Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui


A riveting look at militant Islam, Muslim women’s rights, and the war on terror—brought into focus through two lives on opposite sides: activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and religious extremist Aafia Siddiqui.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born former member of the Dutch Parliament and the author of the international bestseller Infidel, was raised as a Muslim fundamentalist in Kenya. A feminist, political analyst, writer, and fierce critic of her former religion, she champions the West in ...

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A riveting look at militant Islam, Muslim women’s rights, and the war on terror—brought into focus through two lives on opposite sides: activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and religious extremist Aafia Siddiqui.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born former member of the Dutch Parliament and the author of the international bestseller Infidel, was raised as a Muslim fundamentalist in Kenya. A feminist, political analyst, writer, and fierce critic of her former religion, she champions the West in what she insists must be a war against Islam. Hirsi Ali’s personal tale of courage in the face of constant threats from violent, fanatic enemies has won the admiration of millions in America and around the world.

Aafia Siddiqui, a native of Pakistan, moved to the United States to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience. A decade later, she returned to Pakistan, where her involvement with al-Qaeda, including her marriage to one of the 9/11 plotters, led the CIA to regard her as one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. Her disappearance, capture, and conviction in a New York City courtroom for attempted murder have earned her, too, admiration across the globe—from millions of radical Islamists.

