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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Turkey: A New Mosque Styled for the New Millennium

From Hurriyet Daily News - January 3, 2009

A new mosque styled for the new millennium

by Mustafa Akyol

ISTANBUL - Created by one of Turkey's most stylish designers, Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, the Şakirin Mosque, on the Asian side of Istanbul at the entrance to the city's largest cemetery, will soon welcome believers to a space of not just traditional faith but also contemporary aesthetics.

Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu is a Turkish designer known for creating some of the most stylish lounges and nightclubs in Istanbul. As a winner of the Andrew Martin International Designer of the Year award, her fame, and that of her husband, restaurateur Meto, has gone beyond Turkey.

"For almost 25 years, this glamorous pair have been creating sophisticated hot spots that are the number-one destinations for Turkey's glitterati," wrote The Independent in 2004, in a review of the couple's then newly opened restaurant in London. "Zeynep manages to make her passion for all things Oriental and European sit together in easy, informal arrangements." 

Yet, probably none of the projects Fadıllıoğlu has undertaken before were as passionate as her current one in terms of combing the Orient and Europe: the design of the most modern mosque that Istanbul, and Turkey, has ever seen.

This ongoing construction is at the entrance of the Karacaahmet Cemetery, the oldest and largest in Istanbul. Located in the Üsküdar district of the Anatolian side, this burial ground is the eternal home of at least a million souls, including many prominent figures ranging from Ottoman bureaucrats to modern day artists. And now, among the tall cypress trees that grow above them, there also rise two minarets and dome whose style is new, not only to the dead, but also the living.

The project was commissioned by a London-based wealthy Arab-Turkish family in the memory of their deceased mother, Semiha Şakir, whose name is recognized by Turks from the quality schools she founded. Her children, Ghassan, Gazi and Gade, have decided to name the mosque "Şakirin."

It obviously is a reference to their family. But it also has the literal meaning, "Those who are thankful (to God)."

The Şakirin mosque seems to be a combination of traditional elegance and modern austerity. It has a dome; but unlike those on traditional mosques, this metal sphere looks like a space ship. The architect, Hüsrev Tayla, built Ankara's magnificent Kocatepe Mosque before, which is in the old Ottoman style. This time, in collaboration with other artists such British designer William Pye, he has taken a whole new direction.

Fadıllıoğlu's job is to design the interior. Different artists are working for her on the altar, calligraphy and pool in the courtyard. Every detail, from the carpets to tiles, is designed anew. She is also planning a system by which the worshippers, after taking their shoes off to enter the mosque, will wear galoshes. Hygenie, she notes, is as important as aesthetics.

A women-friendly mosque

One thing that is notable in the Şakirin Mosque will be the women's area. In traditional mosques, this is often a very small, dark and apathetic place at the back. Although many believe that this is what "Islam" ordains, it is actually a relic from the culture of the medieval Middle East. No wonder ultra-Orthodox Judaism has a similar tradition of male-favoring seclusion. In Fadıllıoğlu's design, women will still be separate, but the upper-level designated for them will be open, lighted, and beautifully decorated. A mosque designed by a woman, as she proudly noted, will be more welcoming to women.

The mosque, which is plans to open in May, will also have a small museum showcasing works of Islamic art. Among these might be the overlay of the Ka'aba of Mecca, the holiest Muslim shrine, which the Şakir family recently bought at an auction at Sotheby's for about a million dollars. The total expense for the mosque is unknown - but it is estimated to be very, very high.

This overtly upper-class initiative to introduce an example of modern aesthetics into Turkish Islam seems very timely. For quite sometime, the Turkish intelligentsia has been debating on the rural and unsophisticated character of the Islamic culture in their society. An analytical story written by senior journalist Sefa Kaplan and published by daily Hürriyet two weeks ago was titled, "The Analysis of Villager Islam."

"The secularization effort during the Republican era included the struggle with the symbols of Islam," Kaplan said. "Consequently, Islam was pushed to the rural areas; it soon lost its urban heritage and was filled with superstition and ignorance." When these devout villagers started to pour into secular cities, Dr. Süleyman Seyfi Öğün, a political scientist, says they brought not just religion but also rural culture - and hardly made a distinction between the two.

