The Caged Virgin

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The Caged Virgin
De maagdenkooi (book by Ayaan Hirsi Ali).jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Original title De maagdenkooi
Language Dutch
Subject Women in Muslim societies
Publisher Free Press
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print
Pages 187
ISBN 978-0-7432-8833-0
OCLC 64390639
LC Class BP173.4 .H5813 2006
Preceded by De zoontjesfabriek (2002)
Followed by Infidel (2006)
LCCN 2006-43345

The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman's Cry for Reason, also published as The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, (Dutch: De maagdenkooi), is a 2004 book by the former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Caged Virgin was first published in English in 2006. In the book Hirsi Ali discusses her own struggle with Islam, intended as a model how other Muslim women may achieve their own emancipation. In advising women how to address the divide between Western and Islamic thought, she draws on her firsthand knowledge of the Islamic world and the philosophical tradition originating in the Enlightenment.[1]

Hirsi Ali contends that in Islamic regions Muslim women who seek solace and escape from Islam are typically threatened with death, and those Muslim women who do escape the "virgins' cage" are branded whores. The author discusses Islamic views on the role of women, the rights of individuals, the roots of Islamic fanaticism, and proposes Western policies toward Islamic countries and immigrant communities. Hirsi Ali emphasizes how Muslim women have no basic rights in their lives. She describes how Muslim women are trapped not just in one, but two cages; a physical one where their movements are monitored, and a metaphysical one, which restricts their religious and cultural beliefs.[2]


Natasha Walter of The Guardian wrote, "The Caged Virgin is a shocking read. Ayaan Hirsi Ali rages at crimes that are done to women by men: from forced marriage to female genital mutilation; from denial of education to sexual abuse within the family. Her fury about these crimes makes her essays vibrant and inspiring." But that "Ali not only paints the whole of the Islamic world with one black brush, she also paints the whole of the western world with rosy tints in order to set it as perfect day to the bleak night of the Muslim world."[3] The book was also lauded by the author and journalist Christopher Hitchens.[4]

Ali was criticized by many authors[who?] for adopting an attention seeking tactic, because she was also a political candidate at the time. Reviewers[who?] found that there was no evidence for the claims she made and most of them were exaggerated. Uma Narayan, said the book was fragmented with bits of autobiography and a motivational letter. Hirsi Ali’s outrage at the discrimination of Muslim women was one dimensional, and struggled to bind feminism, racism and internationalism in the same book.[5] She discredited that members of the Muslim society were trying to make changes despite their frail situations and circumstances,[6] and was completely oblivious to the progress made by Muslim women, who were slowly and successfully making progress in their daily lives.[7] For Narayan, Islam, like any other culture is permeable, it is dynamic and the boundaries constantly shift. She criticized Ali for having a generalized portrayal of the Muslim society, and assigning all Muslim cultures as violent and discriminatory. She missed the aspects of cross-cultural similarities, as well as possible internal cultural divisions.[5]

According to other authors, Islam, like every religious belief, has been hard wired into the society and it is very difficult to change these beliefs over a short span of time. However, Ali states that these cultural beliefs and ideas are not subject to any change or reform. [8] Other reviewers like Leti Volp criticized Ali for highlighting culture only in some cases throughout the book but not all, which was considered as a political attempt to gain popularity, given her political interest and position at that time.[5]

Saba Mahmood wrote that the title of the work is "highly reminiscent of the nineteenth-century literary genre centered on Orientalist fantasies of the harem" and "full of absurd statements" such as "[Muslim] children learn from their mothers that it pays to lie. Mistrust is everywhere and lies rule".[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chadwick, Alex (May 4, 2006). "'The Caged Virgin': A Call for Change in Islam". NPR. Retrieved September 29, 2016. 
  2. ^ Hari, Johann. "Islam in the West". Dissent. 54: 123–129. 
  3. ^ Walter, Natasha (2 December 2006). "Religion and righteousness". The Guardian. Retrieved September 29, 2016. 
  4. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (May 8, 2006). "The Caged Virgin: Holland's shameful treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali". Slate. Retrieved September 29, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c Snitow, Ann (2011-10-05). "A Life in Violent Motion". Dissent. 53 (4): 104–109. doi:10.1353/dss.2006.0068. ISSN 1946-0910. 
  6. ^ Hassan, Riaz (2001). "Sociology of Islam". Encyclopedia of Sociology (2 ed.). Macmillan Reference USA. 5: 2937–2953. 
  7. ^ Barkan, Elliott. "Muslim Women in the United States". Immigrants in American History: Arrival, Adaption, and Integration. 4: 1818–1819. 
  8. ^ Davis, Kathy (2006). "Review: You're Next: The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Jane Brown". The Women's Review of Books. 23: 6–7. 
  9. ^ Mahmood, Saba (2009). "Feminism, Democracy, and Empire: Islam and the War on Terror". In Herzog, H.; Braude, A. Gendering Religion and Politics: Untangling Modernities. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-230-62337-8. 

External links[edit]