Book Review: Dancing in the Mosque

Dancing in the Mosque: an Afghan Mother’s Letter to her Son by Homeira Qaderi

This memoir captures much about a woman’s spirit, the love a mother has for her child and the heart-wrenching choices that the author has made to transcend the patriarchal culture in which she was raised.

Homeira Qaderi poignantly captures her childhood lived in Herat, Afghanistan amidst a war with Russia, later civil unrest and the growing pervasiveness and control of the Taliban. Under the watchful eyes of Baba-jan and Nanah-jan (her grandparents), her parents, a half dozen aunts and uncles, and her baby brother Mushtaq, Homeira consistently pushes the envelope of expected female behavior.

Within the framework of her beloved family and the gradual tightening of rules, particularly those applying to females, Homeira secretly conspires to educate local girls when the Taliban orders all schooling for girls closed. She does this despite the harsh penalties they might endure if she were discovered. The narrative takes the reader through her childhood, teens and into young adulthood where simple pleasures of music, dancing, or reading anything aside from the Qu’ran were forbidden.

When Homeira marries a man who tolerates her ways to a surprising degree given the culture, a conflict arises upon the birth of her son, Siawash. Mingled amongst the telling of the hardships brought by war, friends lost and the rules imposed by the Taliban, are letters that Homiera has written to her son. These provide a window into the psychology behind the sacrifices she has made both because she is a woman and because she is a mother.

I appreciated learning more about the Afghan culture from her first hand account of life in that war zone during a timeline about which my knowledge is anecdotal. What little I did know previously, I’d gleaned from news reports about American involvement once the Taliban took control of the country. This book is a prime candidate for a book club discussion as there is much to dissect and digest. Note there are triggering events depicted that while true, may be disturbing to some readers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

One of a handful of books about the female experience in Middle Eastern culture. Four and a half stars!

Wrecking Books and other Blasphemy

I always subscribed to the notion that books ought to be treated with near reverence.

“Careful not to bend a page my dear.”

“Do not set that cup of milk on the cover, it will make a ring my dear.”

“The jacket stays on to protect it my dear.”

Books, I believed, must be guarded from harm. A certain hierarchy existed. The Bible in any size, edition or cover held the position of literally sacred and most carefully guarded. Next in order of importance were: the dictionary, encyclopedias and other reference books along with library books and school textbooks.

Beneath them came hardcover books then paperbacks (which when using utmost caution to avoid dropping them directly into the ocean, could be brought to the beach.)

Yes, books required care or so I thought until one particular day in church when the preacher asked each member of our congregation to get out a pen.

“For this project,” he said, “the mini-golf pencils will not do.”

He instructed us to open our Bibles to a specific passage in the New Testament.

“We’re going to find a path to salvation,” he said.

Hesitant though I was, he suggested we created a trail of verses much like a treasure hunt. He read the passage and instructed everyone to write the next address (chapter and verse) in the margin. We proceeded to find that address, read the next passage, write a new address on that page and so on until we reached an end.

IMG_1225There it was—blue ink in the most revered book. The exercise changed my perspective on books and on faith.

I think I had always confused protection with abuse.

“Let’s not throw the book during an argument my dear.”

“Let’s not burn the books my dear.”

“Your books are not to be strapped to your feet and used to ski down the steps to the basement, my dear.”

Books are meant to be read, their pages marked with faint ovals from fingers turning one after the other. Dog ears, highlights or underlines should delineate words worth remembering and paths worth pursuing.

No matter the religion, faith is a journey from one chapter and verse to another.

Rise Up and Take Back Easter

Why doesn’t the resurrection of The Savior qualify for a bigger celebration than His birth? Habitual Christian churchgoers everywhere will tell you that the two top days for church attendance are Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday, so you would think that Easter could have handily trounced Christmas—celebration-wise.

I’ll be the first to admit that a new life should always be celebrated, but even on the religiousness-importance scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being “kinda pointless without it,” Easter would certainly qualify as top banana. Imagine celebrating Easter Sunday with a blow-out party followed by a Rose Bowl parade, a traditional rabbit stew, and fireworks in the evening. And speaking of rabbits, maybe Christians are not the ones to blame for this reversal of fortunes.

Maybe we should fault the Easter Bunny.

Excuse me, I'm a little bit freaked out right now
Excuse me, I’m a little bit freaked out right now

After all, he does not have the brains to hire helpers, he shows up on a different Sunday every single year (making it impossible to dress for the weather), and he lacks cool wheels. He does not leave a map to the eggs, so there’s a really good chance that on that first real scorcher of a day in June, you are bound to find one that was previously MIA just by following your nose.

Plus in a head-to-head competition between Santa Claus and Good ‘Ol E.B., my money is on the Bunny to scare the Beejezus out of little kids. Have you seen this guy at an egg hunt lately? Somebody, from Pixar ought to get on that, partner with Marc Jacobs, and get some fun-looking, high quality threads for the dude.

From a purely secular standpoint, Santa Claus sure has a helluva lot going for him that the Easter Bunny cannot compete with. Mrs. Claus has his back, the elves have marketable skills, and let’s not forget his mall helpers. In addition there’s the whole winter wonderland thing and the collaboration with the likes of Frosty the Snowman and Charlie Brown and his crew. He’s got lights, and twinkly, sparkly things and literally thousands of musical recordings. What’s the Bunny got? One hip-hop song, a basket full of pastel colored eggs with stickers, and a mentally-challenged Bugs Bunny cartoon character to pick up the slack. In retrospect, yeah, I take it back. Maybe it’s not the Bunny’s fault entirely; Santa is some stiff competition. How about a Bunny app or a Twitter so the kids get on board?

Perhaps I have a defective Bible. Maybe the book of Peter Cottontail was left out when the Council met at Trent and it never became part of the Apocrypha. We do not really know, but if that is the case, it might explain the connection between the Bunny, Jesus and plastic eggs with jelly beans, but we may never know. They do not teach that in Catechism.

Then again, maybe Christians are the problem. It cannot go unnoticed that without the birth of Jesus, there would have been no Christ followers, but without His death, there would be no Christianity at all. It is possible that some Christians lost sight of the importance of Easter Sunday so they put other days, even Christmas before it. Both religiously and secularly, Easter has been slighted, and that seems wrong. Rise up and take Easter back.

*Republished from a March 30, 2013 Letter to the Editor Wilkes-Barre Times Leader