Sunday, January 28, 2007

solidarity and anonymity

an article in the nyt follows up the story of a brooklyn imam (muslim cleric) they did a series of articles about a while ago. he has now moved to the suburbs and is adjusting to the change. parts of the article show that the classic city/country divisions of diversity and conformity (we might think of durkheim's organic and mechanical solidarity) are alive and well.

"His congregation in Brooklyn may have been on the margins of American society, but it was deeply rooted in Islam. Muslims in Middletown were generally more assimilated but less connected to their mosque. [...] In a land of Little League and shopping malls, signs of Muslim identity are few. At first glance, Mr. Shata’s new mosque could pass for an elegant office building. It has no minaret and a barely visible dome."

on the other hand, Simmel might be surprised to find that it is in the suburbs where anonymity reigns:
"In Bay Ridge, congregants lingered after prayers, exchanging kisses and hugs. In Middletown, an air of anonymity hung over the mosque." "To be a successful suburban imam, he found, meant persuading doctors and lawyers not to rush from prayers to beat traffic."

likewise, money seems also to have found a new home in the suburbs:
"Mr. Shata uses Islamic contracts in Middletown, as he had in Brooklyn, to help settle disputes between married couples. But the money involved sometimes makes him gasp. In Brooklyn, a man had agreed to pay his wife $10 every time he insulted her. In Middletown, a similar contract brought $1,000 per insult."

have a look at the article if you can (search through a library if you can't get access directly after the link--the title is "a cleric's journey leads to a suburban frontier"). it is a pretty fair window not only into some questions of the suburbs and the metropolis, but of some real challenges facing muslims in america today. there's a slideshow, too, where in a voiceover track the imam muses about how the american suburbs remind him of his village in egypt; in opposition to brooklyn, egyptian village and new jersey suburb come closer together.


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