I'm a Nomad but I Want to Be a Mother

Ask me where I live now and I would have to reply: on planes and in hotel rooms. I am always accompanied by a group of guards. But you won't hear me say that my life is not my own, in the end this is my own choice.

Of course I am homesick at times and I often feel lonely. But that is part of growing up. When you take a look at my life, it is obvious that I have always stayed a nomad. I have had to move from one country to the other.

Nomad is therefore the title of my new book; it is a biography about the years since leaving the Netherlands [for America] in 2006. But it is also about the things that are wrong in Islam and about the collision with western values. Furthermore I answer the many questions I am asked about my background and about my inner turmoil after my father's death last year.

Although he never understood me, the way we held each other's hand at the end proved that the love between parent and child is stronger than religion.

I miss my father. Or rather: I miss the image I had created of him--a lion fighting for his ideals, a father who carried me on his shoulders, a man who took a stand in favour of modern ideas about the literacy of women, who believed in their strength and worthiness. The reality is he was devoted to the Koran's commandments and had four wives, thus harming many people. He became more and more orthodox. His eternal preaching about religion is something I do not miss. When he was dying [in London] I had not seen him for years because of the rift caused by the conflicts about my views. Suddenly I felt guilty about that. He prayed for me till the very last. He wanted to make sure all his children would go to heaven, despite their mistakes. All I had to do was come back to Islam. I tell myself this authoritarian reading was his way of telling me he loved me. Although he never understood me, the way we held each other's hand at the end proved that the love between parent and child is stronger than religion. I believe in love on earth.

After his death I was engulfed by a wave of nostalgia: for the heat and the colours of Mogadishu; the white sand in front of our house, the yellow-green papaya trees, the explosion of colours of the bougainvilleas. I felt uprooted and lost in the United States. But longing for the past does not help one bit. You have to make a choice. That is the issue of many immigrants: you can't have your cake and eat it. Leave your old values behind and embrace the rules of your new country.

I will never see my father again. When you are dead, it's over, done and your body rots away. I once told my mother this but I was sorry immediately after. My mother is a prisoner of her religion. Every conversation comes down to her begging me to return to it. I can feel her loneliness, and guilt burns through my soul. In her view the western world has taken her daughter away. She wants forgiveness from Allah, in turn I want forgiveness from her; she is my mother; you need recognition and confirmation from your mother. Although I am sad to have hurt my parents, my revolt was essential to me. I feel so much fighting spirit, thinking of all the oppressed women in the world, including women in the West who are caught up in a prison of religious values and who have to suffer veils and other forms of mental slavery. I will go on taking a stand on their behalf.

It is said it takes about 600 years to modernise. In Nomad I show it can be done in four generations.

I describe my grandmother, a nomad who travelled from well to well; my mother, who landed up in the city and became completely disoriented. Then there is me: I pay the price for choosing a modern life and I get rejected because of it. My child would be the fourth generation.

He or she would have a completely modern upbringing.

I would love to become a mother. I am 40 now and I hope it is still feasible. I do not expect paradise, I will have to make the best of this life. So that is what I am doing.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto/Maya Kovacheva

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About the Author


Hirsi Ali
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken defender of women's rights in Islamic societies, was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. She escaped an arranged marriage by immigrating to the Netherlands in 1992 and served as a member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006. In parliament, she worked on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society and defending the rights of women in Dutch Muslim society. In 2004, together with director Theo van Gogh, she made Submission, a film about the oppression of women in conservative Islamic cultures. The airing of the film on Dutch television resulted in the assassination of Mr. van Gogh by an Islamic extremist. At AEI, Ms. Hirsi Ali researches the relationship between the West and Islam, women's rights in Islam, violence against women propagated by religious and cultural arguments, and Islam in Europe.


  • Email: ayaan.hirsiali@aei.org

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

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