“Stuff” isn’t a very significant part of Islam. In fact, if anything the religion generally admonishes any forms of worship directed toward inanimate objects. What’s interesting then is how I came upon “Next Fragrances” in East Harlem. I enter the narrow store to piles of Islamic texts, not atypical for any Islamic or religiously themed store. On the right, however, were “Islamic” crystals, “Islamic” incense burners, incense stick boxes, incenses, Shea butter, hookah pipes…and the list goes on. The various artifacts were strongly reminiscent of both the Botanicas I frequently passed on my walks through East Harlem and very Arab inspired cultural items.
The store represented largely the dialogue that takes place between African American Islam in Harlem and other religions.
The conversation resembled those that take place in any pluralisitc society (like Nepal, for example) where religions cross boundaries to share practices and customs. Just as the Botanicas nearby were selling candles representing various deities, so to is this Islamic shop selling various types of fragrances and artifacts to identify Islam. A book on the shelf entitled, “Jesus, A Prophet of Islam” clearly reflected this exchange.
Also, it was additionally interesting to note the usage of Arab cultural products, such as Hookah pipes, on a religious platform. The adaptation of Middle Eastern products to Islamic ones speaks to the on going reclaim to the “origin,” the idea that Islam in Harlem represents more than a religious but a cultural identity tied with the homeland from where their ancestors came. These products further separate the Black Muslims from the adaptations of “white society.”