Islam in America : practice creating identity and meaning

Islam in America : practice creating identity and meaning

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Islam in America : practice creating identity and meaning
Madias, Anthony.
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University of South Florida
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48 leaves ; 29 cm


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Honors thesis -- USF ( FTS )


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Honors thesis--University of South Florida, 2007. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 46-48)

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028675644 ( ALEPH )
F51-00005 ( USFLDC DOI )
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Islam in America: Practice Creating Identity and Meaning By Anthony Madias Anthropology Department Honors College University of South Florida April2007 Thesis Director: Dr. John Napora Committee Member: Dr. Kathleen O'Connor


Table of Contents Abstract ................... ......................................................................... 1 Introduction .......... .. .. ..................................................... .................... 2 Background ................................... .. .................. .. ... ............... . .......... 4 Review .................................................................................. 1 7 Methods ........................ ............................. ... .. ... ... ............................ 21 Analysis ............................. .. ....... .. .. .. ...................... .......................... 25 Conclusion ...... .. .. .............. .. ..................... ......... ................................ 41 Appendix .............. .. ....................... ................. ... ...... ............ ............ 43 References .............. ... .. .. .. .......... .................................. ... .. ... . .............. 4 5


Abstract Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US and the world. Islam came to the United States by way of slavery around the 181h century. Since then, Muslims have been entering the US in immigrant waves. As of2005, the number of Muslims in the U.S. presently is estimated at 4.7 million. (2005: Encyclopedia Britannica) Islam put a variety of obligations and expectations upon Muslims. Each of these has symbolic meaning. Through the symbolism of each action, a Muslim is given a "model of reality", how to see reality and a "model for reality", how they ought to behave given that reality. In this paper I will use the theoretical perspective of Clifford Geertz to discuss the symbolisms that creates the models of and for reality. Conforming to these obligations and expectations, performing religious ritual, and believing in the ideals they represent create a Muslim's identity. In this paper I will use three sets of data, one set of original and two of preexisting, in a discussion of Muslim identity. In my analysis I will rely on the perspective of Emile Durkheim in my use of "Durkheim's Diamond" as a way to address identity. Interviews are especially useful in this section. This study concludes by answering the following questions; how do Muslims establish their identity in a secular nation such as the U.S.? Do Muslims in the U.S. still conform to the obligations and expectations of Islam? How has American culture affected Muslims and the practice oflslam? Are there still clear social consequences for not fulfilling an obligation to Islam? 1


Introduction Islam is the fastest growing religion in the U.S. and will soon overtake Judaism as the second most popular. Over the past 25 years there has been a great increase in the amount of ethnographic studies done on Muslims in America. This may be a result of social scientists becoming more aware of the ever increasing Muslim minority in the US. The research that has been done has dealt with practice and identity In the last five years though, because of 9111, research topics have shifted away from mainstream Islam to include radical Islam and extremist groups. In my thesis project I am returning to the classic scope of research. I take an anthropological perspective and look at the practice oflslam in the U.S. and the identity of American Muslims. I do this by looking at pre-existing studies and data I have collected through in depth interviews with Muslim Americans. In this paper I will show that the shared values and practices of Islam gives American Muslims their identity, uniting them as Muslims and giving their lives meaning and purpose, despite a secular and individualistic society. When I speak of religious practice I am mainly concerned with adherence to the Five Pillars oflslam, with the possible exception of the pilgrimage to Mecca, or the hajj. This is because the Hajj usually takes place later in life and my sample is of college aged Muslims. I am also looking at the frequency of activities considered to be part of the Muslim faith such as reading the Qur'an, mosque attendance, adherence to Islamic clothing regulation, and abstinence from alcohol. On the subject of Muslim identity, I mean to ask how Muslims define themselves. Does a fear of Americanization affect this 2


identity of or has it already happened? How does a Muslim balance life as a Muslim in American society? The main question here is to what extent the tenets of Islam contribute to forming a Muslim identity. This research will work to supplement the data collected by researchers such as Kambiz GhaneaBassiri (1997), Jen'nan Ghazal Read and John Bartkowski (2000), all of whom I cite numerous times in the following paper. In the case of GhaneaBassiri' s research I will be adding to it by introducing a new population, college aged Muslims from a large university. In the case of Read and Bartkowski, I will be collecting data on the Islamic dress code as a whole (not just the practice of veiling) and I will be collecting data from men and women (as opposed to only women). I not only hope to supplement the extensive work done by these individuals but also update it. It has been almost a whole generation since these works have been published. GhaneaBassiri's study, though very thorough, was published in 1997 and Read/Bartkowski' s research was published in 2000. Much can change in a population in this amount oftime: I am hoping my research will reflect this 3


Background Islam is the youngest of the three major monotheistic religions ; it is also the fastest growing. World wide it is the second largest religion and soon will surpass Judaism to be the second largest in the United States. Emerging around the ih century in present day Saudi Arabia, Islam spread across the Arabia Peninsula and into the Middle East and North Africa. Now Muslims reside in every continent with sizable populations in Asia (the largest Muslim nation is Indonesia), Europe and North America. Islam was introduced to the U.S. by way of slavery and has been an ever growing entity since. In this chapter I will summarize the Five Pillars of Islam and other aspects of Islam that govern life as a Muslim. I will give a brief historical sketch of Islam in America: how, when and why Islam came to America. I will also go into relative detail about how Islam is being practiced in America: how Islamic practices and institutions have been adapted to the United States Islamic Practice The Five Pillars of Islam constitute the core of Islamic practice and belief and is usually the first aspect of Islam taught to Muslims youth. The first pillar is the declaration of faith, or the shahadah, "I testify that there is none worthy ofworship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God". Considered the most important pillar, the shahadah is repeated during prayer, said for one to formally convert to Islam, and is ideally the first words a new born hears (Smith 1999 : 9). The second pillar is the obligatory prayer or sa/at A Muslim should pray the obligatory five times at the time of day specified (dependant on the movement ofthe sun 4


a local mosque usually posts a prayer schedule). During prayer, one must face toward the Ka'ba in Mecca and the area of prayer must be clean. Prayer is ritualized, before prayer a Muslim must perform wadu, or ritual ablution. Sunni Muslims wash their hands, faces, noses, arms, hair, ears and feet three times in a particular order. Shi'a Muslims first wash their faces, then their arms, and then wipe their heads and feet with the moisture on their hands. If water is not available, one may use sand The purpose of prayer is to submit to God and to strengthen their faith (Smith, 9 12) The third pillar is charity to the poor or needy, or zakat Zakat is only required if the Muslim is able to spare the resources and how much given is dependant upon the individual's wealth. There are two types of obligatory charity. There is the charity given during Ramadan, which is food or the equivalent cost of a set amount of food. Then there is the charity given during the rest of the year. Currently it is interpreted as 2.5% of the worth of the wealth (possessions and money) held for a full lunar year (Smith, 13-14). The fourth pillar is fasting, or sawm Fasting is done during the month of Ramadan. Muslims must abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk during this month, and are to be especially mindful of other sins that are prohibited. The fast is to supposed to remind Muslims of the needy and increase their closeness to God Not everyone has to fast, children and sometimes the elderly do not usually fast for the whole day. In general, if health permits, a Muslim is supposed to fast. If for some reason they cannot for a temporary condition, one is supposed to make it up by fasting another day after Ramadan. If fasting is prevented by a permanent condition or one lasting an extended amount of time, one is supposed to make it up by feeding a needy person for every day missed (Smith, 14). 5


