A common misconception is that people who live in Las Vegas can't avoid the culture of Sin City. In fact, the famous Las Vegas Strip isn't even in Las Vegas; it's on a four-mile stretch of unincorporated Clark County known as Paradise. And life in suburban Las Vegas is a lot like life in any American suburb.
And yet the myth of Sin City sprawl is pervasive in news from out-of-town reporters. And it's the false premise of a story like this one from The Guardian:
For while in one direction from the mosque, the view of barren, rocky mountains shimmering in the desert sunlight could place Masjid-e-Tawheed in any number of locations in the Islamic world, a couple of miles in the opposite direction lies what one would imagine to be the worst place in the world for an even halfway-strict Muslim – something, indeed, not unlike hell.
Masjid-e-Tawheed is a 10-minute drive from Las Vegas Boulevard, the famous Strip – undisputed world capital of gambling, fornication, adultery, prostitution, immodesty, licentiousness, drinking, gluttony, vanity, ostentation and not a little taking God's name in vain when visitors' luck runs out in the gambling halls. The sheer amount of sin, as measured by any religion, is unfeasibly high in Las Vegas; for Muslims, it is off the scale.
Yet a flick through the Yellow Pages remarkably turns up four mosques. Masjid-e-Tawheed, the newest, set up just two years ago, is the only one that extends an invitation to discover Las Vegas's hidden Muslim life in a 10,000-strong community so unlikely that even visiting Muslims are astonished to find it exists.
To be sure, this is a wonderfully written article. And it's clear why, at a quick glance, Las Vegas seems an unusual place for any religion. But it's also clear why writer Ali Eteraz found this story a bit out of touch.
Such reporting lacks depth; it overlooks the generally dynamic religious landscape in the Mojave Desert.
The US average for percentage of the population that belongs to a religious congregation is just over 50 percent. In Las Vegas, it's 36 percent, similar to Seattle and Miami. That's noticably less, but it's no barren wasteland of hedonism, as conventionally suggested.
Moreover, there is a large Mormon community in greater Las Vegas -- roughly eight times the size of the Muslim community. And "gambling, fornication, adultery, prostitution, immodesty, licentiousness, drinking, gluttony, vanity, ostentation and not a little taking God's name in vain" are no more condoned by Mormons than by Muslims.
I get it, of course. I get that the story is a lot more interesting if it highlights the oddity of this thriving Muslim community. But that story doesn't really reflect the reality on the sun-scorched ground.