6BBF Author profile: Walter Ruby & Sabeeha Rehman
Walter Ruby is an activist in Muslim-Jewish relations who has organized hundreds of twinning events bringing together thousands of Jews and Muslims in countries around the world. A veteran journalist, he has written articles for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, and Forward. Ruby has received numerous awards for excellence in Jewish journalism.
Sabeeha Rehman’s memoir, Threading My Prayer Rug, was a finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, received the San Francisco Book Festival Award, and was a Top 10 Religion and Spirituality Book and Top 10 Diverse Nonfiction Book in 2017.
Ruby and Rehman’s coauthored We Refuse to Be Enemies: How Muslims and Jews Can Make Peace, One Friendship at a Time, a featured book at this year’s Six Bridges Book Festival, addresses how the two authors overcame their biases about “the Other,” the principles in their respective faiths that unite them, the impact of interfaith dialogue, and their personal experiences and challenges in bringing the two faith communities together. They also address sensitive issues that had the potential to divide them and share a roadmap based on lessons learned.
CALS was able to ask both Ruby and Rehman a few questions about their book prior to the Fest.
CALS: What was the process involved with writing your book?
Ruby: We began writing our book together in early 2017 and finished the last of many revisions to the book in late 2020. Once we had fleshed out the basic structure and content of the book, each of us began writing our respective sections separately since we live in separate cities (Washington and New York) and could only get together every few months. The great challenge was to weave our respective sections of the book—and our life histories—together seamlessly, which we did by editing each other’s sections and writing certain bridging sections together (in the “we” voice). The process was not easy, but ultimately it came together beautifully.
CALS: What was your favorite part of the writing process?
Ruby: Revisiting our early lives to tell the story of how we evolved from being the people we once were—who exalted first and foremost our own faiths and ethnicities—to more mature people who believe deeply in the American ideal of “all human beings are created equal.” It was also so fascinating to discover the many similarities in our faiths—Islam and Judaism—and in the nations of Israel and Pakistan where we spent much time in our youths.
CALS: What inspired you?
Rehman: Each of us has been deeply inspired by the wonderful people we have met and worked with in the sacred task of strengthening Muslim-Jewish relations. Also, by our respective mothers, both of whom were refugees who barely escaped with their lives fleeing from India to Pakistan and Nazi Germany to the U.S. Our mothers infused us with the commitment to justice, peace, and shared humanity that animates us today.
CALS: It can be hard to address certain topics when it comes to religion; do the two of you hit difficult subjects head-on or walk delicately around them?
Ruby: Whereas we raise the similarities and commonalities in our respective faiths, we do not shy away from confronting the elephants in the room—two elephants. We dialogue and debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we explore difficult passages in our scriptures in the chapter titled: “Is the Quran Anti-Semitic; Is the Torah Genocidal?” We then come full circle to the beginning, “putting Sarah and Hagar’s conflict to rest.” In these chapters, we challenge one another, disagree, reconcile our differences, and acknowledge irreconcilable issues.
You can follow Walter Ruby on Facebook; follow Sabeeha Rehman on Twitter or check out her blog here. Mark your calendar for their virtual Book Fest session with Rabbi Rachel Mikva on Sunday, October 24, at 8 p.m.