The Metamorphosis Of The Sacred Cultural Studies Essay

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Globalisation and the 'Modernization' of Islam, running alongside the issue of increasing technology has contributed to the possible demand for the evolution of the mosque building type. A simple comparison between The Prophet's Mosque in Medina and Zaha Hadid's proposed Avenues Mall Mosque in Kuwait, has made it evident that the perceptions of the Mosque by society and the Muslim community themselves have changed. This essay seeks to discuss the need of the evolution of the Mosque building type in order for it to integrate and stay relevant with modern architectural design of the globalised world and how far we should and can push the limits in the design of the Mosque building type.

2.1. Form Vs Function Vs Identity

Traditionally, mosques have been designed with 'Minarets', which are tall towers usually placed at the corners of the structure. A 'Dome', which is usually placed in the middle of the structure, is also another characteristic of the mosque building type as seen in Fig. A. This set structure of having minarets and domes has been followed by mosques all around the world.

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There has always been a great debate of 'Form Vs. Function' in architecture. But with sacred spaces, perhaps there is another factor to consider: Identity. Perhaps it is this 'Identity' or characteristic feature of all sacred spaces, be it Christian, Muslim or Buddhist which makes them so distinct from other spaces and buildings. A mosque is structurally defined by a minaret and a dome and a church is defined by a spire. Thus, a building is presumably "Muslim" if it has a minarets by its side and a dome in the centre.

However, the Quran - the religious text of Islam, doesn't dictate the architectural language of the Mosque. Colin Turner wrote that "The whole world is a 'place of prostration' and as long as one faces Mecca, one can pray virtually wherever one likes." (2006, p.105) Does that therefore mean that a mosque does not necessarily have to have a dome and a minaret in its structure?

Welzbacher wrote that "the concept of a holy place that connects heaven and earth via a metaphysical space does not exist in Islam. Unlike a church, a mosque is not a 'house of God' but a place of assembly." (2008, p.14) This essentially means that the architectural form of a mosque is not restricted to be of a certain form, neither must it be of a typical design. Minarets and domes in the early traditional mosque architecture essentially act as a form of beacon for the Muslim community to direct them to the mosque and do not serve a structural purpose. Therefore, the extent of how much we can push the boundaries of the design and the evolution of mosques is limitless.

2.2. Implications of Globalisation and Modernisation

In Arabic, the word 'Mosque' or 'Masjid' is a "place of prostration" or bowing down to God. The Mosque is regarded as the most important and sacred building used by Muslims for prayer. However, the functions of the Mosque also extends beyond being just a space for prayer. The Mosque acts as a 'community center' - It functions as a school, a meeting point for social and political reasons and many other functions in the Islamic community.

With the coming of Globalisation and the constant advancement in technology, people have become more mobile and cultures and religions have been spread all over the globe. In order to accommodate the different cultures and races living in our globalised society, countries have become more secular in nature, whereby there is no emphasis or selective preference on a particular religion in a country. Hence, more and more mosques are being designed in a more secular context.

Rapid changes in the patterns of living, arising from globalisation and modernity has rendered the other functions and spaces of the mosque to be obsolete. This leads to a shift in the functionality of the mosque as the "educational and social functions of the traditional mosque is being taken over by the state." (Grabar, O., 1994) Taking into example the Sultan Mosque in Singapore, the mosque seems to be segregated and stands apart from the urban living space as office buildings and commercial complex surround the adjacent areas of the mosque. The mosque has essentially evolved to be a mere symbol of faith - a monument, rather than a communal space intended for worship and prayer for the Muslim people in Singapore.

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With the state being more secular, the educational functions that the traditional mosque used to provide has been taken over by educational institutes built by the state and with the rise in consumerism and technology, social functions of the mosques have become obsolete as the community has moved to spaces like shopping centres and community centres for recreational activities.

2.3. "Modernization" Of Islam

The mindset of many Muslims and the traditional patterns of living have been altered by the different factors of moden life; the regular commute from home to the work place and the influence of mass media. This so-called "Modernization" of Islam has created a new demand - the need for the mosque to adapt to the new perceptions of its believers and the modern society.

It is the designer's role then, to devise new solutions and appropriate forms which can satisfy the viewpoints of the believer of the 21st century and the characterisitcs of the ever-changing modern society itself.

If we were to place the traditional State Mosque of Kuwait (Fig. B) alongside Zaha Hadid's proposed Avenues Mall Mosque in Kuwait (Fig. C), we can clearly see the variation in the comprehension of the Mosque as a building type and how far we can take the design of the mosque.

(Fig. C)

(Fig. B)

Seeing how the afore-mentioned mosques were designed at different times but with the factor of site context (Kuwait) remaining as a constant in both of the designs of the 2 mosque mentioned, would this therefore lead to the idea that the changing times has influenced the way Muslim believers and maybe even the modern society, perceives the form of our sacred spaces?

In an interview with Cihan Bugdaci and Ergun Erkocu in 'The Mosque', Cihan Bugdaci commented that "Muslims want a mosque [which they] can customize - a standard but flexible building in which religion and community are central but in which we can put together a programme attuned to our own needs." (2009, p.9) It therefore can be inferred that Muslims who have grown up in, or have grown accustomed to, our globalised world do not want religion and religious spaces to be an issue of 'Us And Them' whereby, 'Us' and 'Them' refers to the Muslim community and the societal community respectively.

Muslims essentially want a mosque which makes them feel part of the global community. This leads to the consideration of designing and making the mosque a mediating point between society and religion, whereby instead of having the mosque building type be a mere symbol of faith, it also acts as a communal space for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Perhaps then we should take into account broadening the functions of the mosque and the facilities that it provides. The earlier statement of 'Form Vs Function Vs Identity' is brought back to question. Would the evolution of the mosque building type extend beyond just it's form and identity as a mosque and branch out into its functionality?

Bugdaci argues that if the mosque were to be made multi-functional, "the building would acquire a more central role in the society, serving the community as a whole" (2009) and this would lead to greater understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims and solving the issue of 'Us and Them.' This is especially important in a secular state where there needs to be mutual understanding between the different races and cultures living together.

2.4. Solving The Context

Another argument that should be considered is how the Mosque building type is also affected by the cultural context of which it is placed in. A mosque in Turkey looks totally different in form when compared to a mosque in Indonesia or America. With globalisation narrowing the distance between cultures, how is a mosque supposed to look like in a hypothetical secular setting where there are both Turkish and Indonesian believers?

Hasan-uddin Khan, in his "Overview of The Contemporary Mosque" (1994, p.247-266), argues that "designs for mosques built in foreign cultural settings are generally tempered by the local context, modified by pressures from the existing community or by local regulations and planning laws." He further adds on that "the external form is usually influenced by a single dominant style derived from one country or region, depending on who is financing, designing or leading the project."

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Khan, however, devises a solution as to how the space can still be kept as Muslim space even though it it set in a Non-Muslim context by mentioning that "while the outside must be designed to fit into a non-Muslim cultural context, the inside may be exuberantly decorated with Islamic ornamentation as if to emphasize that space as Muslim." (1994, p.253)

Khan's solution is fundamentally a "supposition of inclusion and exclusion" which is essentially, creating a space within a society which is also conversely a space which is outside of society. Therefore the perhaps the design of mosque building type should evolve to be an inside-outside space - one that needs an exterior that remains relevant to the modern society but with an interior that is specific to the Islamic culture and religion.

(Fig. D)

(Fig. E)

An example would be the Islamic Centre Mosque in Rome (1992) by Portoghesi, Moussawi and Gigliotti. Structurally, the Islamic Centre Mosque in Rome was influenced by Cordoba and Tlemeen yet the prayer-hall of the mosque (Fig. D) was designed based on the plans of that of The Prophet's Mosque in Medina (Fig. E), which is the final resting place of the Prophet Muhammad and is also regarded the second holiest site in Islam by Muslims.

