Saturday, December 5, 2009
CHILDREN OF DUST by Ali Eteraz
This compelling memoir will command the attention of a wide range of readers. A well known young voice in the Islamic “blogosphere,” Ali Eteraz is clearly a thinking voice that is not to be confined to any of the cliché tableaus that seek loudly to speak for all Muslims all the time and to define monolithically the “Muslim experience.” Even before his birth, Ali Eteraz was committed to the path of Islam. Hoping for the birth of a son, his parents had offered their child while still in the womb to the lifelong service of Islam, if they were granted the blessing of a son. As an infant Eteraz made his first Hajj to Mecca where this covenant was renewed and his body was rubbed on the very surface of the Ka’ba walls. The body of the work deals with various phases of Eteraz’s life where he embraces Islam as he finds it, and then rejects it in various forms as his frustrations illustrate to him that nothing in Islam is as it appears on the surface. Some readers will find this disillusionment sad as he turns away from the most obvious, visual and literal manifestations of the faith. Others will find this disillusionment the natural evolution of a young man who grapples with secularism and its empowering joys and dangerous pitfalls as he comes of age as a young man in the grips of all that young manhood entails in any culture. Readers looking for a peek into the backrooms of fundamentalism at its most raw and vital fount, will enjoy this clear taste. And those seeking some basic understanding of the ravaging chaos that is tearing Pakistan apart will glimpse this as well.
Eteraz is first and foremost a strong and bold storyteller. But he is a gentle one as well, knowing when to touch lightly upon the elephant in the room of colonialism without mounting the soapbox and alienating readers who need to be coaxed into that pool if they are to understand the world we live in. But for this reader, it was the relentless race through the inner minefield of religious seeking that was most compelling. The moments when Ali seems to be beating a dead horse, melt suddenly away in the most wonderful and unexpected places and he attains new understanding that can be called nothing short of mini-enlightenments. And these are often drowned in a laughter and good humor that sweeps all else away. Ali Eteraz is clearly guided by an inner compass that seems never to have steered him wrong, if at times that journey has taken a circuitous route. The eventual description of his understanding that what has bared his way towards a deep and meaningful encounter with the essence of Islam, is his idolatry of the form of Islam, is worthy of the great Persian poets, the Rumis, the Hafezs, and all the rest. But here it is offered in a hip new robe that reminds the questing reader that the journey Ali Eteraz has undertaken is a universal one, shaped to the unique contours of the individual soul, not to be embraced as a one-size-fits-all template that never descends beneath the surface of the skin. This book is an absolute delight.