Professor Hasan-Uddin Khan approached the subject of Muslim Pluralism by showing the diversity of expressions and variety of methods in which Muslims have built mosques over the centuries in differing social and cultural contexts. He discussed the manner in which the mosque is increasingly being used by Muslims as a marker of identity, so that buildings that can be “read” as mosques can be identified as distinct “Muslim” spaces of worship.

Professor Khan began the seminar by defining the mosque as an “emblematic building type in Islam” that can be distinguished as a “social” rather than a “sacred” space. He explained that while theoretically requiring nothing more than marking the direction of prayer (i.e., toward Mecca), the mosque has developed a number of distinctive architectural forms, including “hypostyle”, the “four-iwan”, the “domed central space”, the “pavilion” and the “three-domed”. These forms have developed over the centuries and continue to be used and re-used to the present day.

Professor Khan continued by showing the panorama of mosques around the world, attesting to the diversity of buildings, labelled mosques, that have drawn on local building traditions. He argued, however, that despite this diversity, architects and patrons of mosques, in effect, have conformed and diverted from a standard repertoire of mosque forms. He suggested that in the contemporary world the practice of reverting to well-known mosque forms and the ease of use of the familiar over recent decades could be understood as an attempt on the part of Muslims everywhere to re-present themselves as Muslim. What has emerged is a “pan-Islamic model,” i.e., the use of domes and a minaret, as a standard mosque architectural vocabulary that has no exact local reference point, but is increasingly “read” everywhere and by Muslims and non-Muslims alike as “Muslim” places of worship. This was particularly the case in contexts where Muslims are minority, places such as in Europe and North America.

Professor Khan illustrated how this normative architectural vocabulary is being used today, often in eclectic ways. For example, in Indonesia, pre-fabricated, tin domes of various sizes can be purchased on the street for the purpose of mosque-building and the recently completed King Hasan II Mosque of Morocco exaggerates the minaret, as to make it disproportionate to the building entirely. For Professor Khan the constant re-use of extant mosque types has little to do with design and architectural solutions. Rather, it has to do with the manner in which certain mosque types have been “historicised” and are being regarded as “original”, giving them credence and allowing them to be used as cultural capital.

This increasing standardisation of architectural vocabulary used in mosque construction for the purposes of “symbolic readability”, presents challenges for maintaining the long-standing tradition Muslims have had in constructing architecturally diverse spaces of prayer.

The seminar closed by Professor Khan stated that over the long-term, recent attempts in solidifying a distinctive Muslim identity through a physical mosque architecture would be seen as a particular phase in the on-going development of mosque architecture.

Mimar: Architecture in Development

Khan, Hasan-Uddin and Renata Holod. The Mosque and the Modern World: Architects, Patrons and Designs since the 1950s. (London: Thames & Hudson, 1997).

Khan, Hasan-Uddin. Modernities and Memories: Recent Works from the Islamic World. (New York: Rockefeller Foundation, 1997).

Khan, Hasan-Uddin and Martin Fishman. The Mosque: History, Architecture, Development and Regional Diversity. (London: Thames: & Hudson, 1994).

Khan, Hasan-Uddin. “Identity, Authenticity and Power: the Mosque of Hassan II”, ISIM Newsletter 3 (July, 1999), p. 8 [print version].