Modern Mosques in America

I heard a fantastic interview with Maryam Eskandari, founder of Miim Designs, on CBC.  The interview was fascinating and entertaining, including funny anecdotes and really insightful commentary on the way mosques are creating Muslim community in North America and how they are being integrated into larger communities.  I think everyone should listen to the interview, but I wanted to highlight a few things from it.

First, Eskandari emphasizes how there is no official mosque design, and that the classic domes and minarets have been derived from Christianity and Zoroastrianism.  This means that modern Muslims should feel free to interpret their spaces in new ways.  This is particularly true with many places banning minarets, such as in Switzerland.  Eskandari points out that public opinion has also lead many Muslim communities to desire a lower profile mosque, but that they also feel like minarets and domes were necessary aspects of the architecture.  However, there are no official requirements for a mosque, other than that they be clean and facing Mecca.  This means that communities should feel free to re-interpret their needs, and Eskandari has been designing new types of spaces.  In fact, in the interview, she mentions that originally minarets were used to determine the appropriate times for prayers, and Eskandari described a mosque where slits were built into the mosque walls to fulfill the same function without minarets.

Second, I enjoyed many of her anecdotes about visiting all the mosques in America.  One particularly memorable one involves paying a stranger to be her husband to accompany her inside!  You’ll have to listen to get the details!  This issue of women in mosques is another issue that she is trying to address, but acknowledges that it is difficult since as an architectural firm, they have to abide by their client’s wishes.

The other part of the interview that jumped out at me was the description of a project that Eskandari had worked on but had fallen through.  She had designed an interfaith space, used for Bible study and Christian worship from Sunday-Wednesday, Muslim prayer Thurs- Friday afternoon, and then Jewish Sabbath Friday night-Saturday.  The community had eventually backed out, but the plans and her descriptions of an Abrahamic sacred space are very inspiring.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

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