OVERALL: 4.5/5

“They had to force my mother to let go of that tiny body. Leila was buried in the Behesh Zahra Cemetery in Isfahan, and as the tiny shroud was committed to the earth, there was one last secret my mother whispered: “Leila, you’ve been saved by not coming to this world . . . because you are a girl.”

–        Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, A God Who Hates Women

I had been in search of a memoir to read on my Kindle when I serendipitously came across Dr. Majid Rafizadeh’s book. I distinctly recall that a few years back, the recommendation for “A God Who Hates Women” frequently appeared on my Amazon page, and I had mentally added it to my ever-growing to-be-read list. Thus, when I saw it appear on my Kindle screen once more, I decided it was high time to download it and dive into its pages.

Little did I know that the words I would encounter in this book would linger in my thoughts for a considerable time, haunting me with their presence.

What is the book all about?

Taking place in both Syria and Iran during the Islamic revolution of 1979, A God Who Hates Women paints a harrowing picture of the world that Dr Majid grew up in. Drawing inspiration from his mother’s experiences, this true story delves into deeply unsettling territory.

It’s a profound exploration of a battleground marked by ancient cultural pressures and intense emotions—a place where a mother and her son grapple with the harsh realities of a patriarchal society in their fight for survival and the simple desire to thrive.

Can their endurance and courage prevail over the daily onslaught of abuse?

Will a homeland in ruins obliterate a young boy’s dreams of a future?

About the author

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a distinguished business strategist, scholar, and renowned political scientist. His accolades include scholarships from institutions like Oxford University and the University of California Santa Barbara. He’s a sought-after expert, providing briefings to U.S. and EU officials and teaching under the U.S. State Department Fulbright Teaching scholarship.

His work is quoted in international news outlets, and he frequently appears on TV and radio. His work is also translated into several languages.

The story of his mother Amira

Though the book begins by introducing his great-grandmother and their times, it essentially is a story of the author’s mother and the tumultuous life that she lived in Syria and Iran.

At the outset we learn of Divah, Dr. Majid’s grandmother, who was named as a female monster to save her from the angel of death who seemed to have taken away all her siblings.

To this woman, was born Amira, one amongst the eight children. Divah, who was no different from her own mother and from the other women of her times would often tell others that she had given birth to ‘three boys and five burdens’.

Such was her dislike for the girl child that one when of her girls had died at the age of five, she viewed her death as a blessing.

To such a mother was born Amira, who was often told, “I wish your destiny was like that of your dead sister and that you had not passed the age of five like her.” Divah fiercely believed that girls were a stain on the family name and that one should get rid of them and ‘purify’ oneself as quickly as possible.

Amira, much like other girls her age, shouldered household responsibilities from a tender age. Despite her remarkable intelligence, her education came to an abrupt halt in the fifth grade when she was coerced into marrying a man nearly two decades her senior.

Right from the start, her marriage was a catastrophic ordeal. She endured relentless beatings for the slightest infractions, often subjected to her husband’s relentless curses and indiscriminate violence.

Eventually, she sought refuge back at her maternal home, only to be treated as little more than a servant, carrying the label of ill fortune. Her second marriage initially held promise, with her husband appearing charming and kind, but it soon descended into a distressing echo of her first one.

It’s impossible not to sympathize with Amira and her children, who face mistreatment not only from their father but also from their stepmother and step-siblings.

The writing

The author’s writing emanates from a place of profound emotion and personal turmoil, stemming from his own challenging experiences. Dr. Rafizadeh’s childhood was marred by witnessing his mother’s suffering at the hands of his father. While some of the instances of cruelty depicted in the book may initially appear unimaginable, they demand recognition and belief from those closely monitoring Middle Eastern events.

To convey such atrocities is no small feat, yet the author manages to do so effectively. He frequently cites verses from the Quran and Hadith, shedding light on how they were used to subdue women and stifle their individuality.

In addition to recounting his mother’s story, Dr. Rafizadeh delves into his own upbringing, growing up with dual identities as both an Iranian (from his father’s side) and a Syrian (from his mother’s side). This unique background equipped him with valuable skills and opened doors to diverse experiences and opportunities in his life.

The book also delves into the political landscape of that era, offering insights into the Iranian theocracy, Syrian corruption, and the ruthless Mukhabarat. It paints a vivid picture of the social fabric of both Iran and Syria during the period covered in the book—two nations that, while sharing the lamentable mistreatment of women, also exhibit marked differences, as astutely observed by Dr. Majid.

“This experience taught me, in fact, about the reverse correlation between the level of theocracy in a government and people’s actual religiosity. In Syria, a secular state run by a regime that oppressed any religious movement, the level of piety was increasing. On the other hand, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a theocracy well known for harshly imposing religious laws, people were moving toward bypassing those very same religious laws.”

Although the story is undeniably captivating, possessing a haunting and unsettling quality, there appears to be a disconnect between the two sections: his mother’s narrative and his own. The latter portion feels rushed and lacking in depth.

While certain images within the text enhance the personal connection and realism of the story, the overall writing could have benefited from a touch more finesse.

Nonetheless, I would undoubtedly recommend “A God Who Hates Women” to those keen on gaining insight into the challenges faced by women in the Middle East, especially within the context of Iran and Syria.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of A God Who Hates Women.