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Ali Eteraz's Children of Dust is a spellbinding portrayal of a life that few Americans can imagine. From his schooling in a madrassa in Pakistan to his teenage years as a Muslim American in the Bible Belt, and back to Pakistan to find a pious Muslim wife, this lyrical, penetrating saga from a brilliant new literary voice captures the heart of our universal quest for identity.

Children of Dust begins in rural Islam at the lowest levels of Pakistani society in the turbulent eighties. This intimate portrayal of rustic village life is revealed through a young boy's eyes as he discovers magic, women, and friendship.

After immigrating with his family to the United States, Eteraz struggles to be a normal American teenager under the rules of a strict Muslim household.

In 1999, he returns to Pakistan to find the villages of his youth dominated by the ideology of the Taliban, filled with young men spouting militant rhetoric, and his extended family under threat. Eteraz becomes the target of a mysterious abduction plot when he is purported to be a CIA agent, and eventually has to escape under military escort.

Back in the United States, with his fundamentalist illusions now shattered, Eteraz tries to find a middle way within American Islam. At each stage of Eteraz's life, he takes on a different identity to signal his evolution. From being pledged to Islam in Mecca as an infant, through Salafi fundamentalism, to liberal reformer, Eteraz desperately struggles to come to terms with being a Pakistani and a Muslim.

Astonishingly honest, darkly comic, and beautifully told, Children of Dust is an extraordinary adventure that reveals the diversity of Islamic beliefs, the vastness of the Pakistani diaspora, and the very human search for home.

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 13, 2009
ISBN: 9780062015150
List price: $9.99
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This book spoke to me powerfully, disturbingly and eloquently. Although unique in its narrative style, it's early chapters invited me in with the graphic ease of, say, Mao's Last Dancer. The story of Abir ul' Islam is compelling from the first page, despite portraying a terrifying picture of a religious interpretation that appears to be based entirely on superstition and human power. The young Abir is portrayed as closely as possible as though the events are occurring in the present, without benefit of adult hindsight. Then, when he moves to America, the mood changes abruptly, and the story is penned with a retrospective bitterness against his parents. Later, his cynical irony is turned on himself, and then, finally, in the fifth "book", Abir-Amir-Ali begins a painful, unintentional and beautifully depicted journey into love and wisdom. The character of Ziad, his reluctant teacher, is wonderfully realised, and the language becomes poetic in its beauty in places. The brutal honesty, combined with the changing narrative voice and the seductive simplicity and beauty of the text combine to make this one of the more extraordinary books I have ever read. What a privilege.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I should have jet lag. I've traveled from Pakistan to different parts of America including Alabama and Las Vegas. "Children of Dust" is a memoir about a Pakistani Muslim, Ali Eteraz, his family and friends. I liked this book because "Children of Dust" is a religious memoir. It's a young man's search for the purest and truest form of Islam. Throughout the entire book he is on the brink of changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly. His search, Ali's questions make this book throb with life. Early in his life Ali the life of Muslim women. He also thought about the way Muslim men were taught to treat an attractive woman.This part of the book gave me a chuckle or two because Ali truly loved a beautiful girl. It is very hard for him to look down, look away, don't touch. Like all young guys, his testerone is very healthy. Anyway, it's clear that Ali is a reformist. The spirit of reform led him to observe and not leap. He observed himself and other men. He studied the Qu'ran. Really, at one point, he became an intellectual scholar. In the end, he walked away from militant behavior while continuing to love Islam. I really was impacted by his feelings during 9/11. I think it is at this point that I began to see Muslims as individuals. There are Muslims who would never kill Americans, who would never blow their bodies up in order to do Jihad and kill innocent people. There are Muslims, like Ali Eteraz, who cried for the losses of 9/11."Now, having seen their vision of justice....I felt only anger. What made their actions even more reprehensible was that they had carried out their murders in the name of Islam."This book gently pounded in my head the fact that all Muslims are individuals. When I choose to look at one and think there goes another suicide bomber, another one who would call me, an