The fifth pillar is the pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, or the Hajj. Every able bodied Muslim who can afford to do so is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime. Making the pilgrimage is a source of honor for the Muslim and is one reason to perform the Hajj but should be to show devotion to God. After pilgrimage, Muslims generally attest to the enormous significance in the life, both personally and religiously (Smith, 18 20). Another set oftenets learned by youth are the Five Elements of Faith. As with the Five Pillars, children learn from their parents and mosque schools that Islam is based on the following five beliefs (Smith, 6). The first element of faith is Faith in God. This is the unqualified difference between the mundane and profane, the difference between the human and divine. "As God alone is Lord and Creator of the universe, so the Muslim acknowledges God's oneness by living a life of integratedness, integrity, and ethical and moral responsibility" (Smith, 6). To a Muslim, the greatest sin is to let anything other than God be considered divine (Smith, 6). The second element is Faith in the Reality of Angels In the twentieth century angles became increasingly popular in Western culture. Muslims though, around the world and the United States, have had a strong belief in angels since the Prophet was visited by the angel Gabriel and brought to meet God Other than Gabriel, there exists many angels in Islamic theology (Smith, 6 7) The third element is Faith in God' s Messengers God has sent his revelations to the world in many ways, through many people. All of these people are prophets but only some are messengers. The difference between a prophet and messenger is the population 6


to which the communication applies. The message of a prophet is intended for a certain group of people while a messenger has a message of universal significance. Muhammad is the seal of prophecy, meaning he is the last prophet (Smith, 7). The forth element is Faith in the Holy Books The Qur'an makes clear that God sent books, or complete revelations before the Qur'an. God sent them to the Christians and Jews in the form of the Old and New Testaments. Muslims believe that the Jewish and Christian community somehow changed or distorted God's message. This is why the Qur'an, God's final revelation needed to be sent. The Qur'an calls Jews and Christians "People of the Book" because they were given revelations by God too (Smith, 8-9). "American Muslims sometimes suggest this commonality as a basis for affirming the United States as a Christian, Jewish, and Muslim country" (Smith, 8). The fifth element is Faith in the Day of Resurrection and Judgment. "The basic revelation given to the prophet was a double message of God's oneness and of a day of final assessment of human actions." Every Muslim will be given his or her book of deeds and this will determine whether they spend their afterlife in paradise or the eternal fires of punishment (Smith, 8). Living life Islamically is of great importance to American Muslims, "[Muslims] ... often discuss conduct, dress, and other issues in the context of God's final assessment of human actions" (Smith 8-9). In addition to the Five Pillars and Five Elements of Faith, Muslims must follow the sharia. The simplest definition of sharia is Islamic law. Sharia deals with almost every aspect of life including politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law, sexuality, and social issues. Sharia law has two sources, the words of the Qur'an and the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, called the hadith. When the teachings of 7


the Qur'an and hadith are combined you have the sunna, which is comparable to common law in Western Society. The surma can also be interpreted as the words and actions of early Muslims used to clarify the Qur'an. Sharia is simply the surma codified into law. Some laws are explicit and not open to interpretation while others have been debated upon by scholars and clerics forming the shari a of various groups of Muslims. The sharia is divided into two sections, laws that govern "acts of worship" and laws that govern "human interaction". The human interaction laws include finance, penal punishments, judicial matters, food and drink, marriage ect (Haddad and Esposito 1997: 79 89). In cases where there is still room for interpretation a group of Muslims called fuqaha, or Muslim jurists, usually scholars or clerics debate the issue and come to a consensus called.fiqh. Loosely translated, fiqh is Arabic for jurisprudence and can be considered an expansion of sharia law. The resulting ruling is afatwa, fatawa (plural) serve to clarify sharia law in terms of cultural context; a fatwa is context specific. Unlike sharia, a fatwa is not sacred so that Muslims ofthe different schools of thought do not consider each other sacrilegious (Haddad and Esposito, 79). The sharia has many aspects that westerners may find puzzling I shall give three well known examples: the sharia forbids the charging of interest in financial transactions; (Smith, 134 -13 7) the sharia does not allow for the consumption of alcohol as an intoxicant as several verses from the Qur'an suggest (2003: Central Mosque); (Smith, 137-139) the sharia allows for men to have up to four wives (from the Qur'an) with the condition he treats them all equally (from Muhammad) (2006: The Religion of Islam). In the United States polygamy is illegal and though more Islamic banking institutions are be founded in the US, one would be hard pressed to find a bank that does not charge interest. 8


This then illustrates the challenge of being a Muslim in the United States (Smith, 137). Islam in the U.S. Islam has been in the United States since at least the 18th century. The first Muslims in the U.S were West African slaves. Very little is known about the first Muslims in the U.S. because of the lack of primary data. This is for two reasons: Islamic practices were not accurately recorded because of the ignorance of colonials about Islam and the descendants of many early Muslims were reluctant to be completely forthright in answering questions about their ancestors. Even with this lack of information some statements can be made about Muslims in early America There were quite a few Muslims, probably several thousand practicing in the U.S The Muslims in America tried to continue practicing Islam. The cultural influences of these early Muslims can still be seen in segments of the African American community (Gomez 1994: 672-674). The more modem history of Islam in America involves the large migration waves, the largest being post 1965 due to liberalization of immigration law Until then most of mainstream America was unaware of the Muslim American Comprising close to 100 subgroups based on language, race, culture, and nationality Muslim Americans are now part of mainstream America. Most Muslim Americans are of Middle Eastern or Asian origin, but there are significant numbers of African, European, African American, Caribbean, Latin American, and "white" American Muslims that help make up the estimated 4 7 million (2005: Encyclopedia Britannica) Muslims in the U S (Ghayur 1981 : 150151) The first ofthe migrant waves came in the late 1800's. The migration was made 9


up of Eastern European and "Near Eastern" Muslims with their numbers estimated to be several thousand. The majority of migrants were men who came to the US to be laborers, farmers, or shop keepers. Unlike later migrant waves, most of these Muslims lost their religious identity. This is because there was no religious reinforcement and no substantial community to prevent assimilation. There was also a shortage of unmarried Muslim women for the men to marry. This caused the men to marry Jewish or Christian women thus converting them (Ghayur, 152 157) From World War II to 1965 there was not a great deal of migration but there was a reawakening in the Islamic community and a resurgence of Muslim Identity in the U.S. This can be attributed to the new found visibility of highly educated Muslim businessmen and diplomats. This gave Muslims new role models for American Muslims. Because of the sizable number of Muslim students from developing countries, this is also the era the Muslim Student Association (MSA) was established in the U.S. and Canada. By 1965, Muslims started building the first mosques and Islamic centers in the major cities of North America. After 1965 Muslim nations were among the countries with the most citizens granted permanent residency in the US More Muslims had the resources to come to North America as well. With oil revenues reaching record highs more small towns and Sheikdoms increased the amount of students, residents, tourists, and business men in the u.s. It is important to note that though most of the Muslim population in the U.S. is made up of persons who have had the cultural tradition of Islam for generations, there is a sizable and growing population of converts With 75,000 previously Christian black 10


