Reflecting on A Thousand Splendid Suns

This essay was originally written as my application to the PLU Honors program. Since then, I have tweaked it—it most recently appeared in my high school’s literary journal, Journeys Magazine, for which I was editor-in-chief.

One of my favorite moments when enjoying literature is the realization you have learned something new—when you’ve encountered an idea that shocks you, so powerful it forces you to re-evaluate how you originally viewed a concept. You sit back in your seat, and pensively look off into space, wondering how your worldview has been impacted. It can be as simple as learning a new fun fact, or it could be something that totally changes how you view a culture.

Recently, I read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns for one of Mrs. Wells’ infamous good taste days. This piece of historical fiction followed the lives two Afghani women, Mariam and Laila. It offers insight to their feelings, from pain to joy, as they experienced radical changes in Afghanistan from the 1960s to the early 2000s. I had many of these aforementioned moments while reading this book. I will never forget how this book fostered a radical change in my concept of the Islamic custom of a burqa. A Burqa (before being required of all women in Afghanistan by the Taliban) was a garment some men forced their wives to wear in respect of the sanctity of their marriage. Western culture primarily regards the use of the burqa as a means of objectifying (literally: making into less than human, an object) women. Until reading this novel, I believed the same—I viewed the practice as wholly anti-woman, seeing this practice in only black-and-white.

I was offered insight while reading this novel. I was surprised that Laila and Mariam both expressed feeling comfort in wearing a burqa; it hid them from judgmental eyes and protected them from unwanted encounters. They found the possessiveness of their husbands endearing—it made them feel loved and respected.

I had one of those moments. I sat back in my chair and wondered if I had wrongly judged an entire aspect of a culture simply because I hadn’t considered the concept on a personal level, only an ideological one. Maybe some of the Muslim men who required their wives to wear a burqa did it to show how much they loved them, never viewing it as a punishment or degradation. Perhaps not all of these women felt repressed, perhaps many felt cared for.

Perhaps this kind of realization is something that is applied to any issue: the world is not black and white ideologies, but it is a bright and multicolored world that contains beautiful human beings with individual feelings beyond the ideology they identify with. This moment is something that will continue to impact me as I study other cultures and evaluate my own in the rest of my life, enabling me to truly love and serve others.

I encourage you to keep your minds open and looking for some of thesemoments as you read whatever I write here on medium, and in what others have to say. The simplest of essays, stories, posts—they have meaning to them. Let them sink in. Sit back in your chair and have a moment.

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