Interview: Sabeeha Rehman, Author of Threading My Prayer Rug

Last week, I had the honor of talking with Sabeeha Rehman, author of Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim. We read her book as part of the Red Couch Book Club (check out my discussion post) and it was a delight to ask her more questions and to dive deeper into her story.

Sabeeha’s story about finding her way as a Muslim in America is powerful. Topics we cover include the shifting views on feminism in Islam, American’s relationship and interaction with Islam over the years, and the way Sabeeha’s journey has brought her to advocacy and bridging divides between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. I hope you’ll watch our video and check out her book!

Click here to watch our conversation.

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Threading My Prayer Rug Discussion

I’m honored to be over at SheLoves Magazine, discussing one of my favorite books from the summer. Threading My Prayer Rug has made me think about my own faith through a new lens. I hope you’ll go over and join the discussion! And, check out the end of the post – there’s a fun announcement! Here’s an excerpt:

Red-Couch-Threading-My-Prayer-Rug-DiscussionAfter graduating from college, I traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal to experience a new culture while seeing if teaching was a good fit for my future. I spent my mornings teaching English to Nepali middle school students and my afternoons and evenings exploring the city with my team, which consisted of mostly non-religious folks. In fact, I was the only seriously practicing Christian.

Partway into my three months, I started really missing church and Christian community, so I ventured into the suburbs, through unmarked winding streets, until I finally found a Catholic church. The service was in Nepali, there were no pews, just cushions on the floor, and the iconography was distinctly Nepali. I went with my Catholic roommate who could interpret the liturgy and rhythm of the service. I only went once or twice but it was a much-needed reminder that worship is both culturally unique and spiritually common. While I didn’t know the language, I did know the intention and it was enough to sustain me during that time without church.

In Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, Sabeeha Rehman grapples with a similar realization. Raised in Muslim-majority Pakistan, faith and culture were seamlessly intertwined. Calls to prayer rang through the city; Ramadan fasts were supported and expected; interpretations of Qur’anic laws and guidelines were seen through a Pakistani lens.

After moving to New York City in the early-1970’s as a new bride, Rehman is hit with the realization that much of her faith was experienced culturally, rather than personally. Once immersed in a non-Muslim society, she began making choices—what would her faith really look like? How would she practice Islam and embrace her new country? It’s a process that became more imperative after she had children and realized they will be raised without the cultural support she experienced in Pakistan. Becoming what she phrases, a “born-again Muslim,” Rehman and her husband gather community, build the first Mosque on Staten Island, create a vibrant Muslim community, and grapple with the reality of living out their faith as minorities. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the discussion!

Have you ever lived in a minority culture to your faith? How has that impacted your spiritual practice?

Welcoming the Stranger Introduction

I have the honor of introducing our May book club read over at SheLoves Magazine today. We’ll be discussing Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang. We’ll do most of our interactions over in our Facebook group and I’d love for you to join this discussion! (Here’s the link: Red Couch Facebook.) This book was filled with a lot of information and powerful stories, which makes it a timely and important read. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

Red-Couch-Welcoming-the-Stranger-IntroductionMy family history is one of skirting modern-day immigration regulations. On one branch, my ancestors arrived soon after the passengers on the Mayflower, helping to build the new Massachusetts Bay Colony. Others arrived pre-World War 1 and worked their way to the Midwest. Regardless of route, my family arrived in an era when a boat passage was paperwork enough and they came from desirable countries that posed no threat to the white Protestant population.

In Welcoming the Stranger, Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang remind us that people immigrate for a wide variety of reasons: from fleeing unsafe regimes to the prospect of higher wages and standards of living to reunification with family who live in America. Every immigrant has a unique story and journey that brought them to the decision to pursue life away from their familiar culture.

Soerens and Yang pack Welcoming the Stranger full of the debate on immigration. They feature personal stories, address misconceptions about contributions of immigrants to the economic and social aspects of our society, and cite religious precedents of caring for the foreigner. Intermixed with stories are facts and data and the appendices alone are worth the read. This is a manual for Christians to understand the actual impact of opening our doors to immigrants and retaining the United States’ foundations as a nation that welcomes all cultures.

I appreciate the depth and scope that Soerens and Yang bring to this conversation. They broke down a lot of misnomers about the effect of undocumented workers on our economy; of the actual crime statistics of those entering our country; and of the reality of working your way up in society. Read the rest and join the discussion at SheLoves!

What are some practical, real-life ways you get to know your neighbors? How do you listen to their stories?

Blood Brothers Discussion

I have the honor of leading the book discussion of Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers over at SheLoves Magazine today. This is a challenging and thought-provoking book about the conflict in Israel & Palestine. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

Photo-2017-02-28-10-29-25-PMNaïvely, I have always viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of Jews and Muslims. The descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael. Of course, nothing is as black and white and the conflict over Israel and Palestine impacts many more people than those two particular groups.

Elias Chacour’s memoir, Blood Brothers reminds me again and again that we are bound by much more than religion, political views, and geography. If we are to truly live out the upside down, peacemaking message of Jesus, it does us no good to divide into separate categories.

Chacour brings his own story of belonging to one of those other groups to life. As a Melkite Greek Catholic, Chacour imagines that his family, who had farmed the same area of land in Galilee, may have “eaten bread and fish miraculously multiplied by Jesus’s hand” (33). That is to say, his family have been Christians since the earliest followers of Jesus and they have lived in Palestine longer.

And yet, when the Zionists began claiming the land of Palestine in the 1940’s, Chacour’s family, supporters of their Jewish neighbors and those who wanted to settle in Palestine, were forced to leave and live out their lives as refugees.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about which “side” is the right side. Our neighbors are from Israel; my husband’s family is Jewish; I was raised with the Evangelical ideal that Americans support Israeli Jews without question. And yet, my heart aches for those who were forced to leave their homes and who have lived in exile for generations. I grapple with my belief that we are called to help the refugee, to pursue peace, to turn the other cheek with the complex idea of justice and how that looks for so many opposing sides.

What Chacour reminds me, is that this particular conflict is the work of politics, not of people.

Read the rest and join the discussion over at SheLoves!

Life Path Discussion

I have the honor of leading the book discussion of Luci Shaw’s Life Path over at SheLoves Magazine today. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

After I got married, my parents drove up to our house with a trunk full of childhood memorabilia. Now that I had a garage of my own, I had to store these treasures. One box was filled with journals from middle school and high school. I didn’t get very far in reading them before I cringingly shut the box tightly and left it to gather dust in the garage. The angsty thoughts of my teenage self were just too much!

And yet, I couldn’t throw them away. There was something sacred about those journals and that time in my life.

Throughout Life Path: Personal and Spiritual Growth through Journal Writing, Luci Shaw iterates over and over again the importance of taking the time to reread our journals. Journaling isn’t for important events or deep thoughts. “The true journal is a commentary on all of life, and often it is the casual comment, the trivial event that is shown to be significant as you reread it later.” (p. 55)

The importance of rereading journals came to mind last autumn. My husband and I had a business decision to make and were going back and forth over the pros and cons. One day, he was flipping through an old journal and found that he had written we would make this particular business decision by the date he happened to be reading it. It didn’t help us get to an easy answer, but the reminder that we had actually been thinking and praying about this particular choice for years, gave us confidence in our final decision.

Shaw shares a story of a member at one of her writing workshops only writing on one side of the page. That way she is able to go back and write down reflections, insights, and revelations about her journey. (pg 69)

This interactive view of journaling takes our private processes and makes them less “morbidly introspective” and more of a spiritual practice.

Read the rest and join the discussion over at SheLoves!