Muslims, and 40,000 previously Christian whites, the majority of converts to Islam are African American or Caucasian American. Interestingly enough, because of the history of Islam and African slaves, most African Americans who convert do not see it as convertingto Islam but "rediscovering" Islam (Ghayur, 153-154). Islamic Life in the US The culture and lifestyle in the United States can make it very difficult to be Muslim. Sharia evolved in Islamic countries with Islamic institutions governed by Islamic rulers. The United States is a secular country with Judea-Christian institutions governed by the Judea-Christian people. This means that the sharia, in its original form, cannot be completely followed in the United States. In response to this there is now a Fiqh council in North America that deals with issues such as marriage and Muslim dress (Haddad and Esposito, 82 83). "Over the past twenty years the North American Muslim community has turned increasingly to local experts for solutions to their fiqh related problems The experts consulted have not always had the sort of fiqh qualifications traditionally required of muftis but their understanding of local conditions coupled with backgrounds in Arabic or Islamic studies have placed them in the position of being called upon to give opinions on sensitive issues (Haddad and Esposito, 81 ). Mufti loosely translated to juris consult is a Muslim scholar and the answers to questions given to this scholar are calledfatwa (pluralfatawa). Fatawa are not legally binding even in Muslim countries because it involves so much interpretation (Smith, 145) (Haddad and Esposito 79). A fatwa is very important to Muslim people and is taken quite seriously abroad 11


and in the U.S. Smith (145) found "[A] magazine published in Southern California that a fatwa is only a phone call away, urging those with concerns to call 1-800-95-fatwa for assistance in making life decisions." In addition to a fatwa hotline, every year fiqh councils in North America receive many letters asking advice ranging in topics from Muslim dress to dating to health and nutrition. One can also find fatwa on the internet or through question and answer columns in Muslim journals (Smith, 146-147). Adaptation of Muslim Practices and Institutions in the US The acquisition of knowledge is very important to Muslims, Muhammad states that every Muslim should attain as much knowledge as possible. For this reason schooling in both religion and academia is a priority for Muslims. The religious education takes place in both the home and the mosque. Children are taught the Five Pillars and Five Elements of Faith very young. Muslim Youth are slowly initiated into the customs and rituals of their faith by their teens. Muslims are supposed to read the Qur'an and to attain more knowledge about their religion and contemplate their faith. Some Muslim parents chose to home school their children or send them abroad but most allow their children into the public school system (Smith, 126-127). "These parents hope that proper Islamic training in the home and the mosque or Islamic center will sufficiently arm their children to make wise decisions" (Smith, 127). While in a secular school system parents encourage their children to learn more "Islamically". The director of the Council of Islamic Schools in North America suggests children do homework for an hour before prayer, making prayer seem like recess. He also suggests that if a student is studying a particular subject that they should look it up in the Qur'an and to attain a Muslim perspective. There are many after school and weekend 12


sessions available to supplement a child's secular education. For example, the International Institute of Islamic Thought published Social Studies Supplementary Teaching Units (Smith, 126-129). In a capitalist nation such as the United States it is quite difficult to find Islamically acceptable ways to meet a Muslim's financial needs. A strict interpretation of Islamic Law prohibits the charging or receiving of interest. This becomes problematic when you take into account everything in the United States is based on credit and interest. "Some Muslims, however argue for a more flexible interpretation of the law that would allow for the accumulation of some reasonable interest on money invested" (Smith, 134). Fortunately, there are a small, and growing, number of Islamic banks in the US. Some regular banks are even working with "bank deposits" where interest is not accumulated. Some Muslims try to avoid the problem of banking and credit all together; they are encouraged to join investment clubs where money is pooled to make a capital investment. An Islamic community may even collect money from the entire community in order to build a mosque of Islamic center to avoid a mortgage. There is still much debate on which economic actions are Islamically sanctioned and which are not (Smith, 134). There are restrictions to the Muslim diet. A Muslim may not consume pork or alcohol: this is taken directly from the Qur'an. Some Muslims refuse to attend events where alcohol is served while others just abstain. More strict Muslims would not even work at an establishment that sells or serves alcohol. Now through interpretation of Qur'an and there is concern about the use of any pharmaceutical products. Like the Jewish faith, Islam requires a proper ritual slaughter of animals for consumption. More attention is being paid to this now, and instead of being forced to buy kosher meats, many 13


more establishments are selling Islamically slaughtered meat, known as halal Who prepares a meal can also be an issue: strict Muslims would argue that a Muslim cannot eat anything prepared by a non-Muslim. More moderate Muslims believe this impractical because ofthe increasing social interactions between Muslims, Jews, and Christians (Smith, 137-139). There are also restrictions on a Muslim's dress. The Islamic dress code comes from the Qur'an. There it says that both men and women should dress modestly It is interpreted that one must wear loose clothing that covers up most of the body. The Qur'an also states that women should veil, known as a system of hijab, as to "not display their beauty and ornaments." The Islamic dress code is followed by Muslims to various degrees, for example some women veil while others chose not to (Read and Bartkowski 2000: 398). Many Muslim clergy believe that a "good" Muslim woman veils. This is to protect the women's virtue and to protect men and veiled women from the temptations of sex. This is not the only reason to veil; veiling has different meanings to different people. There are those who believe that veiling is an oppressing and subjugating practice and that Muslim women are made to participate in while others believe it to be a source of identity (Read and Bartkowski, 399 400). Theoretical Perspectives Many theoretical perspectives have been used in the analysis of Islam and religions in general. The two used in the following analysis are those of Clifford Geertz and Emile Durkheim. In his article "Religion as a Cultural system" (1993), Geertz asserts that all 14


religions have a system of symbols that are essential to their beliefs. The symbols have two roles in that society; to express the "model of reality" and the "model for reality". The model of reality explains the world as the religion sees it; it provides description of the natural and cultural phenomena "that parallels the pre established, non symbolic system" (Geertz 1993: 9395) in a way that all practitioners ofthat religion understand. It is the way one sees the world. The model for reality on the other hand is how one ought to act in relation to how one sees the world. Geertz emphasizes the importance of symbols as they produce powerful, pervasive, long lasting "moods". These moods lack meaning without the religious symbolism. Here, the importance of religious symbolism is the creation of specific motivations and goals. Religion, through the use of symbols, also provides and reaffirms a particular worldview that will provide meaning and purpose to life and the universe (Geertz in Scupin 1998: 14). In Durkheim' s work The Elementary Forms of Religion (200 1 ), he studied what many considered the "simplest religion" (Australian totemism) in order to extrapolate about all religions. For Durkheim, religion is based on the distinction between the sacred (extraordinary) and profane (mundane). The sacred was decided upon by society and represented the essence of religious symbols, beliefs, and practices. "Durkheim maintained that all sacred phenomenon, such as religious symbols ... or religious rituals ... have significant consequences for a society" (Scupin, 25). In keeping with his functionalist perspective, these consequences can be seen as functions. He found that universally religion has four major functions. There is a disciplinary or social control function that serves to reinforce social norms. There is a cohesive function that brings people together and creates a strong bond. There is a vitalizing function that serves to 15


make the individual more lively or vigorous, vitalize, and boost spirit. And there is a euphoric function that creates a good feeling, of happiness confidence, and well-being (Graham 2007 : class notes). For Durkheim, symbols represent shared values and beliefs that form social bonds that in term give a community its identity. In ritual Durkheim believes, the individual loses self and merges with that community. They are acting out their beliefs and values, reinforcing them; their identity is strengthened as a member of that community and the individual's identity may be transformed to that of the community (Scupin, 25 26). Islam has come a long way in the United States both literally and figuratively traveling thousands of miles from the Arabian Peninsula and being adapted to the American culture. The preceding was intended to be a platform to understanding the significance of my data and the conclusions 16


Literature Review Competing Visions of Islam in the United States: A Study of Los Angeles (1997) written by Kambiz GhaneaBassiri is an extensive ethnographic study of American Muslims. GhaneaBasssiri took the theoretical perspectives consistent with Emile Durkheim and Clifford Geertz. He found that how a Muslim thinks about his or her religion, the degree to which they "believe" guides their actions. He discusses the importance of identity to American Muslims and discusses how their beliefs and actions create this identity and unify the group. This study is significant in that it is an ethnographic study comprising a range of demographics. GhaneaBassiri conducted research using 22 in depth interviews, a 13 page, 84 question survey to which he received 143 responses, and participant observation in Los Angeles Mosques. He was able to have a diverse sample including men and women, various ages, ethnic groups, and residency/citizenship statuses. This highly varied sample is very close to being representative of the Muslim population of Los Angeles. GhaneaBassiri' s data and conclusions mirror mine in many ways and supports most of my conclusions "To Veil or Not to Veil: A Case Study of Identity Negotiation in Austin, Texas," written by Jan'nan Ghazal Read and John P. Bartowski was published in 2000 in the journal Gender in Society This paper is one of the few ethnographic studies of veiling done in the United States. The study by Read and Bartowski applies many perspectives to veiling. The authors take a feminist perspective to explain gender inequality and oppression symbolized by the veil. Their analysis is consistent with Durkheim by stating 17


