Sabeeha Rehman: “Threading My Prayer Rug”

by MADALYN JOHNSON, Asst. A&E Editor

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Sabeeha Rehman shared her incredible and inspiring journey about moving to America as a Pakistani Muslim in her novel, “Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim.” The book was announced as one of the Booklist’s Top 10 Diverse Nonfiction Books of 2017 and Short-Listed for the 2018 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Rehman’s story details the hardships of adapting to the lifestyle of a nation that is not very accepting of the Pakistan Muslim culture.

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Sabeeha Rehman shares her experiences as a Muslim adapting to the U.S. in her memoir. MADALYN JOHNSON / THE QUADRANGLE

Rehman’s memoir was a pleasurable, hilarious, relatable and touching experience for the many that tuned in to hear about the author’s story. In the beginning, Rehman talked about her rushed marriage and the intimidation behind marrying a man that lived in New York. She hilariously explained the benefits and downgrade of marrying so quickly to her husband.

“He is a doctor,” Rehman said as she paused while the audience chuckled at her remark to being married to a man with a successful and very economically stable career. “New York is too far away,” she added after. “What if he decides to settle in America and not return to Pakistan?”.

Rehman also hilariously described some other culture shock experiences she underwent when slowly educating herself on the American culture, such as not being asked repeatedly for refreshments after saying no the first time and putting on a shimmery, shiny outfit to mail letters to the post office, quickly being told: “you must be new”.

One of the most memorable stories Rehman shared was explaining to her sons why they couldn’t have a Christmas tree in the 1970s and why Muslim holidays were underappreciated in America and not enthusiastically celebrated like the Christmas holiday.

She previously explained her concern about her children forgetting about their Muslim faith due to living such an Americanized life and not having the availability of family to pray or fast during Ramadan. She mentioned the questions that went to her mind when thinking about her family’s lack of contribution to their faith like whether her children should miss school on the Muslim holidays when they are not off.

Rehman referenced the chapter in her book, “The Christmasisation of Eve” when telling the audience what she did to resolve the situation. “Mommy, why can’t we have a Christmas tree?” she said when talking about her son questioning not having a tree when seeing Christmas lights around the neighborhood.

Rehman decided to talk to her Jewish friend to get an opinion about what she should do, calling it “minorities reaching out to minorities” where she announced to her family that on their holiday they would miss school, get dressed up, and attend eve prayers in Manhattan with no exception following a party afterward in a decorated apartment with lights.

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Sabeeha Rehman signs her book and speaks to guests after sharing her memoir in Kelly 5B. MADALYN JOHNSON / THE QUADRANGLE

The author emphasized, however, her refusal to allow her family to have a Christmas tree despite her realization later on that prophets in the Christian Bible were associated with the Quran. The story connected with one student that attended the memoir, junior Nazia Sultana.

“It’s very relatable,” she said. “You get to see your parent’s perspective and your own perspective as a first generation American coming from a different culture. Her whole story is very relatable especially with Christmas because as a Muslim we don’t celebrate it but yet when I was growing up as a Muslim in America I wanted a tree and all that.”

Although Rehman shared some funny and relatable stories about being a Pakistan Muslim in the U.S., she also addressed the serious changes and difficulties that took place after 9/11, including the time when her 8-year old autistic grandson, Omar, was detained in the airport.

Rehman described the frustration and confusion she was feeling when receiving the text from her daughter in law, saying that her son was on a no-flight terrorist list, that they missed their flight to Disney World while waiting in a holding area, and how the boy was stimming, engaging in self-stimulatory behavior when hand-flapping and rocking, because he was not given anything to eat.

Rehman, outraged about the situation, called the press and was denied publication of the story from various newspapers except for Age of Autism in which Rehman was president of the National Autism Association New York Metro chapter at the time. It was after that moment, Rehman said, that her husband encouraged her to write a book about her experiences being profiled and criticized as a Pakistan Muslim in America.

Many people who listened to Rehman’s memoir had already read the book about Rehman’s encounters and experiences.

Junior Rabea Ali, described how the novel affected her and her family personally.

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Threading My Prayer Rug is a memoir about Sabeeha Rehman’s life and the struggles she faced adapting to American life as a follower of the Islamic faith. MADALYN JOHNSON / THE QUADRANGLE

“One of the things that’s always been this ongoing conversation is this tug between different cultures that don’t mend very well and that’s always been the norm of my house,” she said. “I read this book to think about the different perspectives on them and to see if this could maybe give answers and so I would say the biggest change this brought, as I was reading the book, I was like ‘Hey Dad, let’s talk about this, let’s talk about how we can do this’ and so I would say that’s the biggest change it brought.”

Ali furthermore explained what made Rehman’s book different from the other ones about being a Muslim American.

“She tells it so personally from her experience, you’re literally their in her dining room, she does it exceptionally well.”

Sabeeha Rehman after the memoir discussed why the book is relevant and should be read by everyone, whether they’re a Muslim American or not.

“I want them to read it so they can understand what Muslims are about, what their religion is about, and what kind of people they are and that can easily be done by reading this story rather than an academic book,” she said. “I am not an academician and not an expert on theology, I’m just like your neighbor next door. It’s really getting to know your Muslim neighbor down the street and that fosters understanding and it addresses ignorance.”