American, a devil, then, I'm terribly wrong. I've become racial profiler and a stereotyper, a person who labels people and puts people in tight cubbyholes to fit what I believe or have heard from someone else.It's true. There are Muslims who fight with other Americans because they believe in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The Fort Hood experience made many Muslims ashamed and heartbroken. I must remember to look at the one man lying in the Army hospital bed not at a nation of people. Ali Eteraz is an example of a man who believes in a pure religion. Pure religion is one that won't do harm to a fellow human being. Because he chose to observe, think and study Ali Eteraz is still a Muslim. He is a Muslim with a heart."The feeling softened me somehow. It melted away my skin and sinew and made me a part of the men around me. These men who were raised from dust, lived in dust, and would eventually rest in dust."Ali Eteraz is who he is a lover of Muhammed and the Qu'ran and his people and other people too. He deserves respect not misappropriated judgment.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is the story of his journey to find himself and his place in his world. It is full of information about Middle Eastern culture and Islam. Although there were a few places where the language could have been cleaned up, overall the book was a great informative read and one of the best memoirs I've ever read. I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of Ali Eteraz or is interested in the Middle East culture or Islam.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Normally, I'm opposed to young people writing memoirs, just on principle. Children of Dust shamed me. I was wrong to judge. It is so, so good: a remarkable story told with skill and charm, and uplifting in the best possible way.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Typically, I enjoy books set in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. I find the contrast between their cultures and American culture to be interesting and informative. The predominance of religion weighs heavily in the mix of course, and that will always distinguish a multitude of differences. Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz is a book that illustrates just how different our worlds truly are. Eteraz grows up stuck between these worlds, trying to understand his place and purpose. He’s the product of a convenant between his father and Allah—destined to do great and wonderful things by spreading the word of Islam. That’s a lot of responsibility to place on a child and as a result, Ali (originally named Abir) struggles with defining himself until a final revelation opens his eyes as to his mission in life.Unfortunately, I didn’t care much for this book. As Eteraz recounts his life story, all I came away with was the impression of a very egocentric man. Perhaps that is a product of his feeling of responsibility/indebtedness to Islam. His destiny you might say is his undoing, or at least until he achieves a measure of enlightenment about what it means. And he does of course, that’s what redeems him in the end…but for me it was too little, too late. I couldn’t help but think that this is yet another way his is reinventing his person. Trying to make himself to good guy, as opposed to the selfish hypocrite of his former years. Sigh, I had such high hopes for this book. In the end, I don’t think I understood Eteraz’s perspective well enough to enjoy his story. I’m sure there are plenty others who might appreciate the story more.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Before Ali Eteraz was born, his father promised Allah that if his child was a boy that child would “become a great leader and servant of Islam.” Eteraz’s parents named him Abir ul Islam which translates to “perfume of Islam.” As a child living in Pakistan, Eteraz didn’t have much desire to follow his parents’ plans; but later they move to America and things change for Eteraz. He wants to follow the religious teachings, but he’s also interested in girls and sexual contact is forbidden. The online world ends up providing an outlet. Eteraz has some great descriptions in this part of how he tried to hide from his parents the screeching sound of AOL starting.A few years later, Eteraz goes to college. He moves from one religious extremity to another during his early adult life and undergoes a name change before emphasizing his birth name in order to convince others to follow his instructions. This period is then followed by the name he currently uses; he became Ali Eteraz when he became a reformist. Tragically, Eteraz lost his family and some friends when he became so passionate about reformation. Children of Dust is really a remarkable story written so that even someone totally unfamiliar with Islamic teachings can understand. I was impressed with Eteraz’s writing; he described places I’ve never been vividly enough that I could picture them.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ali Eteraz has written this Memoir of Pakistan, with style and an amazing amount of detail. In his descriptions of his childhood, you can smell the smells and feel the dust under your feet.From his education through his youth and adulthood, he is a constantly changing, chameleon, adjusting himself to be the best Islamic man he can be. He endures beatings, terror, humiliation, and ignorance, as he struggles to find his place, first in Pakistan, then to the US, Alabama, of all places, New York and back to Pakistan. He wants to be the best Muslim, the best son, the best American, and finds it much more difficult than he expected.As someone who knows nothing about the Muslim faith, I found some of the words difficult, and a little confusing, but don't let that deter you. This is a very personal memoir, and I found myself rooting for his success. He went from an innocent boy to a reformed man, in the course of the story, he is a highly intelligent man, who learned both from his faith and his experiences.I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in learning more about Islam and how it relates to todays world.I received this book from Julie at FSB Associates for review. Thank you!read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I really enjoyed this book. I think it is important to learn all we can about Islamic culture and Pakistan plays a very important role in the United States' war on terror.Reading about it through the eyes of Eteraz was enlightening, profound, touching, and yet also humorous. Ali Eteraz takes us through his life from birth to his twenties and his journey with Islam and how it conflicts with his western education. However, the lesson that we drew was that in order to really repent for our sins, we had to prosecute and convict ourselves in front of others, as the adulterer had in front of the Prophet and the Companions. Besides, since we were all brothers in Islam, we had an obligation to asist one another in our psychological flagellation. That would help keep us from repeating our sins in the future. In short:it was out of concern for our friends that we had to berate them publicly. Briefer:humiliation was kindness I liked that this book read more like a novel, than dry non-fiction, a tale divided into five parts. But that doesn't take away the experience of the author and what the reader takes away from this book. It was very well-written and enjoyable.my rating 4.5/5read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I have always been fascinated by religion; probably due to my experiences as a child. I was raised Catholic but lost my religion as they say long, long ago. But not my interest. So I read. I have covered several Christian branches and a fair bit on Judaism and now am reading about Islam. Mr. Eterez's book is a memoir of his life from his childhood to adulthood reared in Islam. At first I was disconcerted by the lack of a narrative. The chapters seemed like independent stories with nothing much binding them together except for Mr. Eterez. But his writing style is easy and I soon forgot the lack of a traditional structure and truly enjoyed the book. His tales of his passion for his religion are funny, heartfelt and at times morbid. Mr. Eterez truly bares his soul and his life to the reader. As he mentions in his acknowledgments - he didn't expect to gain friends in writing the book.I think anyone curious about Islam and life in Pakistan would find this book very enjoyable. It also mildly explores the immigrant experience for Muslims in the United States. I found it sadly comical how Mr. Eterez and his family were perceived when they went back to Pakistan for a visit. Assumptions are so very dangerous and we humans make them all the timeread more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I try to read at least most of the books on the Chautauqua reading list each year, which led me to Children of Dust. This is a memoir of a man born in Pakistan who came to the United States as a child. It's a story of his quest to remain Muslim in Bible belt America and to understand his Islam faith all set to the background of his day-to-day life. According to the book jacket, Mr. Eteraz is a graduate of Emory University and Temple Law School. He was selected for the Outstanding Scholar's Program at the U.S. Dept. of Justice and later worked in corporate litigation in Manhattan. He has published srticles in Dissent, Foreign Policy, AlterNet and alt Muslim; and is a regular contributor to The Guardian UK. The book is well-written and a pleasure to read.