Pakistani Christianity, rugs at gift shop woven together


Prospective buyers or the merely curious went to the Brethren Service Center's International Gift Shop in New Windsor Tuesday night to hear a young Pakistani describe how Persian and Bokhara rugs are woven into the lives of Pakistani Christians.

In an interview earlier, Yousaf Chaman shied away from discussing discrimination in Pakistan. But he said his Baptist minister father founded the rug producers group because Christians get the low-pay, dead-end jobs in the Muslim nation.

The producers' group accepts Muslim rug makers, and about one-fourth of the producers are Muslims.

Mr. Chaman, 26, the oldest of seven children of the group's founder, travels the United States 10 months a year marketing the rugs through Mennonite and Brethren church self-help stores. The group does not sell through retail outlets.

By eliminating distributors and dealing with nonprofit corporations, the group can pay its artisans an average $6 a day. They would earn about $1.50 a day working for a for-profit rug producer, Mr. Chaman said.

"We found that if you just give [Pakistani Christians] money, they are not able to start their own businesses," Mr. Chaman said.

If a Christian opened a tea shop, for example, he said, Muslims would not patronize it because they would believe it unclean, not in accord with Muslim dietary laws.

The New Windsor gift shop began carrying rugs from Mr. Chaman's Jakciss group in May. Manager Linda Kjeldgaard said the store has sold 15 to 20 of the rugs, ranging in size from small mats to the 9-by-12-foot rugs that sell for $5,500.

The shop returns 60 percent of the retail price to the producers group, she said.

Ms. Kjeldgaard said prospective buyers' decisions may be influenced by Mr. Chaman's talks.

"If you're going to buy one, this makes a difference where you buy it," she said.

Mr. Chaman sells the rugs and uses his education -- he has a degree in business from Punjab University -- to assess the American market. He knows that mauve and forest green are popular with American buyers, who prefer Persian rugs to

Bokhara rugs by about 60 percent to 40 percent.

Persian rugs are wool, tied with 300 to 1,200 double knots per square inch, with floral designs. Bokhara rugs are wool, occasionally with silk added, have 160 to 300 single knots per square inch and feature geometric designs.

Mr. Chaman said his father chose rug-making because it's one skill virtually every Pakistani villager knows.

"I started learning this when I was 10 years old," he said. "All my cousins, my aunts and uncles, everyone knows rugs."

Mr. Chaman has been the group's traveling representative for two years. He said he misses Pakistan.

But since 1966, income from the group has enabled villagers to send their children to school, allowed the Baptist church to build schools and changed women's status because they now have a skill that makes them valuable.

"It's not just me, but I feel I'm part of that whole effort," he said.

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