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Review of Children of the Dust by Ali Eteraz

Home Free essays Literature Review of Children of the Dust by Ali Eteraz

Eteraz’s journey from a strict Muslim childhood to a liberal adulthood closely apes that from Pakistan to the United States. In Pakistan, his parents prayed for him to lead a pious life as the culture, and the Islamic religion demanded. He joyfully embraces his youth in a desert village in Pakistan close to his parents. At no point did he question his young manhood and the strictness of Islam in a Muslim country. Eteraz enjoyed his mother’s lessons drawn from the Quran. They made him understand the reality of life and compare it with the imaginations of his life. However, this cultural calm ends the moment his father, who was a medical doctor, got a visa to work in the United States. The whole family then sets to migrate from the Islamic environment in Pakistan to Alabama. The different cultural and religious setting in the United States would define his adult life.

With the new experience of American life in Alabama, Eteraz will begin to see his childhood differently. In fact, it causes him to start rebelling against his parents’ teachings and conservative view of life. In what appears to be his spiritual maturation, Eteraz begins to question some aspects of Islam and how opportunists like Osama bin Laden use Islam for their selfish gains. In addition, the journey from Pakistan to the United States marks the beginning of his self-understanding as a Muslim and as a human being. As a result, he finds fault with the strictness of Islam on childbearing. According to him, the fact that he was not allowed to interact and form lasting relationships with girls affected his socialization. He hardly finds a reason to relate with ladies except for sex, an attitude that is deeply flawed. This makes him pursue reformation of Islam as he believes the religion, as practiced in Pakistan, does not blend well with reason.

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In Pakistan, Eteraz was quite contented with Muslim fundamentalism. He strictly lived the way his parents and the society expected of him. However, this changed when they moved to the United States. In America, his family moved repeatedly to look for an opportunity. Finally, they settled in the Bible belt where Christianity dominated. When he joined high school in Alabama, Eteraz decided to change his name to Amir. This was in an attempt to distance himself from the religious fundamentalism of his parents. Eteraz had come to the reality that Islam was not the only religion in America like it was in Pakistan. Thus, it was not practical to remain the religious fundamentalist that his parents wished him to be. In effect, his view of religion was fast changing, and he was becoming more open-minded. The story about their movement into the Bible Belt captures the social wedge fixing itself between him and his family.

Their residency in the United States significantly alters his perception of religion. As he struggles with shyness and sexual angst, Eteraz begins to question why his religion hindered him from interacting with girls. His mother had always taught him that he needed to avoid ladies for him to remain a good boy. For her mother, interaction with people of opposite gender amounted to poor mannerisms. Eteraz firmly believed his mother’s advice until he started high school. While he remained utterly shy, his male friends formed perfect relationships with their female colleagues. They didn’t have to engage in a sexual relationship despite their close association. It became apparent that his Muslim childhood had denied him a chance to socialize and build an active personality.

Eteraz, during his childhood, found himself in a complicated cultural environment that shaped his childhood. As a young boy, Eteraz is admonished by her mother for playing with Sina. From his, Eteraz learns that his culture and religion require him to avoid close contact with girls or women. It is the reason he says the only female relationship he had was that between himself and his mother. In Pakistan, children are supposed to inform their parents of any relationships with persons of the opposite sex. Their parents have to approve of their relationships and their partners. In most instances, one is expected to respect their parents’ choice instead of choosing for themselves partners. It is the reason Bilqis was fearful about the idea of being disowned by her parents in case she did not stick to her “arranged” marriage.

The Korean contemporary society expects Eteraz to marry only Muslim ladies. It was the only way one would ensure their marriage was religiously sanctioned. However, getting a Muslim girl was quite a tall order. This becomes evident when the relationship between Amal and Eteraz does not last long enough. According to him, the fact that their religion did not allow them to speak or interact closely weighed heavily on their relationship. Besides, Eteraz admits that Amal was quite underdeveloped in character. Her underdevelopment was attributable to lack of social exposure. This has forced most of them to adopt the social sites and chats as a means of interacting with persons of opposite gender. There is no doubt that these restrictions affect their social development and personal maturity. It is the reason Eteraz finds it difficult to fit into the American society where no such restrictions exist. In fact, interaction between different people is highly encouraged, sex notwithstanding.

America appears to view Islam entirely differently from Pakistan. As he embraces American lifestyle, he begins to see certain aspects of Muslim culture as backward. In a bid to break away from the closed-mindedness, he willfully accepts a transfer to a Christian University and begins to study Philosophy. In Philosophy, Eteraz sets out to study postmodernism, Islam and religion in the modern society. It helps him understand what the American society and indeed the non-Muslim world think of Islam and religion, in particular. Eteraz becomes brutally honest by conceding that his piety was just to impress other people. In this regard, he concludes that Islam and strict Pakistani Muslim adherents had failed. And thus, he sets out to embrace postmodernism to revenge. However, it is not lost to him that his mother made a covenant long before he was born that he would remain an ardent follower of Islam. While he retains his leadership positions in various Islamic groups, he is no longer the firm believer he used to be. In fact, Islam has since ceased to be a sacred obligation to Allah, but a status that links him with other Muslims in the world.

Eteraz experienced the xenophobia that Americans had towards Muslims after the September 11. Although he did not consider it Islamic, he dismissed Osama bin Laden as an opportunist who is bent on using Islam to cover up his terrorist tendencies. According to him, Islam was faced with two greatest opponents, secularism, and extremism. Both were dangerously divisive and ought to be avoided. His interactions with other Islamic thinkers brought to him another perspective of the subject. They believed that the real battle was between Islam as a religion and reason. It goes without mentioning that Eteraz’s experiences in America made him think more deeply about his religion and question some religious aspects that did not make a lot of sense.
There are several lessons in the story that can enrich one’s social experiences and contribute to their personal development. For instance, it is clear that children should be allowed to interact freely with their counterparts of the opposite gender. It helps them appreciate one another as worthy human beings worth love and respect. Had this been embraced in the Pakistani Muslim culture, Eteraz would have grown into a more socially mature adult. Besides, the relative underdevelopment in Amal and Bilqis would never have been the case. Eteraz associates his inability to form long-lasting relationships with ladies with his strict childhood. As a matter of fact, several relationships collapse because the culture does not allow people to communicate freely. In light of this, restricting interaction among people does them more harm than good as manifested in Eteraz’s life. It is a practice that people must avoid to get holistic personal development.

The other lesson from the story is that religious beliefs must be tempered with reason. According to Eteraz, Osama bin Laden had taken advantage of the fact that most Muslims follow their religion without tampering it with reason to advance terror networks. Thus, the only way to stop him would be to encourage Muslims to reason with their religious beliefs so that they do not fall into similar traps. In America, Eteraz learned that Christians also had religious beliefs that were close to Muslims. However, they only followed those that made sense in the context of postmodernism. This must have informed his decision to pursue fundamental reformation of the Islamic religion. It was the only way to liberate the millions of Muslims enslaved by religious fundamentalism.

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