It's Not What You Think: An American Woman in Saudi Arabia (Hardcover)
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From the author of Threading My Prayer Rug, an eye-opening view of life in Saudi Arabia.
It’s Not What You Think is a wry, incisive account of working in Saudi Arabia that offers insight into that insular patriarchal society, what is so attractive to expatriates living there, and what was contradictory or confining about it for a naturalized American who is a woman and a Muslim. A hospital executive in New Jersey, Sabeeha relocated with her oncologist husband to Riyadh, the most conservative city in the country, intending to remain two years. They ended up staying for six. Her book takes the reader on a journey of discovery that mirrors her own.
Offered an influential position at Riyadh’s most prestigious hospital, she first has to obtain her husband’s permission to work. In public spaces, she quickly encounters the morality police but also learns the freedom of the abaya. Salesmen staff the lingerie department. Women in Riyadh do not work in public places, yet they hold positions of authority within corporate culture; and outside Riyadh, she discovers that women-owned-and-operated businesses flourish, and Bedouin women could drive in the desert decades before Riyadh’s ban was relaxed. Through Sabeeha’s eyes, we see how Saudi and Western expat cultures coexist within the boundaries of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” how traditions define the identity of the Saudi nation, and how to discern what is “culturally appropriate” versus what is required legally. As she dons pilgrim’s garb, we join her on the hajj, to discover the intensity and spiritual high of the devout.
About the Author
Sabeeha Rehman is an author, blogger, and speaker on the American Muslim experience. Her memoir Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman's Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, was shortlisted for the 2018 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, named one of Booklist's Top Ten Religious and Spirituality Books of 2016 and Top Ten Diverse Nonfiction Books of 2017, awarded honorable mention in the 2017 San Francisco Book Festival Awards, Spiritual Category, and chosen as a 2019 United Methodist Women's Reading Program Selection. Excerpts from her memoir were featured in the Wall Street Journal, Salon.com, and Tiferet. Since the publication of her memoir, she has given more than 250 talks in nearly a hundred cities, at houses of worship, academic institutions, libraries, and community organizations, including the Chautauqua Institution, where her lectures have been sold out. Sabeeha has given talks on the art of memoir writing at academic institutions including Hunter College, New York. She is an op-ed contributor to the Houses of Worship column of the Wall Street Journal and New York Daily News. She lives with her husband in New York City.
“It’s Not What You Think is truly a tale of surprises, as our assumptions about Saudi Arabia, its culture, and the lives of its women are turned upside-down. Rehman takes us deep inside spaces that are tightly closed to non-Muslims and/or non-females—not only the hajj but the women’s-only lingerie department of a Saudi department store! The one thing that is not a surprise here, for those of us who know Rehman’s previous work, is her writing: intimate, warm, often funny, and always irresistible.”—Susan Choi, National Book Award–winning author of Trust Exercise
"Painfully funny, genuinely touching, culturally confounding, unexpectedly unnerving, and just plain unexpected, Sabeeha's adventure drops us into the dynamic heartland of her faith, confronting the stereotypes that keep countries, cultures, and the people in them so lonely. This warm and wild journey changes her. And if you let her, it'll change you too."—Haroon Moghul, author of Two Billion Caliphs
“In this engrossing and compelling read, Sabeeha Rehman takes us inside Saudi Arabia, globally the most closed and secretive country. . . . A brilliant, insightful, and fascinating tour of a state where freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, and freedom of expression are limited.”—Jan Goodwin, award-winning author, journalist, Soros and Kiplinger fellow and former senior fellow at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute of Investigative Journalism
“Illuminating, informative, and deeply personal, It's Not What You Think is a refreshing and complex antidote to the harmful and outdated stereotypes of Muslim women and the Middle East that still dominate America's media and political landscape. Sabeeha Rehman weaves a complex and empowering narrative of Muslim women reclaiming their identity, gender, and religion from men who seek to hijack all to ensure control and power.”—Wajahat Ali, author of Go Back to Where You Came From and contributing New York Times op-ed writer
"Easy to read, engaging, and informative, It’s Not What You Think will be a great help to all who aspire to visit/work in Middle East in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. For folks navigating different cultures/traditions/faiths, it provides a great introduction from an author who successfully navigated these challenges. I was privileged to consult for the ailing King Fahd in June 2005 and attest to the high standards of health care and the great medical institution at KFMRC where the author held a very senior administrative position.”—Prof. Faroque Ahmad Khan, MB MACP. Chairman, Interfaith Institute of Long Island
“In this charming book, Sabeeha shows how even a devout Muslim who had previously visited Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage can have her stereotypical views of the Kingdom continually shattered for the better. She reveals how Saudi women both exercise their power and irreversibly expand the boundaries of their power within the confines of a patriarchal society subject to the unavoidable winds of societal change.”—Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of Cordoba House, author of Defining Islamic Statehood and What’s Right with Islam
“Sabeeha Rehman’s travelogue memoir invites as well as entertains, inspiring the reader with personal adventures and insight into Saudi Arabia—a modest masterpiece.”—Sidney Offit, former president of the Authors Guild Foundation and Authors League Fund and author of Memoirs of a Bookie’s Son
Praise for Threading My Prayer Rug
