Sunday, July 4, 2010

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan by Ali Eteraz

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan by Ali Eteraz. Harper One - HarperCollins Publishers. October 2009. ISBN #: 9780061567087

What do readers want from a memoir about Pakistan? Political commentary? Religious inspiration or denigration? A rational explanation of a different way of life? An expose of the many different facets of Islam? For this reader, the latter possibility shines forth in this memoir about Ali Eteraz tracing his life from birth to mid-twenties. His family takes him to the sacred shrine at Mecca, rubs him against a heavy black stone at the Ka'aba and pledges his life to the service of Islam. Indoctrinated from a very young age, Ali struggles at the face of Islam he meets. We never know precisely what he learns at the madrassa (Islamic school) other than the sadistic cruelty of child-abusing teachers, not very inspiring for sure. But as Ali grows older, he wrestles with conforming to the expansive laws and rules that require unbelievable discipline.

Ali then wrestles with the challenges of a normal, healthy teenage male, experiencing temptations that clearly conflict with the fundamentalist practices of his family. In the midst of this struggle, Ali must pass from being taught about Islam to exploring, embracing, challenging and seeing what he owns through experience and what is just custom that doesn't always fit in with his high school and college education. To many, Ali learns, Islam is a political or cultural habit, like a piece of clothing one can embrace or discard at a whim, but he wonders where are those who live Islam out of love of its teachings and laws and not just ritualistic practice. Who is right and who is wrong, the fundamentalists or liberals? Can one really truly call one's self faithful to Islam by living a middle-of-the-road practice of this demanding religion? Is reform needed? Ali studies his religion in a thoughtful manner that, albeit lacking substance for the reader as to the content of his studies, makes one's respect tangibly grow for Ali in his scholarly immersion.

Funny, tortured and profound, Ali very briefly abandons it all only to realize he has no identity without Islam and that it is his mission to be a conduit of reform, fighting terrorism and lackluster attitudes with equal and vivacious zeal. Rejecting the type of practice that leads to abuse with the ascendancy of the Taliban to power and control, Ali arrives at a momentous realization, finding beauty in a "we" moment of serving others rather than continuing to search for what this religion can do for or give to him. Freedom just might be a word that means one loses one's truest spiritual identity.

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan is written in a highly intelligent, wise, humorous and straight-forward manner that will appeal to many readers searching in their own journey or wanting to understand and appreciate the journey of this particular people's religion and nationality.

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