Problem: You would like to help people in your congregation or community learn more about Islam. Ideally, this would happen with a visiting Muslim speaker or a visit to a mosque. Maybe your community does not have a mosque or there are not any speakers that you know or both of those steps are still a bridge too far for people who are nervous without even knowing what they supposedly fear. Perhaps you have a group of armchair researchers and travelers who like spirited discussion and new points of view. Could it be that you are preparing for what changes might come by helping your congregation understand what it means to love their neighbor?
Solution: The answer to the question you may not even have fully formed is Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim. Trust your friend Julia (me) when she says, “Go ahead. Buy this book. And then block off the time post- Christmas Day service nap and read it. You will be glad you did. And you’ll know what your
congregation will be reading in January.”
Sabeeha Rehman’s memoir is part- Pakistani memoir, part immigrant story, part Muslim education, and part interfaith dialogue. Her tone is very light and she is self-deprecating first, before she is ever critical of anyone else. We are introduced to her (and her family) through the journey of her arranged marriage and then the new couple’s move to early 1970’s America. Rahman always keeps her narrative going, even as she reflects on what she didn’t know then or didn’t expect or on how things have changed.
She begins to tease out her cultural realities from her religious experience and understanding. As her family grows, she and her husband (and their community) realize that they will have to create the space to raise their children in the faith. It will not be transmitted by osmosis or even within the family because the competing culture is so strong. The determination of Sabeeha, and her husband Khalid, along with the Muslim community members of their area, to raise money for a mosque, to share space with one another, to work to keep the faith is beyond inspiring. In fact, inspiration is too flat a word. It is powerful and moving because it reveals truths about how Muslims in America become American Muslims and, in so doing, shape neighborhoods and communities for the good of all who live there.
Threading My Prayer Rug also allows the reader to begin to see the shadows of Islamophobia and Islamic hatred take shape in America. Rahman describes her own grief and frustration at changing attitudes and her worries about acceptance and safety. She writes truthfully about her own efforts to study the Qur’an and to wrestle with what is said and what is not said (and yet taken to be gospel because it is tradition). Any Christian who has had similar experiences with the Bible will certainly relate to this passage. (Any Christian who has NOT had similar experiences with the Bible should… well, that sentence can’t end well.)
If you are trying to figure out a way to help your community learn more about Islam, but a comparative religion guide or course is just too big a stretch for a first step, I highly recommend Threading. Rehman gives enough of an overview that you will have people asking to confirm what Muslims think about Jesus or Moses or Abraham or is this true about Khadija or Aisha? The difference between some sects of Islam are explained here too, with Rehman’s opinionated flair. The book will give your group plenty of fodder for discussion and give you time to find a practitioner of Islam or a Muslim scholar who can engage the group (post-book).
RevGalBlogPals is an international organization and I realize this is a very American-centric book. It may be American-centric enough to be off-putting to non- American audiences, but it may also give some distance for conversation in places where immigration or changes in religious climate are a very intense issue. You can use the American setting or the “historical” setting as a backdrop for the discussion. What role did the borough president play in helping the community feel welcomed? How did the Boy Scouts make a difference? What role could/does your community play in recognizing the gifts of immigrants (or religious minorities) while including them in local life?
I can summarize my recommendation to you in one sentence: this is my 137th new book that I have completed this year and it is definitely in my top 10, maybe top 5. I am already planning to schedule it for church book club for February 2017. The only reason I’m waiting that long is because we’ve already got a book for January. This is not a heavy or hard-hitting book, but that’s where its beauty lies. Like a prayer rug, it is only threads and backing- but the pattern keeps you staring and thinking and contemplating and that’s how the transformation happens.
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