that the veil creates social bonds and exhibits identity. The authors also use the paradigm of symbolic interactionism, which the veil has different meanings to people and that Muslim women can make the veil have different meanings. This study relied exclusively on interviews of religiously active women in Austin, Texas Of the 24 informants, 12 veiled and 12 did not. This study is significant because, as far as I know, is the only recent (published 2000) study of veiling in the US that goes into such depth. This is the only work I looked at that took a feminist perspective and used the paradigm of symbolic interactionism. Jane I. Smith s book Islam in America, a recent publication (1999), introduces beliefs and rituals that have characterized the Muslim community from the time of the Prophet till the present and frames the religious life of American Muslims. While doing so, Smith takes a perspective consistent with Durkheim. Smith writes about how these practices contribute to their identity as Muslim. She looks at a range of issues that confront Muslims who want to live faithfully in the context of America. These chapters describe how many Muslims in the west do not attend mosque or pray the obligatory five times a day yet consider themselves Muslim by heritage or cultural affiliation This is consistent with the findings that both I and GhaneaBassiri encountered. What is significant about this work is that it this study relies almost exclusively on library research, conversations with Islamic scholars, Islamic leaders, and people employed by Muslim publications. Jane Smith does not use data from the lay person, creating an almost idealized version of what the American Muslim does. This means that the piece does not give voice to the "American Muslim". Smith's work does however give insight into how conservative Muslims create their identity. 18


Islam: The Straight Path (1998), written by John L. Esposito, is almost exclusively based on library research because it is primarily a historical and informational review of Islam, Islamic communities and Islamic beliefs and praxis. This work is not an ethnographic study on Islam. It is purely an explanation ofthe religion and its tenets. Though it does not give insight into the practice oflslam, either worldwide or in the U S the work does explain symbolism in ritual. In this regard the author's conclusions are consistent with the other works reviewed There are a great deal more ethnographic works done on Islam in America but due to time constraints I was unable to use them for analysis. Two books written by Yzonne Yazbeck Haddad are such examples Muslim Communities in North America (1994 ), coauthored by Haddad and Jane I. Smith gives insight into the Muslim communities of San Diego California, Seattle, Washington, and all around New England. Muslim Women in America : The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today (2006), coauthored by Haddad Jane I. Smith and Kathleen M. Moore concentrates on how Muslim women negotiate what it means to be a woman in America and being a Muslim woman. This work focuses on how Muslim views about and experiences of gender are changing in the West. During the course of this project I encountered a great deal of material on African American Muslims and the Nation of Islam in particular. As this exceeds the scope of my project I was unable to use them. Two such articles "The Islamic Jesus: Human Divinity and Messiahhood in African American Exegsis" and the introduction of "Alternative to Religion in an African American Islamic Community: the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths," in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America are both written by Kathleen O'Connor. In these articles Dr. O'Connor examines the indigenous non-19


Sunni Islamic movements in the U .S. The author examines The Moorish Science Temple, The Nation of Islam, The Five Percent Nation, Ansarullah, and other African American Muslim groups Another topic crucial to the study of Islam is American converts. Daughters of Another Path : Experiences of American Women Choosing Islam (1996) written by Carol Anway is one such study 20


Methodology In the past five years since the attack on the World Trade Center a great deal of attention has been paid to American Muslims. Unfortunately, this has not been good attention. The ignorance, prejudice, and hate expressed by Americans towards their fellow Americans of Muslim faith or Middle Eastern descent has made the Muslim community talk about Islam carefully and approach researchers like myself with caution I am looking at two aspects of Muslim life in the United States: religious practice and Muslim identity. By religious practice I am referring not only to the rituals, obligations, and symbols of Islam but to the shared beliefs and values to which they represent. By identity, I am looking at the aspects of Islam and Muslims practices which allow them to identify themselves as Muslim and whether the greater Islamic community identifies them as Muslim. Pre-existing Data I used Kambiz GhaneaBassiri's book Competing Visions of Islam in the United States (1997) to look at individual aspects of Muslim praxis and religiosity. I also used his data for aspects of identity. In his study of Los Angeles Muslims data was gathered from two sources: interviews and questionnaires. The latter is the most interesting to me. Being a Muslim, the researcher was able to go into mosques and other Islamic centers and received permission to hand out questionnaires and even received assistance in distribution and collection. Unfortunately, this opportunity is unavailable to me. GhaneaBassiri used a thirteen page questionnaire consisting of eighty three multiple choice questions and fourteen short answer questions GhaneaBassiri describes his 21


methodology as such: "The questionnaires were distributed at various Islamic centers, mosques, Islamic schools, and Islamic organizations. A few were also given to personal friends and acquaintances. The questions were chosen to cover a wide range of life's affairs, including religiosity, political affairs, gender issues, sectarian issues, social relations, concerns about raising children in the United States, and attitudes toward the United States and Islam". I used the article "To Veil or Not to Veil" (2000) to look at one of the major tenants ofthe Islamic dress code from a woman's point ofview. The authors of"To Veil or Not to Veil" based their research on previous studies as well as a sample of religiously active women, both veiled and unveiled, in Austin, Texas. The researcher's sample included 24 women, 12 that veiled and 12 that did not. All24 women defined themselves as devout Muslims and identified with various nationalities and different sects. All of the women have been in the U.S. at least five years with 19 of them in the U.S. for ten or more. The sample was very representative of the Muslim immigrant to the U.S. (ages 2155, middle class with post secondary education). The author conducted in depth interviews with the women that "covered a range of topics, including the women's experiences withveiling, the meaning of the veil to them, their reasons for wearing or not for wearing the veil and the impact of this decision on their social relationships, their perceptions about the significance of the veil in their country of origin, and the importance oflslamic beliefs and devotion activities to these women." (Read and Bartkowski, 402) 22


My Data Interviews My sample included three college aged Muslim males and three college aged Muslim females. The only criteria I used to define Muslim was self identification as a Muslim. I acknowledge my sampling bias in that I have a limited number of informants and that my group is rather homogenous My three male sources came from two sources, personal contacts and the USF Muslim Student Association (MSA). One of the female informants was referred to me by a professor and the other two were referred to me through personal contacts My three male informants were all from the MSA. I received informed consent from all of my informants in the form of signed waivers to use their opinions. I made sure they knew that their anonymity would be kept and asked if I could record our conversations, all four allowed me to record. I was unable to recruit any females from the MSA for an interview. I did approach three or four and was politely turned away. I believe this is because I am a male outsider, making it taboo to speak with me without being previously introduced through a social network. This is why I believe I was able to speak with my female informants, because two were introduced by friends and one was introduced to me by a professor. The same professor introduced me to three other Muslim girls, all of which I attempted to recruit with negative results. Two of the three males were recruited from Friday prayers at USF. This was much easier than I had expected, they approached me after prayer was finished. They introduced themselves and asking if I wanted to talk to them about Islam. The third was introduced to me by one of the others and volunteered to speak with me. All three were 23


very eager to talk about their religion, personal lives, and opinions. The only difficulty I had was one of my informants repeatedly tried to convert me during the course my contact with him. I never professed my religious views to my informants but I made sure to disclose I was not a Muslim. During the course of my interviews I tried to avoid any cultural taboos. I almost made the mistake of shaking hands with my one female informant, which I later joked about with her to try and ease the situation. My interviews were semi-structured with 37 questions (for males) and 38 (fot females). Because my interviews were semi-structured I received much more information than if I had used a completely structured format and I received more specific data than if I used an open format. My interviews covered the Five Pillars of Islam, diet, dress code, and Islamic expectations in Western institutions. My questions were designed to examine how these shared values, beliefs, and practices make them feel a part of a larger community and to find the social consequences of not conforming to these. Observation The USF MSA is affiliated with a group prayer on campus every Friday afternoon (Dhuhr prayer). I attended three of these prayer sessions. Each one lasted approximately 30 minutes and included a sermon by the prayer leader and the prayer ritual. Because I am not a Muslim I conducted non-participant observation, I merely sat and watched. I was able to receive informed consent by way of the prayer leader; I asked ifl would be allowed to obser\re and write about my experience. 24


