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Deconstructing the American Mosque

Space, Gender, and Aesthetics

By Akel Ismail Kahera

Publication Year: 2002

From the avant-garde design of the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City to the simplicity of the Dar al-Islam Mosque in Abiquiu, New Mexico, the American mosque takes many forms of visual and architectural expression. The absence of a single, authoritative model and the plurality of design nuances reflect the heterogeneity of the American Muslim community itself, which embodies a whole spectrum of ethnic origins, traditions, and religious practices. In this book, Akel Ismail Kahera explores the history and theory of Muslim religious aesthetics in the United States since 1950. Using a notion of deconstruction based on the concepts of "jamal" (beauty), "subject," and "object" found in the writings of Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), he interprets the forms and meanings of several American mosques from across the country. His analysis contributes to three debates within the formulation of a Muslim aesthetics in North America—first, over the meaning, purpose, and function of visual religious expression; second, over the spatial and visual affinities between American and non-American mosques, including the Prophet’s mosque at Madinah, Arabia; and third, over the relevance of culture, place, and identity to the making of contemporary religious expression in North America.

Published by: University of Texas Press

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. xi-xiii

This book is the outgrowth of my research and study of the formation of Muslim aesthetics in the United States over the last five decades. Each chapter introduces an incisive discourse apropos to three individual debates, which will explain the impetus behind the appearance of Muslim aesthetics in North America. The first debate concerns the opposing views held by the...

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Introduction: THE POLEMICS OF DECONSTRUCTION

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pp. 1-24

In the United States, the design and interpretation of Muslim religious art and architecture have been influenced by both the exclusion and the inclusion of historical fact, cultural bias, and a host of subtle contradictions. Each anomaly gives rise to a new discourse, and these discourses inform the corpus of this inquiry. Moreover, the American Muslim community has...

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Chapter One: AESTHETIC ORIGINS AND END CONDITIONS

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pp. 25-62

In the performance of daily Muslim devotions, the repeated act of communal prostration intrinsically defines an interval of time and, invariably, a sense of space and place. Communal worship is a devotional act, and space and place can be expressed in terms of a referential cognition, which regulates the spatial order of a mosque (masjid).1 While these remarks provide...

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Chapter Two: INTERPRETATIONS OF IMAGE, TEXT, AND FORM

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pp. 63-90

The aesthetic features of the American mosque can be codified under the rubrics of ‘‘image,’’ ‘‘text,’’ and ‘‘form.’’1 These three features suggest an anachronistic language corresponding to the use of ornament, inscription, and architectural form. The occurrence of image, text, and form, therefore...

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Chapter Three: SPACE, PLACE, AND PUBLIC GATHERING

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pp. 91-144

Kevin Lynch, the renowned author of Good City Form, remarks that a ‘‘substantial equity of environmental access, at least up to some reasonable range of space and diversity of setting, must surely be one fundamental characteristic of a good city.’’1 In general, Lynch’s observation is correct; it is evident that the normative aspects of habitat in urban America maintain a spatial...

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Conclusion: REVERSIBLE SPACE AND LINEAR TIME

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pp. 145-160

Our introductory remarks posited a dynamic relationship between architectural meaning and aesthetic representation by illustrating three major aesthetic genres of Muslim religious architecture in America: syncretic, traditional, and avant-garde. The specific idiom of these particular aesthetic genres is what we have come to call the American mosque. There are...

NOTES

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pp. 161-174

GLOSSARY

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pp. 175-178

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 179-186

INDEX

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pp. 187-194


E-ISBN-13: 9780292798366
E-ISBN-10: 0292798369
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292743441
Print-ISBN-10: 0292743440

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 43 figures
Publication Year: 2002

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Subject Headings

  • Mosques -- United States.
  • Architecture -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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