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ali Eteraz’s coming of age memoir takes us from his upbringing under conservative Islam in Pakistan, to his education in philosophy and postmodernism in the West, to his epiphany about who he is when he is back in the Muslim world. Eteraz has no qualms about showing us all his wavering, flaws and warts. It’s a big risk with a memoir, because readers might not like him enough to continue. But we get something valuable if we stay the course: Eteraz is without a doubt an interesting person, and moreover shares with us an inside look at a childhood overshadowed by Islamic teachings and religious madrassas (schools), and some plain language elucidation about the Quran and Islam.I loved learning more about Islam. I had no idea, for example, that the Prophet Sulayman is none other than who we in the West call Solomon, son of King David (Daud), or that Isa, son of Maryam is the same as Jesus, son of Mary. I had thought that the Quran is considered holy in the same way the Bible is considered holy, but I learned differently. Eteraz explains:"The Quran existed jointly with God. Timeless, immutable, perfect, the Quran was all Allah (though not all of Allah was the Quran). Allah had poured it through the mouth of Muhammad, and as it existed on paper now was how Allah intended for the Quran to look, taste, and sound. The Quran was the Islamic equivalent of Christ. The act of repeating the Arabic words, as they passed through the mouth and throat and echoed in the chest, was a form of transubstantiation: a way of making what was divine enter the human body.”Well, you can certainly see why mistreatment of the Quran at Guatanamo by Western soldiers was such anathema to the prisoners there.Eteraz’s memories about madrassas are pretty frightening. Young boys were physically abused – beaten, humiliated, harangued, even in one case raped. He doesn’t claim all madrassas are like this, but the ones in his experience certainly were. (The beatings were justified as helping to prepare the boys to serve Allah later in a greater capacity by being prepared for life’s pain.) No wonder this boy grew up to change his name to Ali Eteraz (“noble protest”) and to challenge the authority of ultraconservative Islam.And yet, Eteraz has trouble escaping fundamentalist Islam’s noose. His friend Ziad observed:"You have to ask yourself what you’re fighting for, Ali. Are you an enemy of Islamic fundamentalism simply because it pisses you off, or do you actually support liberty? If it’s the latter, why do you have to talk about Islam all day? If it’s the former, you have to ask yourself why you let your life be controlled by being pissed off. Or…maybe you’re just desperate to be relevant.”Talks with Ziad, many as emotionally charged as this one, eventually lead Eteraz to understand what it is he believes.Evaluation: The press release on this book characterizes it as “astonishingly honest” and “darkly comic.” I would agree with the former, but with the latter I would only accept the word “darkly.” I thought it was a sad book. I found many elements of what happened to Eteraz as horrific. Even his parents, who seemed very loving, instilled fears and expectations in him about religion that I thought tended toward the abusive. This book reminds me of Foreskin’s Lament by Shalom Auslander. Auslander also decries the deleterious and pervasive effects of an orthodox religious upbringing. No matter how he tries to reject it, it continues to inform his existence. I would say that Auslander’s book is more accurately described as “comic” however. But both of these books teach by example that bringing up children to fear God by issuing threats and inculcating stories of the harm their sins will bring upon the world is destructive to the human spirit.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
zaberdastread more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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This book spoke to me powerfully, disturbingly and eloquently. Although unique in its narrative style, it's early chapters invited me in with the graphic ease of, say, Mao's Last Dancer. The story of Abir ul' Islam is compelling from the first page, despite portraying a terrifying picture of a religious interpretation that appears to be based entirely on superstition and human power. The young Abir is portrayed as closely as possible as though the events are occurring in the present, without benefit of adult hindsight. Then, when he moves to America, the mood changes abruptly, and the story is penned with a retrospective bitterness against his parents. Later, his cynical irony is turned on himself, and then, finally, in the fifth "book", Abir-Amir-Ali begins a painful, unintentional and beautifully depicted journey into love and wisdom. The character of Ziad, his reluctant teacher, is wonderfully realised, and the language becomes poetic in its beauty in places. The brutal honesty, combined with the changing narrative voice and the seductive simplicity and beauty of the text combine to make this one of the more extraordinary books I have ever read. What a privilege.