Reconstructing the histories of these two women, award-winning author and journalist Deborah Scroggins weaves a provocative true-life thriller from two separate but strangely parallel lives in a time of bitter battle. Based on remarkable original research and reporting, Wanted Women traces their origins to explain why they chose opposite paths and how each has risen to become revered and reviled as an international symbol of her beliefs. Scroggins reveals controversial details about Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui, and about the political machinations that have transformed them into emblems of a civilizational struggle. Wanted Women provides an illustrative take on our time, stripping away the illusions—about women, war, faith, and power—that have distorted the conflict on both sides.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For Scroggins (Emma’s War), two women who, despite a “weird symmetry” in their lives, embody the split among Muslims regarding the West and the war on terror. Ayaan Hirsi Ali “fights only with words” against Islam, calling it a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death,” while there are numerous indicators that Aafia Siddiqui was preparing for a mass attack on America and the “enemies of Islam.” on the scale of 9/11. Somali-born Hirsi Ali, saying she was fleeing a forced marriage, sought asylum in Holland in 1992. Siddiqui came from a middle-class Pakistani family before moving to America to study at MIT and Brandeis, becoming a fanatical proponent of jihad. In Holland, Hirsi Ali joined Parliament and emerged as one of Islam’s harshest critics, which has gained her both admirers and enemies who threaten her life. Siddiqui traveled in the same circles as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and became the most wanted woman in the world; she disappeared for four years before being arrested in 2008. Scroggins illuminates not only the disconnect between the West’s often one-dimensional perception of Islam and its multifaceted reality but the schisms within Islam itself. This meticulously researched, skillfully narrated account offers a nuanced look at political Islam and the “war on terror” through the eyes of two women on the front lines. (Jan.)
Booklist (starred review)
“Scroggins’ research is wide-ranging and impeccable, and she keeps readers on the edge of their seats with her compelling prose. If we can understand Siddiqui and Ali, then we will have a better chance of understanding the war on terror.”
Library Journal
Journalist Scroggins (Emma's War: An Aid Worker, a Warlord, Radical Islam, and the Politics of Oil) presents a somewhat choppy comparison between the ardent feminist and critic of Islam, former member of Dutch parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the al-Qaeda-linked neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui. By using alternating chapters to trace their life stories and cultural transformations, Scroggins attempts to contrast Ali and Siddiqui on opposite ends of an ideological spectrum. Yet something about this dichotomy seems false. Although both were born into Muslim families, their cultural, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds were quite different. Scroggins addresses these differences but is still intent on finding a thread between the women that might help answer larger questions about women and Islam. Unable to obtain interviews with either of her subjects, Scroggins relied on interviews with their friends and acquaintances as well as "unnamed sources" and the published record. Thus her accounts of these two women are comprehensive, but not quite personal. VERDICT Despite covering two compelling subjects in well-researched detail, this book lacks the understanding found in most biographies. Nonetheless, it is still worth reading for those with an interest in the relationship between women and Islam. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/11.]—Veronica Arellano, St. Mary's Coll. of Maryland Lib., St. Mary's City
Library Journal
Two Muslim women, two different beliefs. Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch Parliament and author of the highly regarded international best seller Infidel, is a scathing critic of Islam. Pakistani-born, American-educated Aafia Siddiqui is reputedly a radical Islamist aligned with al-Qaeda (her second husband's uncle is said to have masterminded 9/11) who in 2010 was convicted by a U.S. federal court of assault with intent to kill her interrogators in Afghanistan. A winner of two Overseas Press Club Awards, among other honors, who moved her family to Amsterdam for four years while she reported on this story, Scroggins aims to illuminate the conflict between radical Islam and the West by studying these women (Siddiqui's case is particularly murky). Inherently interesting, potentially revelatory, and written by a skilled journalist, this book should be riveting and informative.
Kirkus Reviews
In-depth portrait of two prominent women in the Islamic world. Two women, one from Somalia, one from Pakistan—both intelligent, ambitious and Islamic: So how did one woman become a strong opponent of Islam and its practices toward women and one woman become a supporting member of the mujahideen? This is the fundamental question Scroggins (Emma's War: A True Story, 2002) attempts to answer in her comprehensive chronicle of the private and public lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui. The Somali-born Ali found refuge in Holland, where she rose to a leadership role in Dutch Parliament while waging war against the Islamic practices that hold women behind "the veil and the home's four walls." On the other hand, Siddiqui feverishly defends Islam and willingly works with members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban to promote the Koran in the hopes that "more and more people come to the [religion] of Allah until America becomes a Muslim land." Secret marriages, lies, death threats and disappearances add "layers to the tale of the war on terror," while disturbing descriptions of female genital mutilation, beheadings and torture add to the behind-the-scenes immediacy and significance of Scroggins' extensive reporting. Although the alternating chapters disrupt the flow of each woman's personal story, readers will question the role of women in Islam and the world as they learn more about the "anti-Muslim pundits and politicians in the United States and Holland" and the positions taken by the CIA, FBI and various Islamic groups during the War on Terror. A capable narrative of two women with similar backgrounds who moved in radically different directions because of their religious upbringing.
Dwight Garner
…sober and provocative…Ms. Scroggins has composed a dual biography of these dissimilar Muslim women, intricately braiding their stories.
—The New York Times
Eliza Griswold
…Scroggins…is a thorough reporter and an astute analyst of global events. Because of her willingness to introduce readers to over a century of Islamic theology and politics, a book that might have been a facile juxtaposition of two very different individuals is actually much more than the sum of its parts…It is undeniably a risky undertaking to attempt to write the biography of not one but two living figures who were unwilling to participate in the endeavor. But Scroggins…does a remarkable job of reporting and reconstruction, and Wanted Women serves as a valuable contribution to contemporary history, recounting two ways in which a modern woman's identity can be hers for the making—even if the outcome is tragic.
—The New York Times Book Review
Rachel Newcomb
The book alternates between each woman's story, making for riveting suspense…Wanted Women manages to evoke the complexity in both women's backgrounds, despite their rigid positions and their often maddening single-mindedness…While neither woman proves to be especially sympathetic, in Scroggins's telling, their lives make a fascinating story that reflects this polarized era.
—The Washington Post
Booklist (starred review)
“Scroggins’ research is wide-ranging and impeccable, and she keeps readers on the edge of their seats with her compelling prose. If we can understand Siddiqui and Ali, then we will have a better chance of understanding the war on terror.”
New York Times Book Review
“Scroggins, with her journalistic doggedness, does a remarkable job of reporting and reconstruction, and WANTED WOMEN serves as a valuable contribution to contemporary history, recounting two ways in which a modern woman’s identity can be hers for the making—even if the outcome is tragic.”
Washington Post
“Scroggins attempts to give a thorough biographical treatment to two women who remain enigmas, despite their status as public figures. The book alternates between each woman’s story, making for riveting suspense. . . . A fascinating story that reflects this polarized era.”
The Economist
“Gripping and finely textured. . . . By flipping between the two lives, the book cleverly shows how both women were influenced by successive events in history. . . . It does add greatly to the understanding of several interlocking conflicts, some grand and geopolitical and others intimate and personal.”
Boston Globe
“While the parallels are fascinating, the book’s strength is in its clear-eyed yet sympathetic storytelling. Somehow Scroggins manages to convert a mountain of research into a fast-paced, truly gripping pair of stories.”
Marie Claire
"Scroggins’ research is wide-ranging and impeccable, and she keeps readers on the edge of their seats with her compelling prose. If we can understand Siddiqui and Ali, then we will have a better chance of understanding the war on terror."
Christian Science Monitor
“Wanted Women reads like a mystery as one event unfolds into another. . . . Thought-provoking and thorough, Scroggins’s comprehensive book offers a unique perspective on the tensions between Islam and the West as seen through the life stories of two very different and influential women.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060898977
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/17/2012
  • Pages: 539
  • Sales rank: 1,042,172
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Scroggins

Deborah Scroggins is the author of Emma’s War, which was translated into ten languages and won the Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize. Scroggins has written for The Sunday Times Magazine, The Nation, Vogue, Granta, and many other publications, and she won two Overseas Press Club awards and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award as a foreign correspondent for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Wanted Women

Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: the Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui
By Deborah Scroggins


