By Farzana Hassan
September 27, 2018
“My transition from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim compelled me to unravel the seams and re-examine the pattern of my expression of Islam,” says Sabeeha Rehman, author of the highly acclaimed book Threading My Prayer Rug.
This metaphorical action allows the author to forge a religious identity that grows from a connection with family and community rather than one rooted in doctrine or religious precept. Threading My Prayer Rug is an engaging personal account of one perceptive woman’s experience of being Muslim in North America. Of course, Muslims tread different paths, but hers is probably much more common than the one represented by the extremists who hit the headlines.
Rehman invites the readers into her home as a young newly-married Pakistani bride who emigrates to New York, bears children, adjusts to her new country and finally forges an identity as an American Muslim through research, introspection and communal engagement.
She comes to love America. She says, “My love grew into respect and I ended up marrying America.” Cynics may ask if that is even possible for a Muslim, but Rehman insists love of country is consistent with Islamic principles. In fact, it is quite common. That is one of the many uplifting messages of her engaging account.
Admittedly, Rehman could never be seen as a totally orthodox Muslim because she adopts Western dress and lifestyle, including partying and intermingling with the opposite sex. But the religiosity that slowly emerges would at one point make her give up music and adopt the hijab, the Muslim headscarf. She yearns to become more grounded in her faith by performing pious daily rituals more meticulously. However, her natural curiosity also makes her embark on research about Islam, and her progressive approach to women’s rights and other Islamic norms sometimes puts the author at odds with her own community.
The first half of the book is an appealing personal account of the struggles by one member of a religious minority to adapt to the West — struggles to preserve her identity, to impart Islamic values to her children, and simply to survive in an environment that views Muslims with suspicion.
The second half is less appealing; it makes an unconvincing case against many of the untoward practices that have come to be associated with Islam. Rehman displays a rather perfunctory knowledge of Islam and at one point seems to have bought into the apologists’ rationale that justifies gender inequalities. She also naively accepts the rationalization that jihad is simply an innocuous defensive or inner struggle — a viewpoint I challenged vehemently in my own recently published book The Case Against Jihad. However, on balance her outlook is refreshingly inclusive. The author calls for more unity, more gender balance and more compassion toward non-Muslims toward the end of the book. It ends with the positive realization that perhaps change is coming and now there are far more diverse expressions of Islam — some striving to be in sync with modernity — that offer hope for a more harmonious world.
Written in an easy conversational style, the book also discusses some personal perspectives, for example on her son’s arranged marriage. Above all, it embraces the need for Islam to change and to absorb what is good about Western society.