01 May, 2010 Review of Wafa Sultan’s “A God who Hates”
Wafa Sultan describes herself as an atheist. Her autobiographical A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam is a witness statement concerning Islam’s God, of whom she writes “I did see the influence he wielded, and in order to dispel his influence, I have to deal with him as if he exists” (p.46).
At the heart of Sultan’s courageous book is a testimony concerning the treatment of women in Muslim societies. This, as she experienced it, was horrific. She tells of how her grandmother was forced to welcome her grandfather’s second wife by dancing at their wedding; of harrowing insights into family sexual abuse – many instances of incest rape came to her attention when pregnancy brought the female victims into her surgery; of the murder of women who had the misfortune to fall pregnant, often at the hands of the very same male relative who had raped them; of abuse by the medical profession and employers; of sexual harassment of single women in public places – the movements of female students on a bus ‘resembled those mice attempting to flee from a malicious cat’ (p.29); of the oppressive system of guardianship which men exercise over women in Islam; and, perhaps most movingly of all, of the self-rejecting words she heard coming from the mouths of abused female patients.
A question that cries out from this litany of suffering is ‘Why?’ After many years of observation and study, Sultan came to what seemed to her to be the inescapable conclusion that all the abuses she was observing around her were due to Islam and its God.
Sultan offers this warning to the world: ‘The status of women in Muslim countries is a human catastrophe that the world has ignored for centuries, and for which it is now paying a high price for ignoring.’ The price, she suggests, is that oppressed and subjugated women cannot raise emotionally well and mentally healthy men. The ‘invisible Muslim woman’ … is … ‘the hen who incubates the eggs of terrorism.’ (p.135) Sultan’s answer to the post 9/11 question ‘Why do they hate us?’ is ‘Because Muslims hate their women, and any group who hates their women can’t love anyone else.’ Why do they hate their women? ‘Because their God does.’ (p.7)
Sultan believes that the retrograde features of the God of Islam were originally due to the harsh desert environment in which he was created by the minds of the Arabs, so many centuries ago. She contends that the harsh and fear-oriented desert mind-set is merely a primitive backwardness, which must be replaced by a more enlightened world view. The desert God of fear and hate, she says, must be displaced. This is for her an inevitable and necessary product of human progress.
Sultan holds America up as her dream land of freedom and human dignity, a vision of the progress which she hopes the Muslim world will enjoy. However the evil of abuse of women is not limited to Islamic societies and there is something naive about Sultan’s trust in progress.
Sultan provides many references to the Koran and traditions of Muhammad, in order to make clear how Islamic teachings condition Muslim men to ill-treat Muslim women. However A God Who Hates
is not a reference work on Islamic law. Rather it is an intensely personal document, the diary of a soul walking a long, difficult and dangerous journey out of darkness into hard-won freedom. The author is a compassionate and brave woman, who writes with terrible frankness about her experiences, but dares to dream and hope for a better world, shaped by a loving God.
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.