Shari’a in the Golden State
“Getting Religion,” the winter 2015 issue of Boom: A Journal of California, features three articles on Muslims in California, their diverse backgrounds, daily lives, education, religious beliefs, and practices. The print edition will be out over the holidays. We offer this triptych to our readers in advance online as a contribution to deepening our understanding of each other in the midst of a powerfully important, sometimes troubling, and moving conversation in our state, our nation, and our world.
‘‘Really?’’ Khadija, an elderly Muslim woman in Los Angeles, looked up at us when she heard that California may have more Muslims than any other American state. We were interviewing Khadija for a research project documenting American Muslims’ experiences of shari’a—roughly translated as ‘‘Islamic law.’’ Unconvinced, she probed, ‘‘Even more Muslims than in Michigan?’’ We nodded in reply. Khadija paused, her eyes relaxed, and her lips parted to reveal a smile.
If the American Muslim community has a tendency to isolate itself, to retreat from the rest of American society, Zaytuna College is where that insularity comes to die. At the only accredited Muslim college in the United States, students spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be American.
One Friday my Christian girlfriend joined me for prayers at the mosque and asked me why she found a watering can in her bathroom stall. The Prophet Muhammed instructed us to clean our anuses with water, I told her. To me, growing up around Muslim families in Southern California, a watering can evoke a bidet, not plants. The conversation led me to consider all those objects that I, and other Muslims in California, have repurposed for shari’a—which literally means ‘‘the path to water’’ (although is usually translated as ‘‘Islamic Law’’).
“Getting Religion,” the winter 2015 issue of Boom: A Journal of California, is guest edited by Jason S. Sexton, a lecturer in the honors program of California State University, Fullerton, and a visiting fellow at University of California, Riverside’s Center for Ideas and Society.