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Probably the number one thing the world wants Muslims to stop doing is jihad. Yes, no doubt many of the devout interpret jihad as an internalized, spiritual struggle. But that’s not how Daesh (a.k.a. “ISIL” a.k.a. "Islamic State") takes it.
The aspiration to jihad and martyrdom is inculcated in Muslims from childhood, Hirsi Ali claims. It comes from the Qur’an and the madrassas and the media. (She cites the Palestinian Authority TV ads that not so long ago implicitly urged kids to become suicide bombers.) In Islam, she points out, the martyr automatically ascends to the highest of the seven levels of Paradise. All his sins are instantly forgiven. In Paradise, he espouses 72 dark-eyed virgins. Just one stone from his crown is worth more than all the goods of earth.
Which brings us to another item on Hirsi Ali’s list — Islam’s grim focus on the Afterlife, part of the reason Hirsi Ali has characterized Islam as a “death cult.” In Islam, this life is merely a test, it’s the next one that counts. A third of the Qur’an deals with the Day of Judgment and the great post-mortem triage of humanity into the blessed and the damned.
Let me dwell on this a bit, altho Hirsi Ali does not. She wants reformation but she also wants to avoid getting herself entangled in theological and eschatological debates.
The official Muslim afterlife is physical. Paradise is an actual place with fountains and with trees heavy with fruit, like an oasis after you cross the desert of life. Best of all are those dark-eyed maidens. In Paradise you will have the strength to make love night and day, which is lucky because the maidens never sleep and never get pregnant. So Paradise is a sort of steady state of orgasm. For a guy, anyway. (“It is unclear,” notes Hirsi Ali, “what a woman’s paradise might be like.”)
Now, a physical afterlife is not impossible. It depends what you mean by physical. The world we so confidently call physical could as well be a dream. Paradise, then, could be another dream with a ‘physical’ setting. Except that it goes on and on forever, I guess. Let's not argue about that. The real issue is, who has the right to make pronouncements about the afterlife? Anyone, idiot or ayatollah, can weigh in on the matter with equal authority. But suppose you are an interested party, a war chief, say, and you want your warriors to risk their lives for your cause. Possibly in your enthusiasm you will promise them a big-time heavenly reward if they die in battle, you will promise them a Valhalla. The beauty of the gambit is that no one comes back to tell you you’re wrong.
Historically there have been a few brief blossomings of debate and freethinking within the Muslim world, but unfailingly it was the hardliners the fundamentalists who won out while dissidents were bullied into silence. It was as if the clerics decided that questions just lead to tougher questions which lead to doubt and desertion, so the best thing is: no questions. The Qur’an is the immutable word of God. Period.
Perhaps the most important of Hirsi Ali’s challenges to Islam is that it become open to analysis and debate. It has to do what is hardest: accept the historicity as opposed to the divinity of Mohammed and the Qur’an. That is, the Prophet was a fallible human bound up in psycho-socio-historical conditions like everybody else and the Qur’an is a man-made text which deserves to be examined with the same critical spirit we would bring to Das Kapital or The Republic.