They said that books rotted my mind; but only one did
I was always an avid reader and they always supported that. Surely parents prefer their daughter quietly tucked away with a book rather than — whatever it is they don’t want us to be doing. I recall them stopping by Magrudy’s often, patiently distracting my siblings while I sat on the floor of that book store locating my next read.
It wasn’t long before they started to realize I was different. Perhaps books opened my mind in a way that terrified them. I began questioning things that I was supposed to be perceiving as the norm. I grew to have a voice. A voice, that spoke of things they didn’t approve of. I no longer silently accepted the things my brother got that I was excluded from with the excuse of not having the appropriate genitalia. I spoke of ambitions and careers, far from the life of the housewife they expected me to be. The concepts of arranged marriage puzzled me, and I dreamed of fairytales and love stories. I detested the racism that came with the Arab superiority and called them out on it constantly, in a rather snarky way.
I was not even a preadolescent at the time and already I was a problem that needed to be addressed. The lectures included the words “bad apple” quite often, as well as conspiracies about how the West was targeting the Arab youth with corrupt material. My mind was decaying with thoughts I had supposedly been absorbing from fictional pieces. They had to interfere.
I was no longer allowed to read.
My books were boxed away and my shelf was stripped bare. Now, before you wonder what in the world those books contained that could possibly drive me so awry, allow me to clarify; if children’s classic fiction is to be blamed, it only partially fed an already “rotting” mind. I was, at the time, too proud to give books the credit for who I was, but also, I didn’t fathom how impactful mere fiction could possibly be on the mentality of my younger self.
A decade later, here’s how I reflect on it today. Opening my mind to swallow in those stories, as insignificant and harmless as they may have seemed, allowed my mind to stretch, to absorb and to wonder.
Books did not form my opinions. They taught me that I could form opinions. Something that is not innate in a young Arab girl’s understanding.
They were not wrong about one thing, though. Books can corrode a mind. It was their book. The book they expected me to literally memorize. The book my entire life was shaped around. The book, untouched and unchanged, from the days of primitivity and ignorance. The greatest piece of fiction ever written. Their Holy book.
To be worthy of the green garden awaiting after my death, there are certain principles the book fed my mind. I could praise myself for being the glaring anomaly in a house of conservatives, but the truth is, for a long time, that was not the case. The book did get to me. It did taint my mind.
It expected me to accept the excuse “But you’re a girl”, as somehow plausible and coherent. Women, in its pages, are taught to be submissive, shy, their voices (literally) lowered, cloaked away and led by the more the reliable competent sex. That women are financially and judicially half as worthy. That they are to be purchased by men that they are then obligated to obey.
How I itch to quote here, the verses of this brilliant author.
I refrain from that however, because I am not here to outline what every ex muslim has done repeatedly before me. I am here to share a story of a young girl, who had to put down fictive novels about magic and fantastical adventures, only to hold up another piece of fiction, the latter with concepts fatal and toxic to the sponge that is a child’s mind.
It expected me to be thankful to have been spat out into the correct faith, without any effort or contribution from my own self, and to pity the less fortunate who simply weren’t exposed to this indisputable truth and were to be burned eternally for this error that they had no means to prevent. A renowned “review” on this literary work was that it was a peaceful book, and I was meant to overlook all the murder and terror promoted, and believe that somewhere within those pages, the message was love.
It expected me to believe I belong to a superior and righteous group, that others who don’t associate with said group should be avoided and hated. Teach that to a child and tell me they do not grow up with at least a shred of bigotry and intolerance.
It expected me to, it expected me to, it expected me to, and I shamefully admit that I did. I did. Not wholly, but I did. For a moment, and that moment lasted 21 years, I gave the author what they expected of me. I let the power of their words penetrate my mind. So yes, books can rot a budding mind, my parents were right about that. What they remain ignorant to however, is that they protected me from the wrong piece of fiction.
“One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us”
— Cassandra Clare