This project is an ethnographic exploration of Muslim prayer (namaz), the central practice in formal worship (salah or salat), and its relation to other religious and secular labor in a suburban community in Ahmedabad, India. It explores prayer, specifically, as exemplary religious labor embedded in a range of religious practices, and religious labor, generally, as it relates to secular labor practices. It focuses on a single community, Juhapura, home to a diverse array of Muslim communities, most recently relocated from villages, with pronounced class and caste differences, rural-urban divides, and sectarian divisions between reformist and conservative establishments. It concentrates on prayer in a particular class segment of Juhapura society: unskilled laborers employed in the informal sector.
In addition to ethnographically rigorous research on a little studied community, this research contributes conceptually to the understanding of prayer comparatively by opening up several questions: 1) How do Muslims move into and out of prayer and, how do particular occupations contribute to irregular or “non-normative” prayer? How do these practices contribute to self-understandings and influence locations within Juhapura Muslim society? 2) How is the Koranic style of learning (memorization and recitation of text) embedded in a wider Gujarati cultural context of learning, where interactions are always inflected by politico-cultural movements (such as Hindu nationalism)? What effect do these contexts have on the consolidation of religious practices by minority Muslims and the reception of majoritarian (Hindu) concepts of hierarchy, caste, devotion, pollution, and ahimsa? 3) How is prayer invoked to mediate the dynamics of segmentation, class, and religious differentiation? 4) Islamic practices in Ahmedabad are informed by the diverse community and caste relations with non-Muslims (e.g., Hindu-Jain-Sikh) of the rural villages of birth of most Juhapura residents. How do rural syncretic religious practices change and differentiate in the suburban environment? 3) In what way do changing concepts of communal and individual prayer (both namaz and dua) influence the understanding of other forms of religious labor, such as sermons and lecture series (kusbo) in mosques, naming practices, divine invocations, gift exchanges, spirit possession/exorcisms, conversion and intermarriage, alms giving and financial services, and embodied practices in comportment, clothing styles, and diet? 5) What are the mutual effects of recent transformations in the organization of the informal economy on specifically religious practices? In what way do everyday demands of organizing life through informal work reflect or change understandings of religious labor, and specifically prayer?
The intellectual merit of the project is to document ethnographically a specific case of the social and institutional dynamics of Muslim prayer in a changing political-economic context (Gujarat, India), which can then be used to theorize in what way prayer and secular activities are mutually imbricated in the same context, rather than positing them as oppositional philosophical-historical tenets. The broader impact of this research will be to provide an empirical case study of prayer, with a more nuanced understanding of contexts in which such activity becomes meaningful. More specifically, it will inform scholars across disciplines about the mutual effects of changes in the international organization of service labor on Muslim prayer and religious activities generally in India.