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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Transplanted Continuity: Examining the Ethno-Spatial Prospect of the Dawoodi Bohra Community in Southern California

  • Author(s): Munaim, Arfakhashad
  • Advisor(s): Loukaitou-Sideris, Anastasia
  • et al.

The thriving of immigrant ethics and diaspora communities in contemporary urban environments is emblematic of cultural and socio-political navigation. In Southern California, numerous micro-communities identify their inferential beliefs in the way they engage, negotiate, and embrace the extant planning processes and policy regimes of their respective municipalities and cities. The Dawoodi Bohra community is one such growing diaspora of approximately 1.2 million Shi'ite Muslims worldwide that have created micro-community establishments defined by a complex of four sacred spaces: the Masjid (mosque), Manzil (residences), Madrasah (academic institution), and the Mujtama (public space). Their Anjuman-e-Burhanee complex in Woodland Hills in Southern California embodies numerous strategies--from site selection and planning negotiations to the systematic engagements of religious practices--all within the existing physical, social and political constructs of American cities.

This thesis examines a five-part topical agenda on this larger topic: First, it contextualizes the Dawoodi Bohra community by tracing its historic vestiges in Cairo, Egypt and subsequently traces how this community has maintained its ideology and shifted its identity and cultural roots in the U.S., and specifically in Southern California.

Second, it examines the peculiarity of the day-to-day ritual practices of the Dawoodi Bohras. What are the implications of their society's socio-spatial characteristics? By understanding their culture, language and religious identity informs an Alternative Modernity in the way they engage their ritual practices to give and shape meaning to their spaces.

Third, it examines the embodiment of the community in Woodland Hills. How is the Dawoodi Bohra identity physically and culturally manifested in this establishment? It examines their places, buildings and inherent symbology, and observes the preponderance of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Southern California by learning, both their planning and architectural programs.

Fourth, it examines the political and social negotiations that have shaped the Woodland Hills community. By talking to a diverse set of stakeholders, from city officials and surrounding residents, to members of the establishment itself, it excavates the behind-the-scenes processes that have shaped the physical presence of the community we see today.

Finally, this thesis gauges the degree to which current planning regimes and processes in Southern California are inclusive towards such community formation, and simultaneously speculates and posits how and to what degree they could be. It extracts particular issues and trends that focus on urban ethnography and concepts of traditional town planning and architectural solutions all towards an ethnically diverse community development. This thesis concludes with policy propositions for augmenting and celebrating the rich ethnic diversity of Southern California, towards becoming an exemplar of a culturally inclusive regional metropolis.

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