The Influence of Religion on the Leisure Behavior of Immigrant Muslims in the United States

Article excerpt

The research on the effects of distinct racial and ethnic backgrounds on leisure has attracted a considerable attention over the last 27 years (Floyd & Gramann, 1993, 1995; Gramann, Floyd, & Saenz, 1993; Stamps & Stamps, 1985; Washburne, 1978). However, studies exploring the effects of religious beliefs on the leisure behavior of specific religious groups are scarce, focus almost solely on Christianity, and result primarily from the work of a single researcher (Heintzman, 1987, 1994; Heintzman & Van Andel, 1995; Ibrahim, 1982). This is quite unexpected, given the sustained interest in the issues of religion, including Islam, among sport researchers (Daiman, 1995; Eisen, 1999; Hargreaves, 2000; Hoffman, 1992; Sfeir, 1985; Zaman, 1997). In fact, in reference to leisure and sport, Eisen (1999) commented, "The fact that religious philosophies and attitudes have something to do with how we view and administer our leisure activities through history is one of the best-kept secrets of modern sport scholarship" (p. 231). Although not in contexts specifically related to leisure, anthropologists and psychologists have also examined the relationship between religion and social behavior (Howard, 1986; Spilka, Hood, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 2003). Psychologists have suggested that religion permeates not only the individual's psyche, but also his or her social and cultural spheres of life (Spilka et al., 2003). Anthropologists, on the other hand, have asserted that religion is thick with meaning and symbolism that can affect one's social environment through activities such as ritual where one is connected with the supernatural (Howard, 1986).

In his 1987 overview of the current trends in research on the relationship between religion and leisure, Kelly noted that one might relate religion to leisure in three distinct ways. First, religious observance may be considered as a form of leisure activity since it involves use of free time with positive anticipated outcomes. Second, when one takes into account the history of conflict involving religious institutions and certain "undesired" recreation patterns, religion may be viewed as being in conflict with leisure (see Clark & Critcher, 1985; Cross, 1990). Third, religion may be considered a form of leisure in the form of contemplation or spiritual pursuit that is intended to "enhance the spiritual lives of devotees" (Kelly, 1987, p. 164). One may argue that although such links are certainly important, there exists a whole spectrum of ways in which religion and leisure intersect that have been hardly subject to any scientific inquiry. Leisure activities centered around the church, organized by the church, using church premises and funds, undertaken in the company of fellow church goers, and with the religious intent in mind have not been tackled in the contemporary leisure literature. Moreover, analysis of the influence that religious beliefs have on people's leisure participation is still lacking.

Although little is known about the effect of religious beliefs on the leisure of the general population, even less research is devoted to the leisure behavior of ethno-religious minorities in the United States. In addition to being non-mainstream in North America, such religious beliefs are often associated with populations that occupy marginalized positions in society and consequently deserve special attention on the part of leisure researchers. In this study we focus on this absent area of inquiry--the effects of religious beliefs (Islam) on leisure behavior of people of the Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Northern African background.

Currently, there are between 6 to 9 million Muslims in the U.S., residing mainly in California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Indiana, and Michigan (Hasan, 2001; U.S. Department of State, 2001). About 78% are immigrants (U.S. Department of State, 2001). Islam has between 700 million and 1.2 billion followers worldwide (ReligiousTolerance. …