In an article published by Die Zeit, the political scientist Claus Leggewie writes about Islamic architecture in Germany. The first mosques were built in Germany in the 18th century. In conformity with the idea of religious tolerance, the Prussian King Frederic William IV allowed the construction of the first minaret in Prussia. This gesture actually had a symbolic value: the mosque was built by the Ahmadyya community, who at the time was persecuted as heretic in Pakistan and India.
Leggewie shows how architecture styles, the composition of immigrant population and the attitude of German society have changed over the decades. Today, mosques in Berlin or Duisburg-Marxloh represent places of intercultural dialogue, and are capable to reduce mistrust between the religious community and the local neighborhood.
In post 9/11 America the construction of new mosques in the US has sometimes sparked controversy and even confrontation. Is that why some new Muslim houses of worship are being built without the most recognisable features of Islamic architecture – minarets and domes?
The National Islamic Center in Washington DC is an imposing building with a towering minaret. One of America’s iconic mosques, it is surrounded by the flags of the Islamic countries which helped pay for its construction in the 1950s.
Its design was influenced by classical and traditional architecture in Egypt. Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington DC and one of the world’s leading experts on contemporary Islam, says it would be impossible to build such a national mosque today because of the controversy it would arouse.
“It’s a bad time for Islamic architecture,” says Mr Ahmed, former Pakistani ambassador to the UK.
“If there was some visionary with money who wanted to build the Taj Mahal in the US, he’d be attacked as a stealth Jihadist.”
After 30 years, the Met museum has embarked on the most ambitious rethinking and rebuilding of its Islamic art galleries in its history, a $50 million endeavor. At the heart of those galleries, which will open in the fall after being closed six years, it dreamed of showcasing the defining feature of Moroccan and southern Spanish Islamic architecture: a medieval Maghrebi-Andalusian-style courtyard, which would function in much the same way such courtyards still do in the traditional houses and mosques of Marrakesh or Casablanca, as their physical and spiritual center.
With world attention focused on the Middle East, the courtyard has taken on an unforeseen importance for the museum; for the Kingdom of Morocco itself, which has followed the project closely; and for a constituency of Muslim scholars and supporters of the Met. They hope it will function not only as a placid chronological way station for people moving through more than a millennium of Islamic history, but also as a symbol, amid potent anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States and Europe, that aesthetic and intellectual commerce remains alive between Islam and the West.
British architects have slammed the Swiss vote of blocking the construction of minarets. Ali Mangera, of Mangera Yvars Architects, who masterminded the original London super-mosque proposals, said: “Decisions like this should be placed on architectural factors, not a pretext against Islam. This is more to do with the emasculation of a group of people – the right wing is behind this.” He added: “[Minarets] are not ideal for every part of London and they are not just about the call to prayer. But they are interesting features and also function as natural air conditioning mechanisms.”
Adrian Stewart, director of Do Architecture, which designed the minaret-less Al-Furqan Mosque in Glasgow for the UK Islamic Mission, said: “This is being used to isolate a community. A minaret is not a critical component of a mosque and does not always have to be involved. The debate has been blown out of proportion. We know from experience there is a desire to generate a regionalism, which makes a mosque very much more about its location.”
During a conference in Grenada, Tariq Ramadan responded to Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks affirming that the Alhambra, the Moorish palace in Southern Spain and showcases Islamic architecture, shows that Europe is also Islam. He added that the Al-Andalus has informed the creation of European identity. Ramadan accused the Pope of resisting a plural reconstruction of the European past.
Protests and demonstrations against the erection of new mosques throughout Europe are serving as catalysts for greater tensions at hand. Dissenters cite mosques as working against integration with religious-only instruction, while others cite mosques as a visible symbol of wanting to exist in the greater social surroundings. Others are merely angry over the visible display of religiosity and different Islamic architecture.