Faithful build bridges with books
How a post-9/11 book club brought Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women together.
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"One book that really struck me was 'The Rock,' a historical novel by Iraqi author Kanan Makiya about the building of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem," says Ms. Minton. "The book quotes extensively from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sacred texts but doesn't give you the footnote on the page. The quotes are so similar you can't tell where they come from without looking them up in the back."Skip to next paragraph
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From Islamic poetry, to a mystery involving the ritual baths of Jewish tradition, to C.S. Lewis's exploration of good and evil in "The Screwtape Letters," the varied choices spur conversation on the commonalities and differences in beliefs and practices. And sometimes they reveal surprising similarities.
Sepi Gilani, a Muslim physician and mother who is a member of one of two spinoff book clubs (a third is planned for next year), says that "Lying Awake," a novel about an American nun in Los Angeles, resonated for her. The nun's devotional experiences reminded her of her grandmother in Iran, who after her husband's death, spent her time focused on prayer, reading, and worship. But it also rang a bell with her own life in the United States.
"The nun leaves a devout group and goes out into the secular world where many don't believe, and God is the last thing on their minds," she recalls. "When you are constantly thinking of God and the mechanisms of the universe, sometimes it seems the rest of the world is very aloof. Yet when you meet someone who is religious in their own way, whatever their faith, there can be more of a connection with that person than with someone who claims to be of your faith."
She found similar pleasure in the discussion on "Holy Days," about the life of the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn.
Muslims in the US are not as regularly active in the book clubs as Christians and Jews. That's largely because the younger generation is working and raising children, Ms. Gilani believes, while the older generations of immigrants are less sure of their English. Some also travel - two members are now in Egypt and Pakistan.
Most club members are heartened by the way it has spilled into their lives.
"People meet for lunch, help out when members are not well, suggest a good movie - like Jewish or Iranian film festivals - and [have] dinner ahead of time," says Ms. Howe. "And they attend weddings, bar mitzvahs, celebrations at the end of Ramadan."
For Fischman, it was meaningful when some came to the shiva after her father died. They had learned about Jewish mourning during club discussions. "We can talk about the symbolism of our faiths' rituals, but it won't click unless we happen to attend and see what it means in a family's life," she says. "It's about what's in the head and in the heart."
Wherever the book club discussions roam, they clearly have come to be meaningful for those participating. It's still going strong, Minton says, because of the quality of the relationships, the fun and laughter, and the intellectual stimulation.
"We discuss a book, and people think, 'well after that we could read these five others!' " she adds. "We always come out of the meeting feeling better than when we went in."