.

I argue that the only viable strategy to containing the threat posed by all forms of extremism is to maintain international justice, universal freedom of conscience, secular governance, and a return to our Creator in personal worship. And I hold this position because this is the example set forth by Prophet Muhammad himself.

So yes, let us confront and debate the path to reformation. As the Qur'an teaches, "Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best."

Thus, I call upon Hirsi Ali to accept my debate offer in a public forum, on a mutually agreed upon topic, arbitrated by a neutral and mutually agreed upon third party. I, like billions of Muslims worldwide, am sincere about reform through debate and dialogue. If Hirsi Ali is likewise sincere, then I look forward to her acceptance.

Qasim Rashid is an attorney and best-selling author of EXTREMIST. He is a national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.