This small and admittedly lumpy model of a dome and minaret reflects some of my thoughts on Nebahat Avcioglu’s essay, “Identity-as-Form: the Mosque in the West.” Avcioglu shows figures of mosques in Schwetzingen, Germany; London, UK; Potsdam, Germany; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Woking, UK, among other locations. All share a very similar dome, minaret, and stereotyped arabesque design. Avcioglu calls the minaret and dome “a structural metonym of Muslim identity that ca no longer be read in any context other than the one in which it predetermines” (92). Though some mosques lack these defining features, Avcioglu explains that their omnipresence and importance shift image into identity and identity into image. The boundary of mosque as dome and minaret echoes and reinforces the us-versus-them boundaries of Islam in the west, and highlights Islam as a cultural and national marker, almost more than a religion (93).
Avcioglu challenges my own image of what a mosque should look like. Despite reading about the diversity of beliefs, practices, and forms of expression covered by the term islam– submission to God- I definitely still imagine the prototypical mosque in the West Avcioglu describes when I think of a place of worship. However, after this essay and at the conclusion of Professor Asani’s class, I am increasingly intrigued by how “the sheer idea of a mosque lacking a minaret and/or a dome has now come to present a challenge of an existential kind” (103). What differentiates a place of worship from a poem about the search for God or a piece of artwork depicting his greatness? Why can these other forms express cultural and historical context, mixing elements of pre-Islamic belief or practice, while the mosque, especially in Europe and the United States, largely conforms to an imagined past?
My model is built from Plasticine clay, a modeling material designed not to harden. Though its form follows a common model, it cannot stay in that shape, and even as I took the picture for this blog, the arches began to sag. Even if some see a mosque design as out of history, it cannot help but change. I also flattened a design of the continents across the top. Even where it seems not to, a mosque in the West reflects a global heritage.