Copyright © 2012 Deborah Scroggins
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060898977

Chapter One

When Aafia Siddiqui's name first appeared on the FBI's Most Wanted
list, in 2003, few Pakistanis had ever heard of her. But within a
tight circle of bearded Karachi clerics and retired generals there were
smiles of recognition. They knew that Aafia's mother had raised her
to be a hero of Islam.
Her mother, Ismat Jehan Siddiqui, was born in 1939 in the north
Indian town of Bulandshahr. Before the British arrived in India,
high-ranking Muslim women of Ismat's class had lived in purdah,
veiled and secluded. Men outside their families weren't even
supposed to know their names or hear their voices. But in the nineteenth
century, Muslim reformers such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan
began arguing that the isolation of Muslim women had contributed
to the backwardness of their whole community. And by the time
Ismat was born, upper-caste families like hers had begun sending
their daughters to school.
The burning question for many Muslim thinkers, dating back to
the expansion of Europe's modern empires, was why Islam, which
had once dominated the world, had yielded to the West. Didn't the
Quran proclaim that the Muslim ummah, or community, was "the
best community brought out for mankind"? Sir Syed's answer was
that Muslims had forgotten the Quranic injunction to "Go and
learn, even if it takes you to China." He urged Muslims to learn
from the British and to master Western science and technology.
Ismat's brother, Shams Ul-Hassan Faruqi, accordingly studied
geology at Aligarh Muslim University, the "Muslim Cambridge" that
Sir Syed founded in 1875 near Bulandshahr. And Ismat attended Sir
Syed Girls College in Karachi after their family left their home and
traveled west to Pakistan, "the Land of the Pure," established in 1947
as a homeland for India's Muslims.
She and Aafia's father, Muhammad Sualeh Siddiqui, were married
in an arranged match. Ismat was a small, bustling person of
ferocious intensity. Aafia's father was a scholarly, retiring doctor. Not
long after their wedding, Ismat and Sualeh (who like many Pakistanis
named Muhammad was called by his second name) moved to Britain
so he could study neurosurgery. Their first child—Muhammad Ali,
but called Ali in the family—arrived in 1961. A girl they named
Fowzia followed in 1966. And Aafia, the baby of the family, was
born in 1972, after they returned to Pakistan.
Islam, believers emphasize, is a total way of life, and that was how
the Siddiquis practiced it. The first words the infant Aafia heard were
the verses of the call to prayer that her father whispered in the newborn's
ear. Her parents later impressed on her that the purpose of life
was to submit to the will of Allah the exalted and to be grateful for
his bounty. They kept the Holy Quran in a high, safe place and never
let the name of God's messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, pass their
lips without adding the blessing, "Peace be upon him." Islam determined
what they ate (no pork, no alcohol, only correctly butchered
meat), how they ate (with the right hand, not greedily, and with
thanks to Allah), and when they ate (after sunset during the holy
month of Ramadan, with invocations to God); what they wore (for
females, a tunic over baggy trousers with a scarf to symbolize modest);
how they slept (on the right side); how they should treat one
another (with respect for elders and love and kindness for all); what
they said of their neighbors (no gossip, no backbiting); and what they
tried to avoid (pride, arrogance, television, music, romantic novels).
They worried about washing properly and getting into just the right
position for prayer. They knew that Allah did not accept the prayers
of the unclean. And whether greeting people or saying good-bye,
expressing sympathy or wishing someone well, they never forgot to
thank God, from whom all things flow.
Aafia and her siblings also memorized vast stretches of the Quran
and the hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet, and recited them to their
parents. The child who did the best job received a prize. By the age
of seven, Aafia could perform her five daily prayers. Even before
that, she learned to examine her intention before committing any
act. Was it to please Allah? If so, she should offer her deed to him
with the words "In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful."
But if her action wasn't intended or likely to please Allah, she
simply shouldn't do it. Charity is one of the pillars of Islam, and Aafia
and her siblings were taught to spend their free time helping others.
There were rules for everything, but behind the rules stood the unity
of Allah and of Islam. Eventually this great system flowed into sharia,
"the straight path" of Islamic law, that defined what was right and
wrong, pure and impure, and to what degree. Those who followed
the path were rewarded with blessings in this life and paradise in
the next. Those who failed made themselves and those around them
miserable as they headed straight for hell.
All this was fairly standard for observant Muslims. But the
Siddiquis went further. They were followers of an Islamic movement
known as Deobandism.
The Deobandis began as an anticolonial movement in the nineteenth
century. A group of Sunni scholars founded the sect after
instigating the rebellion against the British that they called "the
Jihad of 1857" and that British historians called the Sepoy Mutiny.
The uprising failed spectacularly, costing 200,000 Muslim lives and
causing the British to expel the last Mughal emperor and tighten
their hold on India. The scholars, however, were undeterred. They
retreated to the town of Deoband, in Uttar Pradesh, not far from
where Ismat grew up, to survive "the dark night of British imperialisam,"
as they put it, "and to ensure that the torches of the religion of
Islam remain alight."