Analysis Geertz At the core of Geertz' s perspective is the importance of symbols and symbolism. In my discussion ofthe "model of reality" I will concentrate on the obligations and expectations that Islam places upon an individual. For the purposes of this I will examine the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims understand that God created the universe to be in balance, the Five Pillars exemplify this. ... Each of the five responsibilities balances and supports the others, and all constitute elements that go to make up the human person [and] work together in balance and harmony" (Smith, pp 14 15). In this section I will analyze aspects oflslam with a perspective consistent with Geertz's "model for reality". In discussing how symbolism in obligation and ritual provides a model for how a Muslim ought to act, I will illustrate the meaning and purpose it gives to Muslims. The first and most important pillar, the shahadah, creates a monotheistic framework in which to view the world (Esposito 1998: 4). The shahadah has two parts, in the first, declaring one's faith to Allah. It reminds Muslims that there is no God but God and that worshipping anything but God, whether in polytheism or associating anything else with God, is a sin. The shahadah emphasizes faith in their oneness and unity of God. The second part of the confession of faith affirms Muhammad as the last and final prophet. Muhammad's words and actions serve as a model for the Muslim community (Esposito, 88 89). Muslims are reminded of their duties by thinking about Muhammad; he set the example for Islam with the hadith (Esposito, 66). Recitation of the shahada is a reminder of their identity as well. Every day when it is recited during prayer, Muslims are 25


reminded of the first time they truthfully recited the shahadah and identified themselves as Muslims According to Islamic Law, once one formally recites the shahadah three times, they are legally Muslim (Smith, 9) The second pillar, salah, represents remembrance of God and symbolizes a Muslim's faith and devotion (Smith, 9-12). "The salat cannot be carried out without careful preparation on the part of the worshiper, including entering a state of ritual purity which involves both the cleansing of the body and the purification and readying ofthe mind and heart" (Smith, 12). Prayer also mandates a particular dress code for both men and women. These preparations for prayer help to illustrate the importance of prayer and devotion to God that one must be purified and ready for worship. It also represents faith in Muhammad and the Hadith; the Qur'an prescribes the prayer but Muhammad and the hadith provides the set times and ritual (Smith, 9 12). Prayer also provides a reminder of what it is to be Muslim, reinforcing identity by way of unity through the symbolic actions (Esposito, 88-89) "Recited when standing in the direction of Mecca, they [verses and prayers] both recall the revelation of the Qur an and reinforce a sense of belonging to a single world wide community of believers" (Esposito 89). During prayer, each act of worship begins with the declaration God is most great" and consists of bows prostrations" (Esposito 89). This is how prayer shows one's faith and submission to God There is recitation of fixed prayers from the Qur an during prayer; this illustrates faith in God and in his word (the Qur'an). At the beginning and end of prayer the shahadah is recited ; this is representative once again, of faith in both God and Muhammad (Esposito, 8990) The third pillar, zakat, is both functional and symbolic for the Islamic community 26


It is functional as all charity and welfare, providing support for the needy and redistribution of wealth. The act of zakat is symbolic of values that are preached in Islam; compassion for fellow man and generosity (Smith, 13). "The word zakat itself suggests both piety and purity, underscoring the relationship of financial responsibility to righteous living" (Smith, 13). The Qur'an and the both make specific references to paying alms. "[Alms are] a means of thanking God for the blessings he has bestowed" (Smith, 13) and are an act ofworship (Esposito, 90). The fourth pillar is sawm, or fasting during the month of Ramadan. This pillar is specifically mentioned in the Qur'an thereby making it extremely important to Muslims. The Qur'an suggests that every Muslim of appropriate age is supposed to fast. "Muslims are also expected to follow the strictest ethical codes during this time, being especially careful to be honest, thoughtful, and sensitive to the needs of others and to refrain not only from eating and drinking but also from using foul language and untruthful words" (Smith, 14). A Muslim should be on their best behavior during Ramadan; during my interviews I heard the same phrase from every informant; "because God is watching." Ramadan has spiritual and symbolic dimensions. "Ramadan is a time for reflection and spiritual discipline, for expressing gratitude for God's guidance and atoning for past sins, for awareness of human frailty and dependence on God, as well as for remembering and responding to the needs of the poor and hungry" (Esposito, 90). Ramadan also allows a Muslim "to reflect on what it means to live in obedience to the commands of God [and] reminds one that life is truly in God's hands" (Smith 17) The symbolism of Ramadan is illustrated by one of my informants, when asked about what Ramadan means to him, he responded "Ramadan, what you do in Ramadan .... having to fast, makes you empathize 27


with the poor and starving . .. it shows humility. Fasting makes you appreciate what God gave you and what you take for granted. You become closer to God and to people too. It reminds you to be thankful, to be generous to be compassionate, to be honest, to be pious .... basically it reminds you to be Muslim". This quote also illustrates a framework in which Muslims should live their lives; during the month of Ramadan this framework is solidified. The fifth pillar, the Hajj, is obligatory to every Muslim who is physically and financially able (Esposito, 91). The Ka'ba is the focus of the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Ka'ba is a cube shaped "House of God", in which a sacred black stone is embedded. The Ka'ba was built by Ibrahim and Ishmail. The black stone was given to Ibrahim by the angle Gabriel and thus is a symbol of God's covenant with Ibrahim and with the Muslim community through him (Esposito, 91). The Prophet Muhammad, while uniting the Arabian peninsula under Islam, marched into Mecca and destroyed all the tribal idols but left the Ka'ba, as it was a symbol for the one true God (Esposito, 91 92). These events are important to Muslims and are symbolic to them. The Hajj reinforces the world view that God is the only God and that God has a covenant with Muslims that they perform their obligations. There is much symbolism in the rituals during Hajj as well. Men and women have ritual dress and hair styles, neither jewelry nor perfume is permitted and sexual intercourse and hunting are also prohibited. These are symbolic of purity for the worship of God but more importantly they represent Muslim unity (Esposito, 91) Muslims circle the Ka ba in unison showing equality and visit the Plain of Arafat. On the Plain of Arafat on a hill called Mt Mercy Muhammad preached his last sermon. A preacher is there, he preaches Muhammad s last message of equality (Esposito 92) The 28


pilgrimage ends with the Feast of Sacrifice. It commemorates God's command to Ibrahim to sacrifice his son. By showing his willingness to submit to God, Ibrahim was able to sacrifice a ram instead. Worshippers sacrifice an animal as well; this is representative of their submission to God and willingness to sacrifice (Esposito, 91 92) Traditionally, during this feast a large amoupt of meat is prepared but very little of it is eaten by the worshippers and most is given to the poor and needy (Esposito, 92). This is representative of the charity and empathy that all Muslims ought to exhibit (Esposito, 91 92). The Hajj is very important to all Muslims, including American Muslims (Smith, 19). Many Muslims find pilgrimage very powerful; their faith is renewed and they feel a sense of unity with God and other Muslims (Smith, 18) By conforming to all of these obligations, a Muslim shows his or her dedication to Islam and thereby their dedication to God. Obligations such as the Five Pillars, show Muslims how to act and how to live The values symbolized by them give these actions meaning and give a Muslim their purpose in performing them. Muslims will act in accordance with Islam because that is what makes them a good Muslim and will give the Muslim "a better chance for a felicitous reward in the hereafter" (Smith, 13). Durkheim For Durkheim symbols are important as well. In this section I will analyze how the symbols and rituals oflslam help to create identity through "Durkheim's Diamond" (Napora: 2005 and 2007, class notes). Symbols represent and express shared values, these shared values allow social bonds to form, these bonds allow someone to identify as a member of a group thereby forming identity. This can work in reverse as well, symbols 29


