The Faith Club (Review)

June 3, 2010

Book cover for "The Faith Club" by Ranya Idliby, Suzanna Oliver, and Priscilla Warner.Title: The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew – Three Women Search for Understanding

Authors: Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

Publication Year: 2006

Pages: 440

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Purchased from Chapters.ca

From the cover:

A groundbreaking book about Americans searching for faith and mutual respect, The Faith Club weaves the story of three women, their three religions, and their urgent question to understand one another.

After September 11, Ranya Idliby, and American Muslim of Palestinian descent, faced constant questions about Islam, God, and death from her children, the only Muslims in their classrooms. Inspired by a story about Muhammad, Ranya reached out to two other mothers to write an interfaith children’s book that would highlight the connections between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. After just a few meetings, however, the women realized that they themselves needed an honest and open environment where they could admit – and discuss – their concerns, stereotypes, and misunderstandings. After hours of soul-searching about the issues that divided them, Ranya, Suzanne, and Priscilla grew close enough to discover and explore what united them.

A memoir of spiritual reflections in three voices, The Faith Club has spawned interfaith discussion groups in churches, temples, mosques, and other community settings. It will make you feel as if you are eavesdropping on the authors’ private thoughts, provocative discussions, and often-controversial opinions and conclusions.

As the authors reveal their deepest beliefs, you watch the blossoming of a profound interfaith friendship and the birth of a new way of relating to others. And this new edition provides all the materials you need for forming your own Faith Club, including sections in Hebrew and Arabic.

Pioneering, timely, deeply thoughtful, and full of hope, The Faith Club‘s caring message with resonate with people of all faiths.

This book surprised me, in a good way. I read a bunch of reviews about it a few months back, and thought that it looked interesting, but wasn’t sure about whether I’d enjoy it. I tend not to enjoy books that are written about people’s spiritual lives, though there are some exceptions. One of those exceptions is that I really enjoy reading about people’s struggles with their religion, and their struggle to reconcile their religion with society or with the religions of other people around them.

The Faith Club definitely fell into that last category. It is told in a pseudo-journal style, where each chapter has a theme and each of the three authors weigh in on the conversations that happened within their faith club as well as how they personally felt about the topics and, sometimes, about the connections to their lives outside of the faith club meetings.

I particularly enjoyed reading about how Ranya, Priscilla, and Suzanne struggled to find a way to believe what they believed, while still believing that the other religions were equal and not “wrong”. That’s definitely something that I have seen people struggle with in the past, and while it’s not something that I personally struggle with, I can definitely understand why it’s a big issue.

Ranya’s character particularly spoke to me, as a progressive Muslim woman who has difficulty finding her way as an American Muslim of Palestinian descent who isn’t really sure how to find a mosque where she is comfortable and doesn’t feel judged for being a “bad Muslim”. I also really enjoyed reading about how she works on her faith through reading the Quran on her own and interpreting it, and how she uses it to defend against the extremism and other beliefs that everyone around her (including, at times, Priscilla and Suzanne) seems to assume are components of “real” Islam. I really loved reading about Ranya’s struggle to find a happy place within Islam, where she felt that she could love and submit to God’s will but not necessarily to the rules and edicts that humanity has put into place.

While I definitely connected more with Ranya’s belief system, I also saw myself in parts of Priscilla’s story. She starts out as a non-religious Jew who isn’t sure how she can believe in God after 9/11, and ends up with a newfound, “born again” semi-conversion to the faith of her childhood. I’ve never really spoken much about my faith here, but here’s the really simple version: I was raised Roman Catholic, considered myself an Atheist by the time I was 14, and then converted to Islam about a year ago, at 24. Priscilla’s journey towards believing that there is a God in the world, even if not exactly the way that Judaism teaches, mirrored a lot of the struggles that I had while studying Islam and deciding to convert. I think that within this book, her story could speak to a lot of people, both converts and people who simply have faltered in their belief.

I appreciated the open-minded way that the authors approach their meetings and each other. That’s the one thing that really shines through in The Faith Club – that a group of people looking for an interfaith connection really can make a difference in their own lives and those around them. Ranya, Priscilla, and Suzanne grew to understand each other for more than just a label, and that transformation is really what made this book the great read that it was.

Rating:

2 Comments

  • Amy June 3, 2010 at 11:39 am

    This sounds like a great book, I also love reading about people’s struggles to find their own place in their faith.

  • smellincoffee June 6, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    I read this last summer and enjoyed it immensely…I count myself a Humanist and delight in seeing people make religion “theirs”, instead of being dominated by it.

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