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I should have jet lag. I've traveled from Pakistan to different parts of America including Alabama and Las Vegas. "Children of Dust" is a memoir about a Pakistani Muslim, Ali Eteraz, his family and friends. I liked this book because "Children of Dust" is a religious memoir. It's a young man's search for the purest and truest form of Islam. Throughout the entire book he is on the brink of changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly. His search, Ali's questions make this book throb with life. Early in his life Ali the life of Muslim women. He also thought about the way Muslim men were taught to treat an attractive woman.This part of the book gave me a chuckle or two because Ali truly loved a beautiful girl. It is very hard for him to look down, look away, don't touch. Like all young guys, his testerone is very healthy. Anyway, it's clear that Ali is a reformist. The spirit of reform led him to observe and not leap. He observed himself and other men. He studied the Qu'ran. Really, at one point, he became an intellectual scholar. In the end, he walked away from militant behavior while continuing to love Islam. I really was impacted by his feelings during 9/11. I think it is at this point that I began to see Muslims as individuals. There are Muslims who would never kill Americans, who would never blow their bodies up in order to do Jihad and kill innocent people. There are Muslims, like Ali Eteraz, who cried for the losses of 9/11."Now, having seen their vision of justice....I felt only anger. What made their actions even more reprehensible was that they had carried out their murders in the name of Islam."This book gently pounded in my head the fact that all Muslims are individuals. When I choose to look at one and think there goes another suicide bomber, another one who would call me, an American, a devil, then, I'm terribly wrong. I've become racial profiler and a stereotyper, a person who labels people and puts people in tight cubbyholes to fit what I believe or have heard from someone else.It's true. There are Muslims who fight with other Americans because they believe in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The Fort Hood experience made many Muslims ashamed and heartbroken. I must remember to look at the one man lying in the Army hospital bed not at a nation of people. Ali Eteraz is an example of a man who believes in a pure religion. Pure religion is one that won't do harm to a fellow human being. Because he chose to observe, think and study Ali Eteraz is still a Muslim. He is a Muslim with a heart."The feeling softened me somehow. It melted away my skin and sinew and made me a part of the men around me. These men who were raised from dust, lived in dust, and would eventually rest in dust."Ali Eteraz is who he is a lover of Muhammed and the Qu'ran and his people and other people too. He deserves respect not misappropriated judgment.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is the story of his journey to find himself and his place in his world. It is full of information about Middle Eastern culture and Islam. Although there were a few places where the language could have been cleaned up, overall the book was a great informative read and one of the best memoirs I've ever read. I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of Ali Eteraz or is interested in the Middle East culture or Islam.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Normally, I'm opposed to young people writing memoirs, just on principle. Children of Dust shamed me. I was wrong to judge. It is so, so good: a remarkable story told with skill and charm, and uplifting in the best possible way.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Typically, I enjoy books set in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. I find the contrast between their cultures and American culture to be interesting and informative. The predominance of religion weighs heavily in the mix of course, and that will always distinguish a multitude of differences. Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz is a book that illustrates just how different our worlds truly are. Eteraz grows up stuck between these worlds, trying to understand his place and purpose. He’s the product of a convenant between his father and Allah—destined to do great and wonderful things by spreading the word of Islam. That’s a lot of responsibility to place on a child and as a result, Ali (originally named Abir) struggles with defining himself until a final revelation opens his eyes as to his mission in life.Unfortunately, I didn’t care much for this book. As Eteraz recounts his life story, all I came away with was the impression of a very egocentric man. Perhaps that is a product of his feeling of responsibility/indebtedness to Islam. His destiny you might say is his undoing, or at least until he achieves a measure of enlightenment about what it means. And he does of course, that’s what redeems him in the end…but for me it was too little, too late. I couldn’t help but think that this is yet another way his is reinventing his person. Trying to make himself to good guy, as opposed to the selfish hypocrite of his former years. Sigh, I had such high hopes for this book. In the end, I don’t think I understood Eteraz’s perspective well enough to enjoy his story. I’m sure there are plenty others who might appreciate the story more.