can give identity, this identity allows for the creation of bonds between people with the shared identity, these bonds are formed between people with values, the same shared values that their symbols represent. Through ritual these are all strengthened, the sacred symbols become more meaningful, values are reinforced, bonds are made stronger, and religious identity is strengthened. Ritual has the power to transform people and reenergize their faith. (Napora) In this section I will also discuss the aspects of social control that Islam imparts on Muslims. I will do this by looking at the social consequences of not conforming to various obligations. These two concepts are linked, if one does not conform to the expectations and obligations is may not allow themselves or others to identify them as Muslim Perhaps the most important part of being a Muslim is observing the Five Pillars. With exception of the Hajj, every Muslim should adhere to them for the majority of their lives GhaneaBassiri's and my data suggest that most Muslims try to adhere to the Pillars. The Five Pillars are ordered by importance to the faith; but as I will show, this is not the case in their practice. The order of the Pillars are: shahadah, salah, zakat, sawm, and Hajj. The shahadah, or Testimony of Faith, is "what makes you Muslim"; once a person has recited the shahadah (three times) he or she is now a Muslim (Smith, 9). All my informants agreed that the shahadah is the most important part of their faith because it summarizes the basis of Muslim belief that there is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet. It is said at least once a day by all my informants. "S" says "the shahadah makes me feel closer to God, it makes me feel like a Muslim". The shahadah symbolizes unity and oneness of God, reciting the shahadah is what legally makes one Muslim 30


Through the ritual of recitation ofthe shahadah one's identity is transformed either by becoming Muslim or affirming their belief in God and Muhammad. On the question of zakat: because I was interviewing college students, none paid the obligatory alms but they all said that their parents did when they were financially able. Because this cannot be quantified I will defer to GhaneaBassiri s data GhaneaBassiri's (1997: 63 table 3.6) data on the other hand shows that only 45% of Muslims always pay zakat. The Muslims I interviewed all stressed the importance of charity as part of their religious beliefs, that Islam teaches people to be charitable. ... The payment of zakat instills a sense of communal identity and responsibility (Esposito 90). The zakat is another example where bonds are created both physically and spiritually Some Muslims give their donation to the mosque to be distributed but others physically hand it to the needy. This forms a bond between Muslims (Smith, 13). Spiritually, the alms giver feels closer to the community by reinvesting money into the mosque or other community programs or organizations (Smith, 14). Both my data and GhaneaBassiri's show that when it comes to praying 5 times a day, according to GhaneaBassiri few Muslims 39%, (63 table 3 6) and 25% of my informants actually pray five times everyday According to the people I interviewed this is because the U.S. is not a Muslim nation, there is no call to prayer and schedules do not stop five times a day for prayer, and in the "U.S. people have busier and less flexible schedules." Although life in America may be "busier" and "less flexible" every Muslim I spoke with tried to pray five times a day. This is because praying five times a day, despite a busy schedule, shows that Islam and God is the most important thing in their lives They believe that being Muslim and being able to identify as Muslim overshadows all 31


other responsibilities. I assert that making one's life revolve around Islam shows submission to God. This is an important theme. In Arabic, the word "Muslim" literally translates to "one who submits [to God]." This theme seems to permeate through all five Pillars but it is especially visible in salat. Salat shows a Muslim's submission to God in two ways; the first is in making the time to pray and the second is the prayer ritual itself. The call to prayer tells Muslims it is time to perform an ablution ritual, so they are rid of"earthly defilements". Muslims must be clean physically and spiritually before they worship (Esposito, 89). When I observed Muslim Student Association (MSA) sponsored group prayer sessions I saw many examples of submission to God. Prayer began with recitation of the shahadah, acknowledging that God is the only worship able being. The prayer leader sings Arabic verses out of the Qur'an, each verse corresponds to a particular movement that the group does in unison; this shows unity. I later found out from an informant that before every verse, the prayer leader would say "God is most great" (consistent with Esposito). The movements made during prayer clearly suggest submission and worship. The movements begin with the standing position, to a bow, to kneeling, to a kneeling bow, back to kneeling, to standing. These units of movement are called a raka 'ah. At least three of these units are performed during every prayer. After the last raka'ah another ritual ablution is performed and the shahadah is recited once more. I maintain that through the symbolic submission to God, the worshipper strengthens their identity as a Muslim, or "one who submits to God". The fourth pillar seems to be the most observed in the United States. According to GhaneaBassiri (63 table 3.6); 70% of Muslims always fast during Ramadan and 100% of 32


the Muslims I interviewed. One should be more pious and observant during the month of Ramadan because "God is watching" and "People are watching." This is consistent with Durkheim. Ramadan is the month where everyone is expected to be a "strict" Muslim. Ramadan "serves to unite in fellowship all who are participating in this observance" (Smith, 17). Fasting during Ramadan is so very important to identity because it brings Muslims together physically and spiritually. Physical bonds are created, as one of my informants described, "Ramadan should be a time when Muslims come together .... we break the fast every night together .... we feed the poor at mosque". Spiritual bonds are created as well, as illustrated by another informant, "During Ramadan, we know what it means to be hungry .... normally food is not something you have to think about, we aren't usually hungry. By making us feel like the less fortunate, we are brought closer to them and it makes us want to help." As Durkheim asserts, when shared values, in this case humility, charity, and empathy are reinforced, bonds are created and thus the identity of the Muslim is strengthened. Ramadan is also an example another example of a Muslim's symbolic submission to God As an informant put it, "Ramadan is a time where you must follow all of the tenets of Islam, to thank God for all he has given you, and to show your own humility to God." Once again, these are all examples of being "one who submits to God", or a Muslim. There are two major dietary restrictions in Islam, the consumption of halal foods and of restriction of alcohol. All food a Muslim eats should be halal and a Muslim may not consume alcohol. GhaneaBassiri (63 table 3.6) found that 49% of Muslims always eat halal foods and 23% often eat halal foods. All of my informants ate halal foods whenever possible; all of them stressed the difficulty in eating halal in the United States. One 33


compared it to eating kosher because it is becoming easier to find. As a result of Islam becoming more "mainstream and popular" there are more establishments that sell halal foods. He went on to say that sometimes he and his family would eat kosher foods sometimes as well. Abstinence from alcohol is easier to follow in the United States. "S" put it as "no one can make you drink, you are never in a situation where you are hungry or thirsty and there is only alcohol.. .. the choice to drink is yours". None of my informants drank, but all knew someone who did. GhaneaBassiri's (64 table 3.7) data mirrors this, he found 74% of Muslims did not drink and 23% had not drank in at least 6 months. By choosing not to drink Muslims are fulfilling their obligation to Islam and God. By not drinking they exhibit a shared value oflslam, bonding them to others who do not drink. "A", a 19 year old freshman, stated "I have non-Muslim friends but when it comes to Friday and Saturday nights I prefer to hang out with my Muslim friends ... I don't like to be around alcohol and drunk people." These bonds contribute to and strengthening a Muslim identity. When asked to describe the Islamic dress code all informants had a similar description. The main theme was modesty, "to be modest", "to show modesty"; all clothing worn by men and women should be "modest". To dress modestly is what the Qur'an and hadith require of Muslims. When asked to elaborate on this, one said "loose fitting clothing, long sleeves and pants whenever possible is always a safe bet for both men and women." She continued, "Some parts are only for your eyes, God's eyes, and eventually .your husband or wife". Everyone I spoke to said that they followed the Islamic dress code and no matter what tried to dress modestly, "even at the gym" as one pointed 34