FINALIST FOR THE WILLIAM SAROYAN INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR WRITING. ONE OF BOOKLIST'S TOP TEN RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY BOOKS. ONE OF BOOKLIST'S TOP TEN DIVERSE NONFICTION BOOKS. Honorable Mention in the San Francisco Book Festival Awards, Spiritual Category
A 2019 United Methodist Women Reading Program Selection
"Compelling . . . Guaranteed to broaden your horizons and make you see the world a little differently."—Dawn Raffel, "35 Memoirs Everyone Should Read," Reader's Digest
"Rehman’s personal journey is her own, but speaks broadly to all immigrant journeys in contemporary America. With so much discussion about immigrants from Muslim in the national conversation, it’s good to have a story with this unique perspective."—Booklist, starred review
"Rehman’s spirited debut memoir illuminates the challenges of living an authentically Muslim life in America. . . . With sparkling anecdotes about everything from the 'Christmas-ization of Eid' to engineering her son’s marriage, Rehman lends a light heart and an open mind to the process of becoming a multicultural 'hybrid.'" —Publishers Weekly
"A heartfelt memoir plumbs the multilayered experience of being Muslim in America. With a steady infusion of verve and personality, Rehman immerses readers in the traditions of a Middle Eastern culture. . . . Rehman's memoir offers a deeper understanding and appreciation for Muslim lifestyles while imparting a message of unity and international fellowship. A culturally rich and rewarding personal chronicle of ethnic faith and intermingled tradition." —Kirkus
“Entertaining and honest story of one woman's journey to fuse the cultures of her past and present to create her own experience . . . Her story is permeated with hilarious personal experiences and asides as she adapts to the country she will soon call home. Rehman lends a strong and compelling voice to moderate Muslims, and her discussion of her faith and the areas she believes need modernization illustrate the different opinions within the Muslim community.” —Library Journal
"The country needs this counterbalancing personal story to correct the pervasive misunderstanding of what Islam is truly about and the contributions to our American democracy that most American Muslims make every day of their lives. Exceptionally well written and consistently compelling read from beginning to end. . . . Somebody donate a copy of Threading My Prayer Rug to every Republican member of Congress, every Republican member of a state legislature, and every Republican governor who advocates for preventing Muslims from settling in their state." —Midwest Book Review
“A warm, amusing and, for a Jewish reader, surprisingly familiar story.”—Jewish Week
"That one masterstroke of penmanship and objective thought is the ultimate grand finale to a lifelong effort of understanding not only other faiths, but also her own." —Dawn newspaper (Pakistan)
"Take this journey on Sabeeha's prayer rug, and you will be enchanted as she vividly and beautifully transports you through rich and elaborate threads of a lifetime lived with love, intelligence, and compassion—an inspiration to all." —Ranya Tabari Idliby, coauthor of The Faith Club and author of Burqas, Baseball and Apple Pie
"Funny and frank, acute, and compassionate, this story of an immigrant ‘fish out of water’ who falls in love with her adopted American home is for all of us, and for all times—but current events also make it the story for this time. As Americans consider who they were, are, and want to be in the future, they could have no better guide than Sabeeha Rehman. I can’t imagine our country, or my bookshelf, without her." —Susan Choi, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of A Person of Interest and My Education
"With anti-Islamic sentiments on the rise in this country, Threading My Prayer Rug is a refreshing look at what it is really like to be a Muslim in the US today. With humor, charm, and great insight, Sabeeha Rehman recounts how one can be both a devout Muslim and an American wife, mom, grandmother and community activist." —Jan Goodwin, award-winning author, journalist, and Senior Fellow at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute of Investigative Journalism
"Coming to America is seldom associated with discovering one's faith—let alone Islam. Rich in exotic detail, Sabeeha's true-life story is funny, sweet, beautiful, warm, and deeply touching to any reader, who will note how much the heart and soul of a Muslim mother is like that of any other." —Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of Cordoba House, author of What's Right With Islam and Moving the Mountain
"Sabeeha Rehman’s prose resonates with intimacy, wisdom, and wit. She achieves a richly textured narrative that introduces readers to the rituals and enduring values of her Muslim faith as she, her husband Khalid and their sons Saqib and Asim integrate into the American melting pot. At the conclusion of her classic text, Ms. Rehman affirms, ‘Together we will change the discourse, quell violence with knowledge, and banish phobias to the fringe as we work together in unity of the spirit.’ This reader was moved to respond, 'Ameen . . . Amen.'"—Sidney Offit, former president of the Authors Guild Foundation and Authors League Fund and author of Memoir of a Bookie’s Son
"A charming and engrossing book, Threading My Prayer Rug provides a window to a culture and people we do not know enough about. . . . Readable, easy to relate to, and inspiring!" —Sumbul Ali-Karamali, author of The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing
"Threading My Prayer Rug is a beautifully written memoir of a cosmopolitan and faithful Pakistani-American Muslim woman. It’s recommended for all who want to have a sense of how the tapestry of American Islam is shaped by the contributions of a variety of Muslims, including those from South Asia." —Omid Safi, Director, Duke Islamic Studies Center
"Threading My Prayer Rug is a warm, wise, and wonderful book. Ms. Rehman writes in a wry and often humorous style that is understanding of human foibles yet gently pushes readers of all backgrounds to become fuller and more engaged human beings. As an Orthodox rabbi working to strengthen cooperation between Jews and Muslims, I was moved by her involvement in Muslim-Jewish coalition-building efforts." —Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and coauthor with Imam Shamsi Ali of Sons of Abraham