Dancing in the mosque – Homeira Qaderi

In a nutshell, I found this memoir a page turner that shatters your heart into a million tears, raises the hair on your neck till it hurts, and saws fingernails right down to their beds, without letting the beacon of hope all but disappear from sight.

Dancing in the Mosque is a story of a girl, a daughter, a sister, a woman, a wife, a mother growing up in Afghanisthan. But then again, it’s not.

To those who value and respect equality

Homeira Qaderi’s dedication at the start of the book

The common thread… of inequality

This is a story about a rebel, and her fight for Equality.

Not the half-hearted, new world definition of Equality – where we stand with banners crying out for equal rights, but in reality, in our minds, relegate ourselves to traditional thoughts and roles. Predefined jurisdictions that society puts on women, and women put on themselves when it comes to what we can do, cannot do, should do and should not do.

Homeira’s fight is to find real Equality. And it started early, when she was just a child.

It might have started with a piece of meat, a bigger share of which, was given to her younger brother. Upon questioning her grandmother “Nanah-Jan”, about such obvious inequality, she got a response that subtly exists in all of our lives, even today:

” Since when has a girl’s share become equal to a boy’s?”

In Afghanistan – it didn’t matter if it was under Taliban or without them, the fate of a woman was predetermined. Her roles were concretely established.

Is it true of only Afghanistan?

The uncommon courage… of Homeira

Homeira fought for her equal share in Every equation. Her biggest, bravest fight was for Education, in the face of the Taliban. What is eye-opening is the support she had from her family – her father, mother “madar” and siblings in their own ways. They provided her the scaffolding needed to climb out of her (role) hole to fight the enemy. Their cumulative bravery and resistance, in itself, is inspiring given the context.

Under the Taliban rule, girls were not allowed to leave their home without a male member of the family (imagine a 6 year old boy having to accompany his teenage sister to the market) , let alone attend school. Flogging and death was just a hop, skip and jump away.

At such a time, Homeira, with encouragement and protection from her madar, started a classroom in her kitchen. While she taught the girls on her street, her mother guarded the class “with a watchful eye, stitching colourful birds that would never fly away”.

“If anything could have been built from tears, I would have built an entire city. Instead of crying, Homeira, why don’t you get up and do something?”

“Madar! What can I do? Shall I go out and fight the Taliban?”

“No! Taliban or no Taliban, it makes no difference. We cannot fight these men. You must fight against your attitude.” Madar looked at me, reminding me of my responsibility.

“Do you want to inherit only tears and weeping from me? You can do better than that, Homeira.

The ultimate sacrifice… of a mother

The book’s title in entirety is “Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son”

The most heart wrenching parts of this memoir are Homeira’s letters to her son, Siawash. At only 19 months old, Siawash was “snatched” from his mother. At an age when he could understand, he was told she was dead. These letters, that are the heart of the book, are the only way this mother can tell her son, why she did what she did , and how she would do it again.

My dear son, on your birthday I am as lonely a traveler as all the travelers in the world. A traveler who could not even for one last time wave at or kiss the face of the beloved she had left behind. A traveler with a big, empty, and heavy suitcase. I can tolerate the weight of most days away from you, but not the weight of being away from you on your birthday.

This beautiful book would not have been possible to read if it hadn’t, so delicately, been translated by Zaman Stanizai.

To all women, and to all men, who think their women equal – I can’t recommend this book enough.

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