The Red Couch: Threading My Prayer Rug Introduction


Red Couch -Threading My Prayer Rug- Introduction

Who are we? Where are we from; what traditions, habits, and beliefs prop us up and comfort us? And who are we if we are removed from everything that is familiar?

In Threading My Prayer Rug, Sabeeha Rehman takes us along on her lifetime discovery of her various identities and how they intersect. This memoir explores what it looks like to not only be a Pakistani-American-Muslim-Woman, but what it looks like to be proud of those identities.

This is not always an easy task, because the culture often makes it hard to be a proud Muslim, let alone Pakistani. And even within her Muslim community, Rehman runs up against the conservatism that tries to squash her progressive ways of being a woman.

I loved this book, partly because it is a book about Muslim life by a Muslim, but also because we get to experience Rehman’s journey along with her. The structure of the book takes us chronologically through Rehman’s life, with many flashbacks to how things were when she was growing up. We see what life in Pakistan was like in the 60s and 70s, and then we travel with her to America, seeing a familiar culture through bewildered eyes. As she adapts to a foreign culture and wrestles with how to blend her faith with American life, we see the challenge that exists in trying to assimilate into a culture without losing what makes you unique.

I realized how much I’ve taken for granted the immigrant contribution to American culture, especially in the way of food. I was shocked when she said, “Sara Lee cake didn’t have the sweet-and-sticky texture of swirling jelebi; hash browns didn’t have the spicy sting of samosas; sheer khorma made with spaghetti lacked the fine, slurpy feel of vermicelli; vanilla flavoring couldn’t replace the refreshing flowery fragrance of rosewater…” because I can barely remember when the only foreign food available was Chinese, and samosas were unheard of.

It can be overwhelming sometimes, the need to be informed and educated about everything, when there is so much to know, so much going on, and it all feels so urgent and important. It is even more overwhelming, I think, when it comes to the topic of Islam, because there has been such a long history of fear against it, and finding books that are respectful and accurate can be hard. Rehman’s goal with this book, as it is with so much of her life and activism, is not only to dispel myths and fear, but to show the beauty and accuracy of what being a Muslim is all about.

One of the things I loved about Threading My Prayer Rug was how informative, accessible, and relatable it was. Last month was Ramadan, and I saw several articles and tweets mentioning iftar, and thanks to this book, I know what this daily breaking of the fast both in Pakistan and here in America looks like. I kept seeing one article in particular that talked about looking up at the moon to determine the start of Ramadan, but now I know, not so fast! There is a chapter in here about how divisive moon sighting has been, and how there are actually 2 nights that can be considered the start of the fast. So interesting!

In Threading My Prayer Rug, Rehman tells us about the Muslim faith and practices both in general and in her own life, and in what was eminently relatable to me, the process of falling away from faith, re-seeking it, and figuring out how to raise kids in the midst of it all. She acknowledges there are things she misses about raising a Muslim family in Pakistan, but as she comes to realize, there have been good things about raising her sons as Muslims in the U.S.

“They also got the best of both worlds – the Pakistani values of hospitality, respect for elders, respect for authority, family values, politeness, modesty, and restraint; and the American values of discipline, punctuality, patience (waiting in line), tolerance, pluralism, embracing diversity, diligence, civic mindedness, and the work ethic. Our brand of Islam was taking shape, and I was threading my prayer rug in red, white, and blue, blending in harmony with the green.”

This book encompasses so many experiences, the big and the small. We see her shock when it comes to American dating, and having a male obstetrician; we learn the process of how to build a mosque, what going for hajj looks like, how to blend arranged marriages with the American way of life, and the experience of being detained at the airport. And not only do we learn about holidays and fasting and Christmas trees in Muslim homes, but we also get to see the struggle a progressive woman has in a conservative faith, and also her own experimentation with being more conservative as she studies and learns about her own faith.

After having some of these same struggles in Christianity, this book made me realize again just how much more there is to unite us than there is to divide us, which is something that Rehman herself comes to learn, as she begins to participate in inter-faith activities.

“All this exposure to interfaith communities gave me pause. I was seeing how much joy a more open approach could bring, how much peace there was in embracing all.”

Empire thrives on fear. It enables the worst of human behavior, and politicians know this. They use our ignorance against us, waging war in the name of peace, causing more division and pain. Learning from each other – finding joy in the commonalities and beauty in the differences – makes for less dramatic headlines, but this is where peace is found.

Rehman demystifies what can feel like a mysterious way of life; where the culture tries to insist on the lie that Islam is a violent religion, she shows the truth and the peace of it. In reading Threading My Prayer Rug, we are invited to see the complexity that is inherent in intersecting identities, and when we do so, we also get a look at the humanity that sits on the other side of our politics.

“I may have two countries, two languages, and two sets of traditions, but I am one person, with one heart and one faith.”

What does it mean to be ourselves, all of ourselves? How might the world be impacted when we bring the entirety of who we are to it? In Sabeeha Rehman’s case, by embracing her multitudes, she embodies the truth that the world can be made better. May we, when we follow her lead in exploring who we are and embracing the unfamiliar, learn that we also are capable of making it so.

What is your journey of embracing the unfamiliar? We hope you’ll join us in this month’s discussion of Threading My Prayer Rug!

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Caris Adel

Caris Adel

Caris Adel

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