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Before Ali Eteraz was born, his father promised Allah that if his child was a boy that child would “become a great leader and servant of Islam.” Eteraz’s parents named him Abir ul Islam which translates to “perfume of Islam.” As a child living in Pakistan, Eteraz didn’t have much desire to follow his parents’ plans; but later they move to America and things change for Eteraz. He wants to follow the religious teachings, but he’s also interested in girls and sexual contact is forbidden. The online world ends up providing an outlet. Eteraz has some great descriptions in this part of how he tried to hide from his parents the screeching sound of AOL starting.A few years later, Eteraz goes to college. He moves from one religious extremity to another during his early adult life and undergoes a name change before emphasizing his birth name in order to convince others to follow his instructions. This period is then followed by the name he currently uses; he became Ali Eteraz when he became a reformist. Tragically, Eteraz lost his family and some friends when he became so passionate about reformation. Children of Dust is really a remarkable story written so that even someone totally unfamiliar with Islamic teachings can understand. I was impressed with Eteraz’s writing; he described places I’ve never been vividly enough that I could picture them.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ali Eteraz has written this Memoir of Pakistan, with style and an amazing amount of detail. In his descriptions of his childhood, you can smell the smells and feel the dust under your feet.From his education through his youth and adulthood, he is a constantly changing, chameleon, adjusting himself to be the best Islamic man he can be. He endures beatings, terror, humiliation, and ignorance, as he struggles to find his place, first in Pakistan, then to the US, Alabama, of all places, New York and back to Pakistan. He wants to be the best Muslim, the best son, the best American, and finds it much more difficult than he expected.As someone who knows nothing about the Muslim faith, I found some of the words difficult, and a little confusing, but don't let that deter you. This is a very personal memoir, and I found myself rooting for his success. He went from an innocent boy to a reformed man, in the course of the story, he is a highly intelligent man, who learned both from his faith and his experiences.I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in learning more about Islam and how it relates to todays world.I received this book from Julie at FSB Associates for review. Thank you!
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I really enjoyed this book. I think it is important to learn all we can about Islamic culture and Pakistan plays a very important role in the United States' war on terror.Reading about it through the eyes of Eteraz was enlightening, profound, touching, and yet also humorous. Ali Eteraz takes us through his life from birth to his twenties and his journey with Islam and how it conflicts with his western education. However, the lesson that we drew was that in order to really repent for our sins, we had to prosecute and convict ourselves in front of others, as the adulterer had in front of the Prophet and the Companions. Besides, since we were all brothers in Islam, we had an obligation to asist one another in our psychological flagellation. That would help keep us from repeating our sins in the future. In short:it was out of concern for our friends that we had to berate them publicly. Briefer:humiliation was kindness I liked that this book read more like a novel, than dry non-fiction, a tale divided into five parts. But that doesn't take away the experience of the author and what the reader takes away from this book. It was very well-written and enjoyable.my rating 4.5/5
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I have always been fascinated by religion; probably due to my experiences as a child. I was raised Catholic but lost my religion as they say long, long ago. But not my interest. So I read. I have covered several Christian branches and a fair bit on Judaism and now am reading about Islam. Mr. Eterez's book is a memoir of his life from his childhood to adulthood reared in Islam. At first I was disconcerted by the lack of a narrative. The chapters seemed like independent stories with nothing much binding them together except for Mr. Eterez. But his writing style is easy and I soon forgot the lack of a traditional structure and truly enjoyed the book. His tales of his passion for his religion are funny, heartfelt and at times morbid. Mr. Eterez truly bares his soul and his life to the reader. As he mentions in his acknowledgments - he didn't expect to gain friends in writing the book.I think anyone curious about Islam and life in Pakistan would find this book very enjoyable. It also mildly explores the immigrant experience for Muslims in the United States. I found it sadly comical how Mr. Eterez and his family were perceived when they went back to Pakistan for a visit. Assumptions are so very dangerous and we humans make them all the time
