BOSTON — After taking heat from some of its own over a decision to grant an honorary degree to an advocate for Muslim women who has made comments critical of Islam, Brandeis University has withdrawn the honor.
The university said in a statement April 15 that Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali would no longer receive the honorary degree which it had planned to award her at its May 18 commencement.
Ali, a member of the Dutch Parliament from 2003 to 2006, has been quoted as making comments critical of Islam. That includes a 2007 interview with Reason Magazine in which she said of the religion: “Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”
Brandeis, located outside Boston in Waltham, Mass., said it was not aware of Ali’s statements earlier.“She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university’s statement said.
Even though the university is withdrawing the honorary degree, “Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues,” the statement said.
Ali was raised in a strict Muslim family but, after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage, she renounced the faith in her 30s. She declined to comment to The Associated Press.
In 2007, Ali helped establish the AHA Foundation which works to protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture, according to its website. The foundation also strives to protect basic rights and freedoms of women and girls. This includes control of their own bodies, access to an education and the ability to work outside the home and control their own income, the website says.
More than 85 of about 350 faculty members at Brandeis signed a letter asking for Ali to be booted off the list of honorary degree recipients. And an online petition created by students at the school of 5,800 had gathered thousands of signatures from inside and outside the university within a day of being launched.
“This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students,” senior Sarah Fahmy, a member of the Muslim Student Association who created the petition, said of the honor before the university withdrew it.
Bernard Macy, a 1979 Brandeis graduate, sent an email to university President Frederick Lawrence and several members of the faculty saying, “Thank you for recognizing Ayaan Hirsi Ali for defending Muslim women against Islamist honor violence.”
But Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, said, “It is unconscionable that such a prestigious university would honor someone with such openly hateful views.”
The organization sent a letter to Lawrence requesting that it drop its plans to honor Ali.“This makes Muslim students feel very uneasy,” Joseph Lumbard, chairman of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, said in an earlier interview. “They feel unwelcome here.”