The result was a deepening tension between the bourgeois seculars and the ex-rural but not-yet-fully-urban religious. The living spaces of the former centered on well-groomed cafes, restaurants, and bars of rich neighborhoods such as Nisantaşı or Bebek. The latter's neighborhoods were rather characterized by the hastily built mosques, which presented very little, if any, sense of aesthetics.

In other words, the much-debated secular-religious conflict in Turkey is, to some extent, also a class conflict. What the secularists despise is not Islam as such. It is the Islam of the villagers that they find crude and distasteful. That's why the mosque might be a good step to change some established prejudices. "This mosque has all the Western and Eastern values nicely blended," she said. Apparently, it will also nicely blend the values of urban and rural Turks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bangladesh: Wearing Jeans Un-Islamic; Other Religious Groups Disagree

From the Deccan Herald - December 29, 2008

Wearing jeans un-Islamic'

From Sanjay Pandey, DH News Service, Lucknow:

 After terming love as "un-Islamic", the Darul Uloom Islamic seminary in Deoband has said that Muslilms wearing jeans is a gunah (sin).

The seminary recently issued a fatwa (religious decree) against the wearing of jeans and transplanting and dyeing of hair in black.

These fatwas have been issued in response to three different queries, according to the Darul Uloom's Darul Ifta (department of fatwa). In response to a query on wearing of jeans by women, especially in cold countries in Western Europe, the seminary has made it clear that "jeans pants and shirts are against the shariat (Islamic rules)". "The physical structure (curves) of the body is reflected if one puts on a jeans. Wearing them by a woman is a sin", the fatwa said adding that it should not be put on by the menfolk also. "It is barred for men as well. Women, who want to look as men, are cursed", the fatwa went on to say.

On a query on dyeing one's hair in black, the fatwa said that any other colour other than black is permissible. "Use of black hair dye is un-Islamic", it said.

On another query pertaining to hair transplant, the Darul Uloom said transplanting artificial hair amounted to "cheating" and is therefore is "illegal". The clerics say that Islam very clearly separates what is right and what is wrong. "He, who does even after knowing that it is wrong, is the sinner", said a senior cleric. "Fatwas should only issued on religious matters and not social issues", said Maulana Yasoob Abbas, the spokesman of the All India Shia Personal Law Board. All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board chairperson Shaista Amber also echoed similar sentiments. "The clerics should confine themselves only to religious matters", she told Deccan Herald.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Australia: Where There's a Will, There's a Koranic Way

From the Sydney Morning Herald - January 2, 2009

Where there's a will, there's a Koranic way

Bequests by Islamic decree … Hina Bhimani and Shazia Haque have already made their wills in accordance with the Koran.

Bequests by Islamic decree … Hina Bhimani and Shazia Haque have already made
their wills in accordance with the Koran.
Photo: Tamara Dean

Connie Levett
January 3, 2009

HINA BHIMANI and Shazia Haque, both in their 30s, recently drew up Islamic wills that set out in algebraic detail how their assets will be distributed when they die.

It has always been possible to draw up a will that follows Koranic guidelines, but because of the complex formulas, and questions of how it fits into Australian law, it has not been common practice.

But since a law firm in Wollongong, RMB Lawyers, simplified the process by creating an Islamic will template, about 600 clients, mainly from south-western Sydney, have adopted it in the past 18 months.

Hayley Kelloway, a Muslim lawyer with RMB, said the Islamic will standardised what people could expect.

"Everyone is aware of the requirements and [so] there is more room for acceptance for what you are inheriting. Everyone is aware of the percentages, the reasons for it and the religious significance to people providing and receiving it," she said.

It is possible to challenge such a will, but Ms Kelloway said none of the wills drawn up by the firm had been challenged. "Because the children are aware of why it is being done, the religious significance of it, they are not likely to contest it," she said.

Under an Islamic will, after funeral expenses and debts are paid, distribution of two-thirds of the estate is dictated by Koranic guidelines, leaving up to one-third discretionary.

Ms Haque, 34, a hospital scientist, wanted her discretionary third to go to children's charities that care for orphans in Muslim countries. Ms Bhimani, 35, an ultrasound technician, also directed most of her discretionary portion to children's charities.