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I try to read at least most of the books on the Chautauqua reading list each year, which led me to Children of Dust. This is a memoir of a man born in Pakistan who came to the United States as a child. It's a story of his quest to remain Muslim in Bible belt America and to understand his Islam faith all set to the background of his day-to-day life. According to the book jacket, Mr. Eteraz is a graduate of Emory University and Temple Law School. He was selected for the Outstanding Scholar's Program at the U.S. Dept. of Justice and later worked in corporate litigation in Manhattan. He has published srticles in Dissent, Foreign Policy, AlterNet and alt Muslim; and is a regular contributor to The Guardian UK. The book is well-written and a pleasure to read.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Ali Eteraz’s coming of age memoir takes us from his upbringing under conservative Islam in Pakistan, to his education in philosophy and postmodernism in the West, to his epiphany about who he is when he is back in the Muslim world. Eteraz has no qualms about showing us all his wavering, flaws and warts. It’s a big risk with a memoir, because readers might not like him enough to continue. But we get something valuable if we stay the course: Eteraz is without a doubt an interesting person, and moreover shares with us an inside look at a childhood overshadowed by Islamic teachings and religious madrassas (schools), and some plain language elucidation about the Quran and Islam.I loved learning more about Islam. I had no idea, for example, that the Prophet Sulayman is none other than who we in the West call Solomon, son of King David (Daud), or that Isa, son of Maryam is the same as Jesus, son of Mary. I had thought that the Quran is considered holy in the same way the Bible is considered holy, but I learned differently. Eteraz explains:"The Quran existed jointly with God. Timeless, immutable, perfect, the Quran was all Allah (though not all of Allah was the Quran). Allah had poured it through the mouth of Muhammad, and as it existed on paper now was how Allah intended for the Quran to look, taste, and sound. The Quran was the Islamic equivalent of Christ. The act of repeating the Arabic words, as they passed through the mouth and throat and echoed in the chest, was a form of transubstantiation: a way of making what was divine enter the human body.”Well, you can certainly see why mistreatment of the Quran at Guatanamo by Western soldiers was such anathema to the prisoners there.Eteraz’s memories about madrassas are pretty frightening. Young boys were physically abused – beaten, humiliated, harangued, even in one case raped. He doesn’t claim all madrassas are like this, but the ones in his experience certainly were. (The beatings were justified as helping to prepare the boys to serve Allah later in a greater capacity by being prepared for life’s pain.) No wonder this boy grew up to change his name to Ali Eteraz (“noble protest”) and to challenge the authority of ultraconservative Islam.And yet, Eteraz has trouble escaping fundamentalist Islam’s noose. His friend Ziad observed:"You have to ask yourself what you’re fighting for, Ali. Are you an enemy of Islamic fundamentalism simply because it pisses you off, or do you actually support liberty? If it’s the latter, why do you have to talk about Islam all day? If it’s the former, you have to ask yourself why you let your life be controlled by being pissed off. Or…maybe you’re just desperate to be relevant.”Talks with Ziad, many as emotionally charged as this one, eventually lead Eteraz to understand what it is he believes.Evaluation: The press release on this book characterizes it as “astonishingly honest” and “darkly comic.” I would agree with the former, but with the latter I would only accept the word “darkly.” I thought it was a sad book. I found many elements of what happened to Eteraz as horrific. Even his parents, who seemed very loving, instilled fears and expectations in him about religion that I thought tended toward the abusive. This book reminds me of Foreskin’s Lament by Shalom Auslander. Auslander also decries the deleterious and pervasive effects of an orthodox religious upbringing. No matter how he tries to reject it, it continues to inform his existence. I would say that Auslander’s book is more accurately described as “comic” however. But both of these books teach by example that bringing up children to fear God by issuing threats and inculcating stories of the harm their sins will bring upon the world is destructive to the human spirit.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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