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Exploring Islam Through Art, Culture, and Literature

Week 6 Response – The Conglomerate Mosque

March 22nd, 2016 · No Comments


Mosques serve as centers of not only spiritual, but also often community, life for many Muslims. In addition to serving as a place of worship, many mosques have some sort of additional community function, ranging from something as simple as public gyms, to, in larger mosques, educational centers. However, beyond this basic function, the similarities between mosques in different areas of the world essentially end. Though perhaps originally modeled off of the Prophet Muhammad’s original home in Medina, where he would deliver sermons atop a small stool (later becoming the minbar) to a crowd of followers gathered in the courtyard under a small awning for shade, the mosques seen around the world today are to a large extent the product of the local culture and environment in which they are found.

This diversity in Islamic art and architecture is represented here with a miniature mosque sculpted out of clay built with a conglomeration of different, distinct components of mosques found throughout the world. The front of the mosque is made to resemble the Djeene mosque in Mali, with its smoothened mud surface and scaffolding framework, while the back is divided to represent both the large dome and minaret style common among Middle Eastern and Turkish mosques and the more rounded domes that are often seen adorning South or Southeast Asian ones. These differences represent a greater debate about the existence of one Islamic (with a capital “I”) art form rooted in spiritual meaning, as portrayed by Nasr in his piece, versus the idea of Islamic art as representative of the various art forms expressed by the diverse populations throughout the Muslim world, as put forth by Necipoglu in her piece. She emphasizes the uniqueness of Islamic art that has developed since the founding of the tradition, such as the incorporation of art unique to Hindu temples in to South Asian mosques, whereas Nasr appears more focused on early architectural styles. Without recognizing these various cultures and the multiple historical influences that shaped them, one runs the risk of ultimately playing into the interpretation of “Islam with a capital I”, whereby a sense of “otherness” is essentially created that plays into the modern notion of some monolithic power in the religion that seems to be perpetuated today.

Additionally, I purposefully left the this conglomerate mosque unpainted, with a plain, white exterior, to represent the destruction of beautiful mosques in the Balkans and elsewhere by the Wahhabi sect, in favor of their “hospital white box style” mentioned by Sells in his article on the topic, devoid of any local cultural character. This is indicative of a larger cultural cleansing being conducted by the Saudis throughout the region, again contributing to the otherness described above. Ultimately, this likely plays into the culture of fear associated with that sect, and the Islamic tradition in general, that seems to be so prevalent in Western societies.

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