"Knowing the law firm was quite well versed in Islamic law, knowing the sensitivities of Islamic law, was important," Ms Haque said. She also liked being able to direct funeral rites, including the way her body should be washed, enshrouded and buried - facing Mecca.

For Ms Bhimani, who is married without children, and Ms Haque, who is single, the wills were fairly straightforward.

The women grew up together in Canberra and now work at St George Hospital. They met Ms Kelloway in a sharia class at Daar Aisha Shariah College in Lakemba. RMB has run free seminars over the past year.

"Islam deals equitably with all members of society," Ms Bhimani said.

"Some look at Islamic wills and say: 'How can you give to certain members of your family without question?'

"Allah's dictates ensure the family unit will remain healthy. It's often interpreted as the woman getting less, but if I give you, as a woman, $100 and say, 'Spend it however you want', and give a man $200 but say, 'You have many obligations to cover with the money', which one would you choose?"

The formulas are complex but embedded in the will template. Distribution of the first two-thirds of the estate depends on the family situation. Older members get their share first - parents, grandparents and spouses - and men receive more (with more obligations) than women. Children's portions are established after that.

For example, if a person is survived by two sons and two daughters, the sons get equal amounts and the daughters get equal amounts, but the daughters get half as much as the sons. If there are parents and grandparents, they get their share before the children.

Imam for a New Generation

From the LA Times - December 31, 2008

Imam for a new generation

Mostafa Hosni
"People are attracted to new preachers like me because they want religious solutions
to daily problems,"  says Mostafa Hosni, pictured on the set of his TV show in Cairo.

By Jeffrey Fleishman
December 31, 2008

Reporting from Cairo -- The Islamic preacher slipped on a pair of shorts and talked about the Koran while playing beach volleyball, eating barbecue and joking about hot cars and palaces in paradise.

If the West were to dream up its version of an ideal imam, he might look and sound like Mostafa Hosni, a 30-year-old former Nestle accountant who's comfortable in argyle sweaters and hip to self-help. A video of his seaside sermon posted on his website was a cross between a travel brochure and a spiritual quest for the BlackBerry generation.

"We decided to leave the city and go somewhere with a sea, clear sky and mountains so that we can meditate about almighty God's greatness," Hosni says with a gentle surf behind him. "It is hard for one to meditate about that in the crowded city. In fact, we want to draw some link between the beauty of the Earth and that of paradise."

The West's picture of the Muslim preacher is often caricature: a bearded man in a tunic bellowing ancient verses and spinning asides about American imperialism. But that icon is changing as the image and message of mainstream Islam are softened to appeal to upwardly mobile, twentysomething followers less concerned with dogma than bleeping out life's annoyances on the way to success.

"I try to preach with simple language, not the language of scholars," said Hosni, who has a weekly TV talk show and whose sermons are sold on CDs in front of Cairo University. "People are attracted to new preachers like me because they want religious solutions to daily problems, not someone talking to them about the afterlife."

Hosni's path is similar to that of other popular TV preachers, such as Amr Khaled and Moez Masoud, charismatic men who started in commerce and were eventually drawn to religious fervor and a desire to repackage Islam. This brand of preacher has not eclipsed the influence of imams and clerics, but it has forced traditional holy men to reckon with the power of the Internet and the allure of simplifying centuries-old texts to fit modern times.

The new preachers are an intriguing blend of enthusiasm and calculation. Hosni is casual but pious, answering questions with schoolboy earnestness, careful about how he might be perceived. He is as adept at deciphering the market penetration of satellite TV as he is at weaving metaphors with verses of the Koran.

"People want to change their lives in the way they are devout," said Hosni, who sat the other day with his head newly shaved from a recent hajj pilgrimage. "We are in a defining time in Islam, and this will help us open ourselves up to the world."

Unlike the radical Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist clerics, Hosni doesn't blame the state for the problems arising from Egypt's corruption and troubling economic transition from national industries to open markets. This suits his followers, upper-middle-class professionals who came of age during the country's Islamic revival and have largely abandoned politics to seek fulfillment in a compliant religion that speaks to the frustrations of jobs, marriage and family.

Islam, he said, should not deprive people of "the different pleasures of life."

This broadening of religion beyond the austere rhetoric and walls of the mosque appeals to Mai Hafez, a 19-year-old university student who turned to Hosni after finding puritan sheiks too detached from her lifestyle and far too constricting.

