Islamic Architecture Unbound

Islamic Architecture Unbound

Review Essay

Islamic Architecture Unbound

Author(s): Alastair Hamilton & Stéphane Pradines & Stephennie Mulder & Rizwan Mawani & Maurits van den Boogert & Eric Brough

Reviewed by: Cleo Cantone, London, UK



Review by: Cleo Cantone, London

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Books Reviewed

Islamic Architecture - A World History, by Eric Brough. London: Thames & Hudson, 2023, 335pp. ISBN: 978-0500343784.

Johann Michael Wansleben’s Travels in Turkey, 1673-1676, edited by Alastair Hamilton with Maurits van den Boogert. Leiden: Brill, 2023, 260pp. ISBN: 978-9004435742.

Beyond the Mosque - Diverse Spaces of Muslim Worship, by Rizwan Mawani. London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 2019, 159pp. ISBN: 978-1788315272.

Historic Mosques in Sub-Saharan Africa from Timbuktu to Zanzibar, by Stéphane Pradines. Leiden: Brill, 2022, 350pp. ISBN: 978-9004445543.

Imagining Antiquity in Islamic Societies, by Stephennie Mulder. Bristol: Intellect Ltd., 2022, 343pp. ISBN: 978-1789385489.

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The pain of the Indian, as he experienced the earth of his way of life, has not been fully understood by the White man, and perhaps never will. (…) How can the Spirit of the Earth like the White man? Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore. (…) We need to establish a right relationship with the land and its resources; otherwise, the destruction of the Indian will be followed by the destruction of nature and in the destruction of nature will follow the destruction of ourselves. [T. C. McLuhan, Touch the Earth - A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence, Simon and Schuster, 1971]

Let’s keep this quote in mind. Perhaps it is easier to replace the word ‘Indians’ with Islam or Muslims for the purpose of this article. The white man, however, is more ambiguous: he is at once embodied by the western capitalist ‘monster’ but equally by the barbaric impostors who go by the name of ISIS or Daesh whose sole purpose seems to be the wanton and mindless destruction and desecration of human endeavour—whatever its perceived sacred or secular affiliation. Yes, I said it, and yes, I used the word desecrate to emphasise that the sacred is not the preserve of any particular individual or group: it cannot be quantified or moulded into a prescribed format. All sanctity should be respected. My temple is not holier than yours nor is your mosque more ‘Islamic’ than mine. Never has it been truer nor more urgent to counter human barbarism and focus our attention, instead, on the preservation of our environment and shared heritage. By shared I mean belonging to humanity: human history – and hence its heritage – is collective, not exclusive.

The notion of touching the earth is far from alien to Muslims who remove their shoes to enter both the sacred space of the mosque and the domestic sphere of the home and, as a greater mark of humility, place their forehead on the ground when in sujūd during prayer. Two books in this cycle, Mawani’s Beyond the Mosque and Pradines’ Historic Mosques in Sub-Saharan Africa present two different perspectives on mosques, one more personal and abstract, the other toponymical and scholarly. Neither, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head. In neither did I smell the fresh aroma of straw creaking beneath my bare feet in Tunisian mosques nor feel the powdery, compacted mud on the floor of the mosques of Mali. And certainly no mention of the sweeping replacement of said hand-made straw mats in North Africa with the standardised, made-in-China, nylon carpets financed by well-meaning oil-rich Gulf countries.

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