Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam

Posted by nliakos on March 26, 2016

by Wafa Sultan (St. Martin’s Press 2009; ISBN 978-0-312-53835-4)

I have never read a book quite like this one before. I am a cultural relativist who tries not to judge different cultures according to the standards of American culture, and I believe that people should be have freedom to worship (or not) as they please. Wafa Sultan was born and grew up in Syria and immigrated to the U.S. when she was in her thirties. She thinks that people like me are naive. She thinks that Islam is imbued with hate and violence and that Allah is an ogre who uses people’s fear to  control them. This is strong stuff. As I was reading, I alternated between feeling repelled by her negative stereotyping, e.g., “A Muslim man can see himself only in terms of his ability to pump out money and sperm” (pg. 131) and wondering about whether there is any basis in truth for her contention that Islam is a religion based on raiding and booty and has not changed in fourteen centuries.

Sultan claims that there are no full and accurate translations of the Quran into other languages (because this is forbidden), so even non-Arabic speaking Muslims do not understand the essential messages of the text, let alone non-Muslims; but that Muslims who study and memorize the text in its original form are constantly exposed to messages of hatred, fear, prejudice, and inequality (everyone in Muslim society plays the roles of slave and master at different times). Unlike Asra Q. Nomani, who found the strength in the Quran to stand up to the cultural mores in her local mosque (Standing Alone in Mecca), Sultan views the Quran as the source of evil in the Muslim world.

I most enjoyed the parts of the book in which Sultan tells her own story, especially Chapter 7, “First Step to Freedom,” where she describes her adaptation to American life. Of course, it makes me feel good to read how she was made to feel welcome when she first came here, and I am glad that she appreciates the opportunities that living in the U.S. has afforded her. However, I was very uncomfortable with her many statements that all Muslims are lying when they act friendly to Americans. Sultan herself, as well as her husband, clearly constitute exceptions to her rule that all true Muslims think this or do that (despite rejecting the teachings of Islam, she still considers herself to be Muslim and the product of a Muslim upbringing), so why does she accuse all other Arab Muslims of being potential terrorists? (Donald Trump must love her.) As I read, I thought to myself, in my forty-plus-year career as an ESL teacher, I taught numerous Muslims, and I really can’t believe that every one of them actually hated me and considered me as no better than a prostitute because I don’t cover my hair. I remembered specific students I have had who confided in me and sought guidance from me, and I don’t believe this slander of their characters. But what about a reader who has never met a Muslim, or an Arab? That reader would be more likely to accept Sultan’s claims at face value.

Sultan insists that she loves her adopted country, yet she cannot bring herself to espouse some of its most basic values. She was appalled at Colin Powell’s statement that there would be nothing wrong with electing a Muslim president of the U.S., saying, “Islam is not just a religion: It is a political doctrine that imposes itself by force, and we have to subject to microscopic scrutiny any Muslim in America who ascends to the heights of [the Presidency].” (pg. 240) She sounds like Ben Carson or Ted Cruz. (I hope she has also reconsidered her statement that “any American capable of being a presidential candidate is an American worthy of my trust” (pg. 238) in this day of Donald Trump.)

There were many moments when I wanted to stop reading, but I made myself read to the end because I think it’s important to be exposed to the opinions of others, even when they go against our own beliefs, so as to achieve a better understanding of where they are coming from. It’s not something I do often enough.

If any of my former Muslim students reads this post, I would very much like to know their opinions about it and about the book, if they read it.

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