(Fig. G)

(Fig. F)

However, the structural designs of the other functions of the Islamic Culture Centre in Italy, Rome was extracted from the structural designs of Roman buildings and colonnades, thereby supporting Khan's theory of having the design of mosque be a "supposition of inclusion and exclusion." In which the exterior of the mosque is designed to suit the cultural context of the site but it's interior is instead designed in accordance to the Muslim beliefs and culture.

"With the progressive diffusion of cultures on a world-wide scale, it is no longer possible to build within what might be called a purely regional mode." (Khan, 1994) This therefore leads to a re-evaluation of the Mosque building type and having the solution to be a synthesis of cross-cultural influences.

2.5. Rise In Technology As A Future Influence - The Cyborg Mosque?

Looking into the future, if we were to argue that changing times affect the building type, would this therefore mean that with the advances in technology and with more and more functions and facilities going online, would it lead to the mosque going digital? Perhaps, a Cyborg Mosque?

In the article, 'The Digital Mosque - A New Paradigm In Mosque Design', the writer brings up an idea of "the convergent mosque" which is an online mosque prototype which connects virtual and physical spaces. Much like how libraries have now gone on the internet, providing books and information online, allowing users to read from the comforts of home on their computer screen, the idea of the 'Digital Mosque' runs along the same thought.

Digital technology has allowed humans to create "an inexhaustible three-dimensional world within virtual reality." The article suggests that a "convergent space" which is fundamentally "a convergence of virtual and physical spaces which relates to the concepts of: (a) correlation between form and function, (b) customization of spaces, (c) integration of hardware and software and (d) visualization of users." (As, I. 2006)

(Fig. H)

Thus, by having a mosque which is purely digital, where by the physical spaces are translated into virtual spaces, the 'Digital Mosque' prototype would provide for a cross-cultural and global Muslim community.

The illustration shown in Fig. I and Fig. J depicts how far the interior space of the mosque can be changed with the advancement in technology. The believer stands in the physical mosque, facing a blank wall which has a projection of the Kaa'ba in Mecca, indicating the direction of prayer (Fig. I). Therefore the spatial area of the mosque is extended virtually for the user and this virtual extension bridges the distance between the user and Mecca.

(Fig. I)

Additionally, this projection would change and move according to the movement of the user in the space. Thereby allowing the user to feel like he is in Mecca, standing in front of the Kaa'ba.

(Fig. J)

The 'Digital Mosque' prototype thus raises a possible issue of the physical space of the mosque to be obsolete in the future. If Mosques shift from physical spaces to virtual spaces, would it therefore mean that the believers would not have a need for a physical mosque in the future and that the Mosque itself would essentially evolve to be a flat wall in an empty space?

3. Conclusion

Ergun Erkocu states that "people will always have a need to gather in prayer [physically] with like-minded people and to talk about their religion." (2009, p.12) Therefore there will always be a need for a physical mosque and in our globalised world, we need one that can adapt and be relevant to the changing times and at the same time be acceptable to both the function and the context.

Despite the absence of a formal definition, understanding the functions of a mosque can enable innovation to be made possible. Should both architects and the Muslim communities be more open in the acceptance of the foundational ideological elasticity of Islam, only then can the Mosque's formal transformation and cultural adaptability be made possible and successful.

4. List Of References

As, I. (2006), The Digital Mosque, Journal of Architectural Education, 10 August, 60: pp.54-66.

Erkocu, Ergun, Cihan Bugdaci, And F. Bolkestein. (2009) The Mosque: Political, Architectural And Social Transformations, Rotterdam: Nai Publishers

Frishman, Martin, Hasan Khan, And Mohammad Asad. (1994) The Mosque: History, Architectural Development & Regional Diversity, New York: Thames And Hudson, pp.242-272

Welzbacher, Christian. (2008) Euro Islam Architecture: New Mosques In The West, Amsterdam: Sun

Turner, C. (2006) Islam: The Basics, London: Routledge, pp.100-110.