The New York Times Book Review
Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiquiby Deborah Scroggins
The author of Emma’s War offers a compelling account of the link between Muslim women’s rights, Islamist opposition to the West, and the Global War on Terror, as explored through the experiences of two fascinating female champions from opposing sides of the conflict: Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali and neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui. With Emma’s War: An Aid Worker, A Warlord, Radical Islam and the Politics of Oil, journalist Deborah Scroggins achieved major international acclaim; now, in Wanted Women, Scroggins again exposes a crucial untold story from the center of an ongoing ideological war—laying bare the sexual and cultural stereotypes embraced by both sides of a conflict that threatens to engulf the world.
The New York Times Book Review
The Washington Post
The New York Times
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- NOOK Book
- File size:
- 12 MB
- This product may take a few minutes to download.
Read an Excerpt
Wanted WomenFaith, Lies, and the War on Terror: the Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui
By Deborah Scroggins
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2012 Deborah Scroggins
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen 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 childMuhammad Ali,
but called Ali in the familyarrived 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 Shiitea
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.
Meet the Author
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 divides her time between Barnstable, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews