Among the most prominent symbols of Islam is the mosque. The dome and the minaret instantly come to mind when someone thinks of the Muslim place of worship. The designs that dominate the Islamic world tend to stem from Arabesque styles from the early periods of Islam. However, there have been calls to modernize mosque architecture to reflect the changes in the Muslim world. Those who make such calls argue that there is no such thing as “Islamic architecture” and that the only real requirement for a mosque is that it be clean and suitable for prayer. Others, though, contend that there must be something recognizably “Islamic” about the structure so that anyone who sees it associates it with Islam.
The debates around mosque designs reflect the numerous discussions in Muslim communities worldwide around gender, power, and especially Islam’s place in the West. In the Middle East, architects who are pushing for more contemporary designs are faced with the guidelines of religious institutions, which often opt for more traditional designs. In Europe, on the other hand, Muslims face the challenge of negotiating their place in the larger society. The minaret, like the veil, is often politicized to be a highly visible symbol of Muslims’ refusal to integrate into their society. For some European Muslims, the minaret, while no longer used, signals that a building is a mosque. Whatever the side of the debate, the goal of some architects is to find a common ground by combining Islamic and European elements to reflect European Muslims roots in both spaces. For example, in Rome, this mosque has both Roman and Islamic elements:
There are also debates in the construction of mosques about the place of women. More designs (whether they are considered to be “traditional” or “modern”) are breaking down some of the barriers between the genders. In some new mosques, women pray in open balconies in the main prayer hall or have separate but equal room (in most cases, the women’s sections are noticeably smaller).
Despite all the debates, there are a number of mosques that have been built or are in the process of being built that demonstrate how a “new mosque” can look. Here is the first mosque designed by a woman in Turkey that mixes contemporary and traditional Ottoman design:
The Floating Mosque in Dubai (to be completed in 2011) is built on floating concrete and foam and looks like a submarine:
Finally, the mosque in Cologne, Germany (to be completed in 2010) not only has a unique design but is part of a complex that will have a library, art gallery, and a market with the feeling of a traditional market in the Middle East. A minaret will be included to show that it is a mosque:Do you think that there is something called “Islamic Architecture”? What do you think about the new designs of mosques? Are minarets a political symbol? Please share your thoughts below.