Like Sir Syed, the Deobandis wanted to know why Islam had
fallen under Western rule. But they rejected the view that Muslims
needed to learn from the West. Instead, they argued that Muslims,
in their haste to imitate unbelievers, had forgotten Allah and his law,
and they sought to purify the religion and return it to its roots.
Most Indian Muslims were not Deobandis. The mostly illiterate
Sunni peasant majority belonged rather to the mystical sect of the
Barelvis. They worshipped at the shrines of Sufi saints and followed
hereditary religious leaders known as pirs. The feudal landlords, for
their part, who ruled over the Sunni masses, were usually Shiite—a
legacy of Iran's ancient influence. The Deobandis, who tended to
come from the urban middle classes, looked down on both those
Although the Deobandis were few in number their sect was
favored by army officers, professionals, and small-business men. Before
partition, India's highest Muslim religious authority, the grand mufti,
was the Deobandi mufti Muhammad Shafi. After partition, the same
cleric became Pakistan's first grand mufti, based in Karachi.
Aafia's mother, Ismat, was a restless, ambitious woman, and rarely
content unless she was organizing people. As a rule, Grand Mufti
Muhammad Shafi believed that women should stay at home, under
the strict control of men. He once wrote, in fact, that at least half of
the world's "disorder, bloodshed, and internecine wars" was caused
by "woman and her unbridled freedom." Yet somehow, during her
young married life, Ismat persuaded this exalted cleric to let her
study under his personal tutelage. The religion that had kept generations
of Indian Muslim women locked in purdah became, for her, a
means of self-assertion.
Under the grand mufti's guidance, Ismat studied Islamic jurisprudence
and the life of the Prophet. But she also read the works
of twentieth-century writers such as Pakistan's Abu al-A'la al-
Maududi and Egypt's Hassan al-Banna. Western intellectual historians
call thinkers like Maududi and Banna, whose goal has been
to create a modern Islamic state, "Islamists." Maududi had a secular
education but came from a Deobandi background. In the 1930s, he
began arguing that a "gigantic flood" of Western ideas and customs
threatened to obliterate Islam. But Islam was more than a religion,
he contended; it was also a revolutionary political ideology and an
economic and political system. He also sought to revive the idea of
jihad, a religious imperative that Maududi defined as the struggle
for political power. "A total Deen," or religion, he wrote, "whatever
its nature, wants power for itself. The prospect of sharing power is
Like many other Islamists, then and now, Maududi was especially
bothered by Western-style efforts to place the sexes on a more
equal footing. Asked what had set him on his political path, Maududi
once mentioned an incident from the 1930s: "I saw Muslim shurafa
[honorable] women walking the streets without purdah [veil], an
unthinkable proposition only a few years before. This change shocked
me so greatly that I could not sleep at night, wondering what had
brought this sudden change among Muslims." In 1941, Maududi
formed a political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which aimed to return
women to the strict guardianship of men. Paradoxically, it also
offered women from conservative families a socially acceptable way
of entering public life, and by the 1970s, Jamaat-e-Islami had more
female activists than any other party.
While Aafia was still a baby, her family left Pakistan for Africa.
Dr. Siddiqui had been offered a job at the new University Teaching
Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia's capital. The Siddiquis quickly became
active in the city's small but lively Asian community, and Ismat began
holding religious classes for women, often taking little Aafia along.
When Aafia was two years old, Ismat formed a group she called
the United Islamic Organisation, or UIO. Its aim was to unify
Lusaka's Muslims and steer their worship into channels favored by the
Deobandis. They also aimed, more falteringly, to convert the
country's Christian majority to Islam. Aafia later told a friend that one
of her earliest memories was sitting cross-legged on the floor as her
mother lectured a rapt audience of African and Asian women dressed
in colorful veils and head wraps, her voice rising and falling with
the cadence of a revivalist. For Aafia, who was still a small child, her
mother exemplified the respect and admiration that a woman could
gain through her command of religion. It was a lesson Ismat would
reinforce when the family moved back to Pakistan in 1980.


Excerpted from Wanted Women by Deborah Scroggins Copyright © 2012 by Deborah Scroggins. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Principal Characters xi

Introduction xv

Part I Regarding the "West 1

Part II Acting 159

Part III Being Regarded 295

Acknowledgments 469

Note on Sources 471

Notes 472

Index 519

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    Interesting read for modern dilemmas

    I bought this book by accident, and it was a very interesting read. The author, Deborah Scroggins, was able to give me a glimpse into these two extraordinary women. It was thought-provoking and leaded me to want more information of the struggles, turmoil and pickles these women faces, from two very different backgrounds.

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