Homeira Qaderi’s book Dancing in the Mosque starts with a mother’s “Once Upon a Time” folkloric Afghan fable for her son about a magical lamp that will grant his wishes. But in the book she writes about the harsh realities of her life of war, oppression, poverty, and heartache. And about why his mother is in exile, living in California and forbidden to see her only son. This is the author’s first novel which is translated in English-language.
In the ruthlessly patriarchal society, Qaderi is a young woman who rebels. In the book she describes her generation as “dejected and unhappy youth, waiting eternally for aspirations that will never come true.” She grows up in a part of Afghanistan that is always at war, under Russian occupation, then those tanks are removed and the nation devolves into civil war as several groups capture power and the mujahedeen occupy her town. The public is restricted to women, who are viewed as the property of their husbands, fathers, or religious leaders. Girls and women are instructed to read only the Quran once the Taliban take control of the town and stop the schools. They are also prohibited from leaving the house without a male companion once they reach puberty.
Women are forced to do arranged marriages, where young women are frequently bartered to much older, wealthy men, young women are forced to spend their time embroidering, learning the Quran, and waiting to hear their destiny.
In the improvised tent that serves as the women’s mosque, where they are solely meant to be studying the Quran, Qaderi defies that fate and covertly begins to teach the other girls how to read and write. The kids are prepared to repeat sacred prayers when Qaderi alerts them to do so in order to avoid Taliban patrols discovering them studying anything else. She is so dedicated to teaching that she even allows certain males to take part in the course, which is required to cover exclusively Islamic doctrine and law.
A Taliban enlisted soldier learns about her classes, but he keeps it secret. They develop a covert friendship while he acts as a type of lookout. The young man informs her he was compelled to join the Taliban when she later expresses her rage at their brutality. He claims he is unable to read or write but that he is yearning to write to his mother to let her know how he is doing.
As more girls begin to attend the temporary tent classroom, it becomes more likely to be uncovered, so Qaderi moves her sessions to the women’s bathhouse, which is unquestionably more secluded.
She organises a campaign on behalf of her pupils to ask the town’s Amir to reopen the schools. A tiny group attempts to protest by marching to his complex, but troops stop them at the gates, threaten their lives, and tell them to return home.
The persistent concern that Qaderi’s acquaintances and family members may be tortured, killed, or vanish is described in an unvarnished manner. In an effort to shield their daughter from the grim truths of their existence, Qaderi’s parents and siblings are brave and close to their daughter, encouraging her to “share her stories.”
In spite of the brutality of a patriarchal priest who oppresses and forbids any sort of equality for Afghan women, the girls and women grasp moments of delight by breaking out at traditional dances in the bathhouse/classroom. When she was a youngster, Qaderi recalls two instances in which older males in her area pursued and physically abused her.
Her spouse makes the decision to relocate to Afghanistan in order to further his political career; while there, he adopts the stipulations of Islamic law that suppress women’s duties. He says they are divorced by repeating the word “divorce” three times when she refuses to accept his announcement that he would be taking a second wife. He also forbade her from having any contact with her little son, as did the government.
Qaderi asks for protection in the US. She is now a widely read novelist and is still an outspoken advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan.