As a little child growing up in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, to be more precise — I was often told, time and again, by my parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc. that all the “good” things such as eating/drinking, shaking hands, entering a holy place (i.e. mosque), touching the holy book (the Qur’an), clipping nails, combing the hair, writing, etc. should all start and be done with the right hand and/or foot. And whatever that was impure or considered “bad” such as using the toilet, cleaning up filth (urination/defecation), and so on and so forth, it was advised that I used my left hand for such activities. If I were to, heaven forbid, use my left hand to eat or shake hands, I would quickly be scolded for it — maybe even receive a slap or two for having done something so wrong, so utterly unimaginable!
You see, in the culture (and religion) that I hail from, the left hand is seen as immoral and impure, because it is understood to be associated with the Shaitaan (aka “Satan”), whereas the right hand is seen as righteous and honourable — it is the preferred hand for every single good task. And any misuse of the right and left hands was usually accompanied by unfavourable consequences.
As a matter of fact, I remember my mother often telling me that I had two angels sitting on each side of my shoulders; on the right shoulder sat the “good” angel and she recorded all the good things, or deeds, I did, and on the left shoulder sat the “bad” angel, who recorded all the bad and immoral stuff I did. I was about five years old when my mother first told me this. You can imagine how incredibly frightening that must have sounded to a child; the knowledge that I had not one but two, scary invisible angels — ghosts — sitting on each of my shoulders, watching and recording my every move. Yeah, not fun, I tell ya!
While the private school I attended wasn’t so bad, albeit quite strict in a number of other things like wearing the hijab/niqab, not being allowed to wear heels, keeping our hair tied up in a tight braid/ponytail, and keeping our nails as super short as possible, it was worse at the public schools. While most of my friends were limited to the private school I attended, I knew a girl in the apartment building we lived in, who became very close friends with me. She actually attended one of the public schools, near our place, and I clearly remember her telling me how scared she’d be whenever she had her lunch in the playground. They had teachers, or monitors, who would hover about them, like hawks, watching their every move, ensuring that they not only finished their lunches, leaving behind no crumbs at all, but that they uttered “B’ismillah” and proceeded to start eating with the right hand. And if one of them dared to, by mistakingly, punch their straws into their boxed juices with their left hands, it was seen to it that they were corrected as quickly as possible–usually with a scold, a slap or in worse cases, their lunch being taken away from them, forcing them to starve until they got home. My friend then mimicked one of her strict teachers, wringing her hands dramatically,
The Shaitaan uses his left hand! How many times have I told you to only eat with your right hand?! Let this be a learning lesson for you.
Luckily, things weren’t as strict at the school I attended, but it was no picnic either. I guess the teachers realized that it was their duty to build our foundation, from very early on, so that we’d grow up into proper, “good” Muslim girls.
No doubt it was quite distressing to have to go through and experience something like that, among other things that were also taboo and forbidden to us, but it was the reality of my life back then. And I am sure it is still a reality for many who strongly believe, influence, and enforce such highly-observed dichotomies. Things, however, changed when my family decided to immigrate to Canada. I suddenly did not feel like I had to adhere to every single rule, every single norm, and every single boundary that was imposed on me. Thankfully enough, my parents were liberal-minded as well, which really made a huge difference in my upbringing, especially in Canada.
Nevertheless, the left hand has always fascinated me. There were many a time when I wished that I was left-handed so I could understand what was so bad or wrong about it. Although a “rightie,” there was a time, shortly after we moved to Canada, where I’d stay back after school, sitting cross-legged against my locker and practice writing with my left hand, because I was so incredibly captivated by it. I knew it would be strange to practice writing with my left hand at home, as my parents would wonder what was wrong with me, and might have even tried to forbid me from it. Yet, rather than simply accepting it as “wrong,” I decided to rebel. Hard. I even started to eat and drink with my left hand, but only at school. And although I never really managed to perfect writing with my left hand (it basically looked like chicken scratch), the fact that I could do it, even if only at school, with no one scolding or forbidding me from it, was incredibly liberating.
“I was forced to write with my right hand”
When my mother-in-law first moved here (to Canada) almost a couple years ago, she and I used to cook together a lot. I absolutely love her cooking, and I was desperate to learn as many great dishes as I possibly could. For the most part, in the start, I simply watched her cook, and I noticed something strange: she did almost everything with her left hand, from cutting the onions to reaching for pans/pots in the cupboard to pouring the oil in the pot to using the spoon to pour ingredients into the pot. But then, she would write with her right hand. That was the only thing she did with her right hand. Curious, I asked her why she wrote with her right hand when clearly she was left-handed. She smiled at me and responded with:
I was forced to write with my right hand.
Upon asking why she was forced, her response was simply this:
Because they (the teachers) thought there was something wrong with me, and wanted to make sure that they corrected me by force. And because they saw how much it was a struggle for me to write with my right hand, they made sure to be especially strict with me as they could possibly be.
After my mother-in-law revealed to me that she was, in actuality a leftie, forced into becoming right-handed (only being successful in writing, because she still pretty much does everything with her left hand), I decided to dig a little more and do my own research on this whole switch from the left hand to the right hand thing. Soon enough, in my Google search, I found an interesting blog entitled, “Never force a left-handed child to become right-handed,” in which I read quite an intriguing passage that I am sharing with you all below:
As science explains, our brain is divided into two halves (hemispheres). Left hemisphere affects the right side of your body and right hemisphere affects the left side of the body. The left hemisphere deals with logic, words and language, mathematics, science, order/pattern perception, practical and reality. The right hemisphere deals with imagination, creativity, spatial perception, ‘big picture’ orientation, symbols, images and feelings. If the left side of the brain is dominant, the person prefers right hand and vice versa. Our whole physical being is interconnected ever since we are born and forcing to go against natural dominance puts a lot of harmful pressure.
What more, about 85-92% of world’s population is estimated to be born right-handed which also causes some bias against left-handers as parents under societal pressure, ignorance or religious miscommunication forces their children to switch to right hand.
Forcing a left-handed to be right-handed causes reduced activity in the dominant right hemisphere and increase activity in the non-dominant side. Since creativity and imagination are dominant parts of right brain, they will remain under-developed and the left-side of the brain sees increased activity that deals with reality, facts and logic … characteristics that are opposite of the person’s true potential. The consistent use of non-dominant part of brain affects the personality while growing up and the adaptability can be difficult. Forced right-handers have to work a lot harder to improve handwriting, take more time to adjust in using tools like scissors and knives, are unable to perform better at activities (like sports) than natural right-handers, get tired easily and may even have language difficulties due to possible dominancy conflict between the two halves of the brain.
There is no doubt, as the above passage relays, that forcing a child to go against something that they are naturally inclined to do has negative consequences. And I am pretty sure if I were to go and share this important piece of information with those who strongly abhor the left hand (as the dominant hand of preference), they will simply tell me that science is bull-shitting and that using the left hand, or being left-handed, is not natural, but rather a flaw — a defect — which they are then strongly encouraged to rectify.
But, for crying out loud, we need to realize that being left-handed is not a flaw, nor a defect! It just means that the human brain works differently; it’s a natural thing, and has nothing to do with Shaitaan or the devil. And even if it does, so what? If they claim that the left hand is “dirty” and “unhygienic,” then clean it! We are, after all, living in the 21st century, aren’t we? We have soap, thankfully. Besides, what makes this bigoted lot think that the right hand is really clean? Germs and bacteria reside everywhere. I am sure if we looked at our right hands under a microscope, we’d find plenty of bacteria on there. So, no, the right hand is not cleaner than the left hand, nor should it only be seen as such. Human beings should be free to choose and do whatever they find most comfortable.Using coercion and force is wrong and a big no-no.
“There is a possibility that my daughter might be left-handed and I am over the moon about that!”
As most of my readers already know, I have a beautiful and incredibly intelligent 19-month-old daughter. She is my world, and the oxygen I breathe. Literally. And being the parent who spends the most time with her, because that’s what beautiful motherhood is all about, I began to notice as early as four or five months old that my little girl started to show dominance in her left hand. Needless to say, I was thrilled. As someone who’s always been against the taboos associated with using the left hand, I wanted more than ever that my daughter be a leftie. I wanted her to eat, drink, pick up, write and do things with her left hand, only because I didn’t — couldn’t — see anything wrong with it, despite what I was told/taught in my formative years.
I then began to read up on several articles and research journals in order to determine whether my child showing dominance in her left hand was indeed an indication that she would grow up being left-handed. However, turned out that it wasn’t, for infants and toddlers switch from one hand to the other quite often, and it isn’t until around 18 or 19 months that most children show a solid preference and/or dominance in the hand they’re most comfortable with. So, I decided to wait it out and observe. And the more I observed the more I became convinced that my daughter is most likely left-handed. When given a toy or cookie, she reaches out to grab it with her left hand. And when she is eating or holding something as she eats, she always grabs it with her left hand, and goes on to put it in her mouth using her left hand too. She opens books with her left hand and initially flips through the pages with her left hand. Hence, the more I observe her, the more I see the possibility that my daughter might be left-handed, and you know what, dear reader? I am so over the moon about that!
Of course, I must also add that if, for some reason, I am wrong about my daughter’s left-handedness, and she ends up doing things, such as eating/drinking and writing with her right hand, later on as she gets older, I would not be the least bit displeased or upset; I mean, why would I be? My daughter is a free bird. I will never impose anything on her that I wouldn’t want imposed on me. I won’t let anyone — no creed or culture — influence or define me or my daughter.
It’s such a petty thing to get all worked up over which hand one should and shouldn’t eat with, especially when adults feel the need to force it upon their children. Stop it! Seriously, stop forcing and traumatizing your children, and ruining their ability to enjoy and practice something that they are naturally inclined towards. Stop hurting your children — both mentally/psychologically and physically — just because they happened to grab a sandwich with their left hands. Let them be, else you will end up damaging any iota of creativity, self-esteem, and determination in them. Stop associating your children with Shaitaan (Satan) when they use their left hands; it’s scary and traumatizing. The last thing you should be comparing your child to is Satan! As a responsible adult, and parent, you should know better. Also, please spare them the story of the two scary, invisible angels that sit on each shoulder. Trust me, kids don’t need to hear that story. There are far more better ways to get your children to behave; just don’t scare or instill fear in them.
“Learn to trust science, you’ll be better off in the long-run”
Science is a beautiful thing, and so is research and discovery. Of course, science has its flaws, but logic is something that should also be put into consideration, before blindly believing or accepting something. When science tells you that we shouldn’t force our children to become right-handers, take heed, dear fellow parents. Don’t debunk it, just because it clashes with your beliefs and what you have been taught/indoctrinated into. Think, because it could make things a whole lot better and easier, not only for yourselves, but for your beloved children as well. Learn to trust science for all its worth; you’ll be better off in the long-run.