As The Pages Turn


Good writing transports us to another time and place – it moves and touches us – and as a powerful tool, we should be careful how we use it.

When I hold a good book in my hands, I feel as though I am cradling a life. A life in a different, mystifying world that I chose to be a part of when I gently open its crisp pages and read under a warm, golden light to learn more of its details, complexities and traditions. I read about beautiful characters within the book that, often, are young in the beginning and elderly at the end. Together we walk through their journey in life in their separate world. Their slow and gradual growth, one that progresses with every turning page, helplessly causes my heart to grow especially attached to them. Inside, I feel like I am holding their precious lives in my very own hands, lives that are cuddled between two hard covers that, in reality, I can never enter.

Still, I grow a deeply rooted emotional attachment. Since the characters born on the very first page are typically quite young, I feel like their unseen parent who instantaneously and naturally gets very worried and curious about the unknown journey ahead. I apprehensively question, “Where are they headed? Can they endure the harshness that life will unexpectedly throw at them? Do they know that there is someone out there who deeply, genuinely cares?”

In the beginning of this great journey I firmly hold their hands as their invisible mother. As the pages continue to turn and they continue to mature, my grip slowly loosens due to their age, but my heart grows even bigger with the love I have for them. This is so simply because I have been with them with their every experience in life and I have witnessed more of their unique personalities unfold right in my very own hands. And I appreciate it all.

If the characters ever encounter something hurtful and weep, their pangs of pain immediately bounce back to me and I, too, weep. And if they ever experience a glimmer of joy, I smile a grand smile and wish for them every mounting happiness and good.

Just recently, I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by renowned author Khaled Hosseini. In this poignant book, the two main characters, Mariam and Laila, live in Afghanistan and habitually suffer the agonies of loss, war and abuse. On the very first page of A Thousand Splendid Suns, Mariam comes to life. She is an innocent five-year-old Muslim girl already suffering in ways no human should suffer. As the grief filled pages turn and the chapter numbers increase, so does her age and my love for her. While reading, I firmly held her hand and wanted so badly to comfort her through the endless, painful twists and turns of her wretched life. In the second part of A Thousand Splendid Suns, the book shifts gears and describes the life of Laila. I read of her bright beginnings but then she too, inevitably, has to surrender to the turmoil and distress engulfing her country.

Eventually, Mariam is forced to marry Rasheed, an unbelievably revolting human being both inside and out. He abuses Mariam emotionally, verbally, mentally and physically. Through a series of manipulation and desperation, Rasheed also marries Laila after nearly twenty years of marrying only Mariam. The two women submit to Rasheed’s torments in order to protect their lives, and also the lives of Laila’s children. I wept for them from the bottom of my heart and prayed to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that He protect all women in Mariam and Laila’s position.

One of the book’s most prominent and indisputable symbolisms is the hijab. It represents oppression, subjugation and degradation. Rasheed forces his wives to wear it as the icing on the cake of his abuse. The hijab hides their humanity and characterizes his “ownership” over them. It was a way that they could not reach out to other people for help. It was a way to manifest their supreme subservience to the desires of their husband. It made them lose their status of a respected human being. Reading this, I thought to myself, “Subhan’Allah, had I been a non-Muslim, I certainly would have believed that this is what hijab stood for and ardently advocated that no woman should have to veil.

Alhamdulillah, I learned an incredibly important lesson from reading this book. I learned how important it is that when you want to sincerely educate yourself about something, your source has to be accurate and right or you’ll end up swallowing falsehood. If I wanted to learn about hijab from other than the Book of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and the Sunnah of His Messenger salla Allahu alayhi wasallam, then it comes as no surprise that I will discover information that could not be farther from the truth. And this is exactly what happened.

Even if I love Mariam and Laila, even if A Thousand Splendid Suns is masterfully written, even if the author previously wrote a #1 bestseller, and even if there are women who suffer the horrid way Mariam and Laila do, this does not make it the truth of Islam. This is not what Islam stands for. This is not what hijab represents. Now, I am sure many of us are well aware about the countless benefits of hijab. We know that it is, above all, the adherence to Allah’s command, that it allows us to have a deeper, more personal relationship with Him, that it teaches us and those and around us to respect the hayaa (modesty) and high status of a woman and that it does nothing short of greatness and freedom.

Yet, had I been non-Muslim and read A Thousand Splendid Suns, such thoughts would never have crossed my mind. I would implore women here in America to not wear it because here they are “free.” But we know this is not the case. Freedom is not being shackled to the dunya and following the guidance of the shaytaan without even realizing how dangerous of a path this is to tread on.

Stories have tremendous power in terms of informing and touching people’s lives. When Muslims write about Islam, they have the blessing to portray Islam in its correct light and enlighten readers. But this blessing can easily be twisted to a dangerous sin if what is written is deceptively being used to intertwine Islam with factors completely contrary to the religion as if they are one. Although women’s oppression may be a cultural reality in many places, when we tie that cultural aspect in with religious commandments like they are a single package, and project these stories to a Western audience, we are in reality projecting statements of blatant lies and misunderstandings.

Thus, to get the real truth, turn to the truth from Allah.