out. When Muslims adhere to the dress code they are doing so for two reasons: it is a divinely ordained duty and it distinguishes them as Muslims (GhaneaBassiri, 113). However, GhaneaBassiri's (109 table 4.1) data shows the contrary. According to his study only 37% of Muslims always adhere to Islamic dress code. One explanation for this disparity is that the Islamic dress code marks a person for prejudice and discrimination, both of which are not nearly as prevalent on a college campus. A female informant stated, "a woman should always show modesty, some believe this is only required from the neck down but I think hair should be covered too." What she was speaking of is the veil, or the practice of hijab. Two of the three women I interviewed veiled and believed that covering one's hair was part of Islamic dress code for women. Of the three men I interviewed two believed covering the hair was optional and one thought it was obligatory. This is in line with GhaneaBassiri's (11 0 table 4.2) data; he found that 53% of Muslims believed that a woman should not be seen without covering her hair. Muslim women veil for a number of reasons, the two I interviewed gave one main reason. This was identity. Veiling gave these women the identity of a "good" Muslim woman and the veil illustrated this to others. One woman said, "I wear the veil because I am a Muslim woman. I want to show my faith; the veil is representative of what I believe." This woman actively wears the veil to show her values and she recognizes that other women who veil share her values. This allows for the creation of social bonds. At one level this is through shared commitment to Islam and connection to their shared religion and culture which allows friendship networks to form. Some of the veiled women interviewed by Read and Bartkowski veiled merely because their friends and 35


relatives did. Thus, at another level this allows a Muslim woman to "fit in" with their peers (Read and Bartkowski 2000 : 403-404) . The veil is not only a symbol of religious identity; it is also a symbol of gender identity and cultural identity. There are essential differences between men and women in Islam (Read and Bartkowski, 397-399). The veil is a symbol ofthese differences; that women should be covered as not to tempt men because they are easily "corruptible". This also ties into the belief that a woman's body is more precious and should be reserved for the eyes of a select few (Read and Bartkowski, 399400). Many ofmy informants mentioned that the veil identified someone as a "good Muslim woman." This means that the woman was devoted to Islam, following all its tenets and having the values taught by Islam and was generally a good person. The term "good Muslim woman" it seems was less about following a prescribed gender role and more about following the religion. A female informant went on to say, "a woman who veils shows that she is devout, modest, and chaste," values that are desirable in both Muslim men and women. The veil can work to give non Western and American cultural identity (GhaneaBassiri, 114). To fit in with their ethnic culture, women will veil. But to fit in with their American consumerist culture some women will buy many fashionable head coverings to wear as hijab, so that they may use the veil as an accessory. This allows Muslim women to keep a portion of their cultural identity in the West. The veil can also be looked upon as "a sign of the devout Muslim woman's disdain for the profane, immodest, and the consumerist cultural customs of the West" (Read and Bartkowski, 399). In this way the veil can be used as a method of protest. In this regard veiling is legitimated as a statement of ethnic and cultural distinctiveness 36


(Read and Bartkowski, 399). Not veiling can also be looked upon as a method of protest. If a woman chooses not to veil, they may be doing so to protest male domination and the "mediocrity and servility" that some believe the veil represents (Read and Bartkowski, 400 401 ). However, no one I spoke with shared either view of veil as protest. Because Islam grew out of different historical and cultural circumstances there are conflicts between Islam and Western institutions. Two such institutions are dating and banking. Of my six informants only one was against dating. She stated, "although there may not be any intention to do anything improper there will always be the potential." She went on to talk about an old saying, "when a man and woman are alone together the devil is always there." It is important to note that this informant was the only one who believed sexual conduct was inevitable in a dating relationship. The others have a different perspective, one states "I believe men and women should date, it helps you get to know yourself better and understand what you want so that eventually when you do marry you will be happier." He later clarified, "dating will not lead to sex if the couple does not want it to, so I guess dating is acceptable in Islam ifthere is no sex." U.S. culture seems to have changed the views on dating. Now dating is more acceptable but under the premise that there is no physical intimacy. Once again GhaneaBassiri' s data ( 119 table 4.9) is different than mine. He found that only 21% and 22% of Muslims agreed to letting men and women date respectively. I believe this discrepancy comes from the generation difference and the university setting in which I collected my sample. The people I spoke with were concerned about financial issues in the U.S. I was told, "the biggest issue here is that the in the U.S., if you want to buy anything big, like a car or a house, you have to take a loan, which charges interest." Another informant said, 37


"one reason why it is more difficult to live a Muslim life in the states is because of the prohibition of charging and receiving interest." Banking issues are a concern for Muslims in the U.S. (Smith, 134-135). All six of my informants spoke about difficulties with banking in the U.S There are some banks that will work with Muslims to get their business. Three of my informants have regular bank accounts that give minimal interest, two do not have bank accounts and one has a regular bank account. This shows that in order to adapt to life in the US, Muslims will make exceptions to sharia Law. Banks will give Muslims different incentives to get their business, such as free checking, or no fees for services such as online bill pay and such. There are Islamic banks in the U S.: the Lariba-American Finance House, Bank of Whittier, Zakat Foundation of America, and Institute of Halal Investing. After analyzing all three sets of data, one overarching observation one can make: that the practic e oflslam varies by culture and context (2006: GhaneaBassiri in Haught). The way Islam is practiced varies greatly from Muslim to Muslim. In the United States the purpose and essence of Islam is preserved and is considered more important than merely observing Islam's obligations and rituals (GhaneaBassiri 68, 69, 185). American individualism became imbued upon Islam; this is how Muslims who do not follow "strict Islamic guidelines" can still identity themselves as Muslim They do not identify being Muslim with the obligations and expectations but with the essence of Islam the spirit of Islam, the core values and teachings; this allows the individual to define religiosity for themselves (GhaneaBassiri, 68 69, 185). These Muslims follow their own "strict guidelines" by adapting the rituals, expectations and obligations of Islam to life in America. Your attitude towards God is most important for being a good Muslim your 38


personality You must be patient, honest and giving" (Read and Bartkowski, 407). The individuality of Muslims in the Amefica is not only seen in the practice of Islam but is also visible in the social consequences for not practicing Islam. Whenever asked about the social consequences of not fulfilling a certain religious obligation the answer was more often than not something to the effect of"it is their choice," and most severely "that is between them and God." Muslims acknowledge that others believe in practicing Islam differently. Because ofthis it seems that the American value of tolerance has some impact here as well. Not once did anyone say that someone needed to change their habits, call them a bad Muslim, or deny anyone their Muslim identity who did not fulfill an obligation For example, when asked about a Muslim who drank alcohol the most conservative answer given was "they lost their way, I would pray for them." On the same topic "S', the most conservative and "strict" Muslim I interviewed, talked about her uncle drinking alcohol. She said that her family accepts this but believes he needs to be helped. He is not a bad person but needs "God's guidance ." On the Islamic dress code when asked what they thought of an unveiled woman the most common response was it is her decision". This agrees with Read and Bartkowski's findings on tolerance. The women interviewed defined what it is to be Muslim broadly enough to include the women who did not veil. "Being a good Muslim is the same as being a good Christian or good Jew-treat others with respect and dignity. Be considerate and open minded" (Read and Bartkowski 407). Ofthe many differences between Islam in America and Islam abroad the most significant to its practice is the lack of social controls from the state. In Muslim nations the social norms are based on the teachings of Islam. One must adhere to their roles and 39


fulfill their expectations and obligations. One of my informants lived in Saudi Arabia for seven years. He stated "In Saudi Arabia you had the religious police, if you weren't dressed properly or did something that wasn't Muslim, you would get in trouble. When you were outside you had to look like a good Muslim ." He went on to say, "During Ramadan, most restaurants were closed during the day. The town pretty much shut down." A young woman told me about when her parents lived in Iran, "When my parents were in Iran, places would close when it was time for prayer. ... Because the United States lacks these social controls it becomes more difficult to follow the "straight path" that Islam mandates. The lack of religious leadership in the United States contributes to variance in Islamic practice. Although there is a Fiqh council in North America and Fatwa's are readily available in the United States, none of the Muslims I spoke to ever followed a fatwa. All of them however have consulted imams for some advice. Though they took advice from imams, there areno religious leaders in the U.S (GhaneaBassiri, 51-54). According to GhaneaBassiri (185) the last American Muslim leader that American (born and immigrated) Muslims recognize is Malcolm X. Without religious leaders that everyone recognizes and follows there cannot be solidarity in practice (GhaneaBassiri, 187). 40


