November 1st, 2014


The stories of Hussein’s Egyptian Childhood discuss interesting themes of religious tradition, considering the definition of religious devotion and the various forms that it takes at different ages. The young child, practically blind and thus rendered incapable of many of the professions or routes of education which otherwise would have been available to him. Sent to a religious school at the young age, the child was charged with the assignment of memorizing the Qur’an. He began to mindlessly memorize, often failing to meaningfully commit the passages to memory, forgetting them when his father called upon him to recite for their friends. His remarkable short-term capacity for the revered words raised questions over the value of memorization: incorporation of the holy text into himself was a religious tradition, but the value of the text finds itself in the meaning of the words and the hope and nuances in the language. Is memorization valuable, or is it a form of indoctrination?

This is reflected in the American tradition of recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” kindergartners are taught to recite. “And to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible-“ a word that surely these young children cannot understand. They learn to worship the republic before they learn about the problems it has caused and the injustices it not only permitted but encouraged. “With liberty and justice for all” is a promise yet to be delivered for many different interest groups in the US, and yet loyalty is indoctrinated blindly at an incredibly young age. I think that considering Qur’anic memorization can be viewed with a moderately similar lense: without learning about political uses of the religion (like the political uses of loyalty, with the Pledge) or the implications of that text in the society in which one lives.

This poem explores the parallels between two societies, comparing the highly traditional one of Hussein’s autobiography with a supposedly advanced, tolerant and modern society. Indoctrination is not a characteristic assigned solely to religion, nor to Islam, and this poem attempts to deconstruct the stereotype of nonsensical religious recitation as belonging solely to the Islamic tradition by demonstrating its application in modern American society.

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