"Those conservative preachers always tell you: 'There is no time. The Judgment Day is coming. When will you wake up?' You feel you are doomed," she said. "Hosni understands what we talk about and what problems we face and how we think. In colleges, we talk about dating. We don't talk about the Koran or religion, and Hosni talks about our issues. . . . He has a very simple style that allows him to reach our minds and souls."

Such praise can draw a wince from Abu Islam Ahmed Abdullah. He does not wear chinos and there probably is no argyle sweater in his bottom drawer. Abdullah is a hard-line Salafi sheik, a man who dresses in gray tunics and whose wife is veiled from head to toe, including black gloves on her hands. Although he admires their stagecraft and concedes that old-school imams could learn from their marketing, Abdullah condemns modern televangelists, such as Hosni, as demeaning to Islam.

"These new preachers are nice and pleasant, but they follow the line of the government. They are not preaching Islam. It's a sham," he said. "They are an extension of the Western conspiracy to influence the region. . . . It doesn't impact the spirit. The girls in their audiences wear veils, but they also wear lipstick and tight clothes. They think they're religious because the modern preachers tell them so. They're deceived."

One need only spend a morning with Hosni and an afternoon with Abdullah to understand the struggle within Islam over modernizing a religion that for centuries has resisted change. This is an era when fatwas can be called in on talk shows and onetime village sheiks dab on makeup and practice enunciation for global broadcasts.

Religion, like sports, has become a competitive arena of buzz and marketing.

"Sheiks used to yell and shout because the prophet himself spoke loudly," Abdullah said. "But TV teaches you not to scream, not to yell as if the microphone is stuck deep in your throat. You're trying to win people over. Our scholars, God forgive them, used to say the media was haram [forbidden] and Muslims should not even have TVs in their homes. The media was held up as a sin, and even three years ago, sheiks would meet and say, 'Should we go on TV?' The problem is, we started too late."

Abdullah's first television venture went bankrupt when donations dried up in 2007. The show was a defense of Islam against Christianity. It epitomized the views of fundamentalists that Islam should be a buttress against Western liberalism. With his laptop open in a sparse apartment at the edge of a train track, Abdullah is planning to launch an online video program and website that he said would reach 500,000 households in the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

"I believe very soon there will be an awakening, and we will see true Islamic programming," he said.

Hosni, who is married and has two children, is not concerned with Western conspiracies or leading his flock through thickets of Islamic laws. He preaches in conversational tones, using pragmatism that speaks less to a global resurgence of Islam than to themes such as honesty, frustration, dating, working women and redemption.

"One of the devil's famous tricks is to instill complete despair that God will not forgive a person for committing a sin," Hosni said in a recent sermon that sounded very unlike the more brooding teachings of conservative preachers. "Even if one commits a sin, there is a very wide gate for repentance. We are not encouraging sins, but we are talking about God's unlimited mercy."

Hosni did not grow up in a devout home; he graduated from college with a degree in business and worked in the financial departments of Nestle and the Saudi-owned Iqraa satellite TV channel. He described himself during those years as a man concerned with the accouterments and fun of the secular world. In 1999, he began regularly attending mosques and in 2006 received a degree from a two-year school that trains preachers.

"God chooses you," he said. "There wasn't one seminal moment in my life that turned me to this. It was more like signposts along the way. . . . When I started preaching, there was mockery, sarcasm and rejection from friends who had known me before. But eventually their resistance faded."

For all his modern inflection and openness to the West, Hosni does have a bit of tradition in him. In two interviews at the New Generation International School on the sand-blown outskirts of Cairo, where he teaches morals to elementary school students, Hosni never made eye contact with an unveiled female interpreter.

Some believe an unveiled woman can be a temptation that could nudge a man off the true path. Hosni's eyes darted from wall to window, fixing on a point, darting again. He steeled himself in practiced piousness.

In one of his sermons, Hosni had urged men to -- instead of fantasizing about their girlfriends wearing bikinis -- imagine them veiled and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Such an anecdote might appear old school, too righteous for a preacher like him. But Hosni said that being modern does not mean contradicting Islam; it means finding a way to be devout in a modern world.

Noha El-Hennawy of The Times' Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)