Conclusion Islam creates a "model of' and a "model for" reality through symbolism found in rituals and obligations. This is evident in the Five Pillars, because every Muslim should know and perform them; they contain the most obvious symbolism. The Five Pillars provide Muslims with a monotheistic view of the world and faith. They provide a Muslim's faith in God, the Qur'an, Muhammad, hadith, and an afterlife. The symbolism gives the Five Pillars meaning and establishes the qualities and values one must exhibit to be a "good Muslim" thus allowing them to go to heaven. Through the Five Pillars, Muslims are shown how to see the world, how to behave in it, and are given a purpose It seems that some expectations and obligations are followed more closely in the U .S. than others. For example, fasting during Ramadan: is followed by a much greater percentage of Muslims than is eating halal foods. There seem to be two factors determining how an obligation is followed; the importance of the obligation, and how difficult it is to perform in the United States. Ramadan is very important to American Muslims and is not hindered by living in the US On the other hand American Muslims reduce the importance of eating halal because it is difficult to do so due to the unavailability of halal foods in the US. The principle source of identity for American Muslims comes not from conforming to every Muslim obligation and expectation but from believing in the core values of Islam. The belief in the core values, through symbolism, creates social bonds, thus creating identity. Ritual helps to reaffirm these values by reinforcing or strengthening the symbolism Though not required to be identified as Muslim, all 41


American Muslims do conform to at least some of the expectations and obligations of Islam. This is because ritual, expectation, and obligation are still important factors to forming identity. Although the US is a secular nation, Muslims are still able to lead an Islamic life. They follow Islam as they believe it should be followed. Muslims follow Islam's obligations and expectations to varying degrees. Some Muslims are more "strict" than others, precisely following the Five Pillars and sharia, while some do not pray and consume alcohol, but all identify as Muslims. In the United States the practice of Islam is so varying for three reasons; absorption of American values, lack of social control from the state, and lack of religious leaders to solidify practice. American Muslims have changed their perception of what it means to be Muslim. They changed the relationship between thought and practice by imbuing Islam with American values, thus modifying what it means to be Muslim to the American Muslim. With the American value of individualism, now Muslim identity does not come from conforming to every Muslim obligation and expectation but from believing in the core values oflslam. Because of the American values oftolerance and individualism, the social consequences of not performing rituals and observing obligations are minimal. The lack of negative social sanctions allows for someone to identify as a good Muslim without conforming to the expectations and obligations of Islam. 42


Appendix Interview Questions Age Ethnic/Cultural Background How long have you/your family been in the US? How "strictly" do you believe Islam should be observed? Are the standards different in the US? What does the testimony of faith mean to you? How is it important in your everyday life? Do you know any Muslims who consume alcohol? Is that person looked upon differently by the community? Do you ever consume alcohol? How often do most American Muslims read the Qur'an? How often do you read the Qur'an? How many times a day do most American Muslims pray? How does the community feel if one does not pray 5 times a day? How many times a day do you pray? Do most American Muslims fast during Ramadan? When your physical condition allows, do you fast for Ramadan? How does the community feel is one does not fast? Why is Ramadan important to Islam and Muslims? Do you (or your parents) pay alms (Zakah)? 43


How often do you eat halal foods? Does one's reputation in the Muslim community depend upon their religious observance? What do you think is the most important aspect? Were your parents strict in enforcing Islamic laws regarding prayer, diet, and fasting? How were the values and practices of Islam taught to you, who was responsible for religious instruction? Do you believe it is more difficult to live a Muslim life outside of an Islamic Nation? Why? Is it especially difficult to live a Muslim life in the US? What makes this more difficult? What is your understanding of the Islamic dress code? How well do you adhere to the Islamic dress code? (For men) Do you believe all women should follow the Islamic dress code when in public? Does this include hijab or veil? Why or why not? (For women) Do you believe all men should follow the Islamic dress code when in public? (For women) Do you choose to use a hijab or veil? Why or why not? What is its significance to you? Have you ever consulted an Imam for advice? How important is fatwa for American Muslims? What are your beliefs on banking in regards to Islamic law? Do exceptions to Islamic banking need to be made in the US? What are your views on dating? Should men and women be allowed to date? Do your friends date? 44


How would your family react to you dating? Note: I asked every informant these questions but my interviews were not limited to them I asked follow up questions depending upon response Various informants introduced topics not included in my questionnaire. I found this data useful and informative and is included in my analysis. 45


References Abraham Nabeel and Shryock, Andrew eds 2000 Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream Detroit : Wayne State University Press American Society of Muslims 2007 http :// www / Anway, Carol 2002 Daughters of Another Path: Experiences of American Woman Choosing Islam. Lee's Summit: Yawna Publications Central Mosque 2003 http :/ / The Figh ofHalal and Haram Animals" Denny, Frederick Mathewson 1994 Islamic Ideology in the New World: Some Issues and Prospects. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 62. No 4. Pp 1069-1084 Diof, Syviane 1998 Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. New York: New York University Press Durkheim, Emile, translated by Cosman, Carol 2001[1912] Elementary Forms ofReligious Life Oxford : Oxford University Press Encyclopedia Britannica Online 2005 http://search Esposito, John L. 1998 Islam: The Straight Path. New York : Oxford University Press Geertz, Clifford 1993 Religion as a Cultural System. The Interpretation of Culture; Selected Essays Pp 87-125: Fontana Press GhaneaBassiri, Kambiz 1997 Competing Visions oflslam in the United States : A Study of Los Angeles Connecticut: Greenwood Press 46


Ghayur, M Arif 1981 Muslims in the United States: Settlers and Visitors Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 454, America as a Multicultural Society Pp 150-163 Ghazal Read, Jan nan and Bartkowski, John P 2000 To Veil or Not to Veil: A Case Study of Identity Negotiation in Austin, Te x as Gender and Society, Vol. 14, No .3: pp 395-417 Gomez Michael 2005 Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African American Muslims in the Americas New York : Cambridge University Press Gomez Michael A 1994 Muslims in Early America The Journal of Southern History Vol. 60, No 4. pp 671-710 Graham Laurel 2007 Class Notes: "Classical Theories" Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck and Jane I Smith eds 1994 Muslim Communities in North America. Albany: State University of New York Press Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck ed. And Esposito John L, ed. 1997 Muslims on the Americanization Path? Georgia: Scholars Press Haddad Yvonne Yazbeck Jane I Smith, and Kathleen M Moore 2006 Muslim Women in America: The Challenge oflslamic Identity Today. New York: Oxford University Press Haught Nancy 2006 Muslim Professor Display s Islam's Diversity. http://www _19659 _1.html Naff Alixa 1985 Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience. Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press Napora, John 2005 2007 Class Notes: "Magic and Religion" and Cultural Anthropology 47


O'Connor, Kathleen 1998 Islamic Jesus : Human Divinity and Messiahhood in African American Exegsis. Journal ofthe American Academy of Religion 66, 3 pp 493-532 0 Connor, Kathleen 1999 Introduction of Alternative to 'Religion' in an African American Islamic Community : the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths. Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America Vol 5 Scupin, Raymond 2000 Religion and Culture: An Anthropological Focus Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall Smith, Huston 2001 Islam: A Concise Introduction New York: Harper Collins Smith, Jane I. 1999 Islam in America. New York: Columbia University Press The Religion of Islam 2006 An Introduction to Polygamy in Islam http://www.islamreligion com/articles/325/ 48


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