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Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan

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  • Posted November 4, 2009

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    4.5 stars

    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

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Not all Muslims are Terrorists, some actually fight that. This is one's story

    Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz
    Review by Chris Phillips
    Eteraz has written an autobiography. He gives a direct and vivid gaze into his life growing up in Pakistan and as a Muslim. The book details his history from birth and before (his parents actions are recounted) to the present, the time of the book's writing. It depicts an interesting journey from his blind faith to moderate conservatism in Islam.
    There are several dynamics utilized to illustrate these transitions. The story of his parent's beliefs and personal trials begins the tale but fades into the shadows by the book's end. Much as anyone else matures and moves on, Eteraz has shown how this relationship and others changed from dependence to independence with him, but also changed him.
    Another dynamic is name changing. When he was born, he was named Abir ul Islam which means "Perfume of Islam." Throughout his life he changes his name a total of 5 times eventually settling on Ali Eteraz, which means "Noble Protest." Each name change defines Eteraz as a different person with respect to Islam, his family and the world in general. In turn each name describes much of what goes on in his life.
    Although there are several terms and turns of a phrase that were unfamiliar to this reviewer, the definition or explanation are smooth. This style lends itself to the smooth readability of the book.
    Eteraz uses the central theme of his growth with respect to Islam as it parallels his life and how he lives it. In many ways this spiritual theme lends itself to a better understanding of moderate Islam and definitely opens the understanding of moderate Muslims throughout the world. Although the case is depicted via Eteraz's personal perspective, his encounters with others throughout the Muslim world reveal that his feelings and interpretations are similar to many in that world. His responses and reactions to terrorist activities is one of horror that someone could interpret the Quran as a reason for violence.
    As Eteraz deals with the issues of Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists, he maintains a "balanced" perspective. The same smooth style and logical presentation reveal more about Islam than all the "noise" created from terrorists and extremists. He tries to understand the fundamentalists since his parents are active in such a group in Louisiana. Even here he attempts to effect a rational change while acknowledging the differing opinions involved. In Book IV The Postmodern - Amir ul Islam, Chapter 8, pgs 268 - 271, he deals with the issues of a conservative Pakistani-American watching the Twin Towers collapse from his Washington, D.C. office. His chagrin that it was done by extremists claiming divine sanction is the theme throughout the final section of the book. He becomes a reformer in an attempt to change the ascendency of these extremists into positions of power in the Muslim world. His ultimate conclusion is that reason and common sense would dictate the moderate position, but it will take dramatic changes in the cultures to make it effective nation-wise.
    Eteraz is consistent and focused in describing his life in this context. He shows friends, family and lovers in a descriptive manner that is fair to the people involved but also revealing about their motivations and thoughts. This contributes to the "real" feel for the book and the writing style that makes this book work.

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  • Posted December 15, 2009

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    A Remarkable Story!

    Before Ali Eteraz aka Amir ur Islam aka Abu Bakr Ramaq aka Amir aka Abir ul Islam was born his father promised God that he would be a great leader and a servant of Islam. Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz is a memoir of the author's coming to terms with that accord or mannat.

    The Table of Contents reads like a map of Eteraz's geographical and personal journey. In Book One: The Promised -- Abir ul Islam (Perfume of Islam) he is a child living in Pakistan attending a religious school (madrassa) to memorize the Quran. In Book Two - The American - Amir, he is a teen living in the Bible Belt trying to blend in with his new American peers. In Book Three - The Fundamentalist - Abu Bakr Ramaq (Spark of Light) he is attending college in Manhattan and embraces Islamic fundamentalism. Book Three follows his disappointing return to Pakistan where his old friends reject him as "too American." In Book Four - The Post Modern - Amir ul Islam he inwardly adopts anti-Islamic ideas at his new university while outwardly feigning Islamic piety. The final book, Book Five details the author's transformation to Ali Eteraz (Noble Protest) in which he becomes an activist against the violence committed in the name of Islam.

    Eteraz is a gifted writer covering a wide swath of emotions in Children of Dust. When describing an unexpected emotional awakening at party in Dubai with Pakistani laborers, Eteraz lyrically writes:

    It [a song] 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. I felt one with them. I was not alone. We were many. We were all children of dust.

    At other turns, Eteraz hones a light comedic touch such as this passage:

    A Muslim leader [he was president of his university's Muslim Students Association] . . . had to be what others thought a perfect Muslim should be. The trouble, of course, was that I was far removed from piety . . . and therefore the only solutions were to genuinely achieve piety or fake.

    As a true postmodernist I opted for the latter and called it art . . . .

    The only disappointment came at the end of the book when Eteraz leaves loose ends concerning his family.

    Overall, Children of Dust is a riveting story of one man's quest to fulfill his pre-birth covenant.

    Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (October 13, 2009), 352 pages
    Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the publisher and FSB Associates.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2009


    Boring and nauseating at times. This is not a well-written book and it is not very insightful. Though it was shocking to learn that fundamentalists to that degree live in the US and proselytize their misguided interpretation of Islam. Did not enjoy reading this book!

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2009

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    This is a fascinating intelligent memoir

    Ali Eteraz was born in Pakistan but raised also in the United States where his family moved to when he was ten years old. His father prayed to Allah that if God granted him a male offspring, he pledged that son would be a servant of Islam. As a child he is taken to Mecca where is further pledged to God and attends the Madrassa Islamic school where teachers abuses the children in the name of Allah. Ali rebels as a teen, but also begins to embrace his religion. However, as he grows into adulthood, he begins to understand his religion is also a culture, but struggles with how strict should one adhere to scripture in a shrinking world?

    This is a fascinating intelligent memoir that focuses on the author finding his identity in a western culture that thrives of individual freedom that on the surface seems contradictory to the dogma of religion, in Ali Eteraz case Islam, but could have been the other major religions too. Mr. Eteraz feels his niche is to fight from the pulpit the two extremes of Taliban-al Qaeda deadly extremism and the uninspired event worshipper. How he reached his conclusion is a terrific personal journey of the soul that is easy to follow and admire.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Review: Children of Dust

    Enchanting. Thought provoking. Sad and yet hopeful. Roller coaster.

    Those words come to mind when I think of Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz. I enjoyed reading this book. From the first pages, to the last.I was not sure where Ali was taking me. And trust me it was a journey.

    The enchanting part.the descriptions of his life in detail.the colors, the shabbiness of the old clothes, the scents surrounding his life.the language.took me into his world and I felt a part of his life. His child's eyes saw everything and with his eyes, I saw a life of poverty and yet full of love and joy at times. Ali's eyes also saw great sadness and horrors that we in the West cannot imagine and gratefully so.

    Through Ali's eyes, I saw Islam. Ali saw both the Islam that is peaceful and an Islam that can be brutal. To read of a child learning Islam (the faith) was inspiring. To read of a child learning Islam (the religion) was saddening. I have to say some of the more violent parts were hard for me to read. In fact, I had to set the book aside and meditate. No one wants to read of abuse. However, read I did and I learned the difference between faith and religion.

    Ali writes with a sense of humor and such an openness that it is hard to believe he has seen many acts of violence in his life. He gives everyday people another reason to believe .to know they have a voice and have a right to live in peace.

    During his metamorphoses, the book was hard to follow. It seemed Ali had lost his focus. Yet wouldn't you and I lose some focus while changing? We would. The one thing that remained was his love for Islam.

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  • Posted October 15, 2009

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    Coming of Age Into Islam

    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.

    Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on October 15, 2009

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  • Posted October 12, 2009

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    Bridget's Review

    Ali's father made a promise to God that if he was given a son, his son would be a powerful asset to Islam. God grants his wish and gives this man a son. When his son, Ali, turns ten, he moves from Pakistan to the US. Ali wants to keep his father's promise to God but struggles with how it should be done.

    This is a gripping memoir that is sure to touch all who read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2011

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