Are Muslim mosques true spiritual expressions?

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

In the entry, “Is Arabic the language of science and modernity?”, you wrote:

The Islamic mosque, particularly the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which powerfully conveys a sense of the greatness and oneness of God. The mysterious Arabic script, especially when seen on the walls of a mosque, that seems to take one out of this world into an experience of the transcendent.

I understand that you responded to Ken Hechtman trying not to necessarily reduce Islamic civilization to zero. And I’m by no means denigrating what Muslim artists and spiritualists have done, but I’ve found the mystery and transcendence conveyed by Islamic art to be claustrophobic and bewitching, and even frightening. I have, in recent months, tried to study something of Islamic architecture and design as a way to compare it to Western and other arts.

I have a strange aversion to disproportionately large forms—a too large head on a body, a too large form on a building. In the case of the Dome, I’ve always found it to be too big for the lower structure, and I don’t think I could stand underneath it.

This is my observation of other mosques too. Their interior compound is also too large in relation to the rest of the buildings, even the more sophisticated Persian ones. And their immense gateways are pretty intimidating too.

Funnily enough, my other aversion, excessive patterns (I cannot look for long at a William Morris textile), is something that also occurs frequently in Islamic art.

Patterns on mosque walls appear haphazard, and they are everywhere, almost leaving no wall unexposed. There seems to be a particular pattern placed on one wall, and immediately underneath it, a completely unrelated one is just as likely to be placed. What merges them together is just the fact that they’re patterns (and Muslim design has its own vocabulary, so different patterns can merge together relatively easily).

This practice has actually a term—Horror vacui, or fear of empty space. I think it is the obsession to fill the space with manifestations of/calls for the ever-elusive Allah. The fear of not finding him.

Finally, the most famous mosque of all in Cordoba has this similar tendency of excessively repeated arches meandering throughout the building.

Like I said earlier, I think there is a reason for these excesses in pattern, in proportion etc. I think that the subject of Islamic art, which is surely Allah, is hard to find.

These excesses, in pattern and proportion, are Muslims’ way of trying to find him. And ultimately, I think they cannot. The huge slabs of concrete walls and gold domes are perhaps a way of “barging in” on Allah. These endless arabesques of patterns on the walls are like the muezzin’s morose wails from the minarets, repeatedly trying to get the attention of a silent and absent Allah. And those endless arches keep the Muslim believer meandering (and lost) in his struggle to find the ever-hiding, so it seems to him, Allah. Or his way of mesmerizing himself into thinking (bewitching himself) that he has found this greater being.

What I’m saying is that there is no doubt that these works are done with sincerity. But, I think there is something lacking in them. They are like a false transcendence. Some other force besides God seems to be dictating them.

So, Arabic may not be the language of science and modernity, and neither may the Arabic art be the language of religion and God.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 18, 2008 06:53 PM | Send

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