On the Problem of Form

Although it didn't quite click when I first wrote about Cologne's approval of a new mosque immediately across the river from the city's Gothic cathedral, a recent post at El Fanoos got me thinking a little bit more.

Briefly, I was trying to argue that the dome is very much a vernacular architectural form, and that it isn't something essentially Islamic. In other words, although the mihrab orients the congregation towards Mecca, there's no functional reason to build mosques with a dome. It's become a kind of style.

What caught my attention at El Fanoos was Jon's attempt to speculate at a link between Buddhist and Islamic prayer practices. He wonders if the Prophet (PBUH) was exposed to Buddhist worship by virtue of the trade routes that existed between the Levant and China. It's a suggestive line of thinking.

It also opens up, I think, the question of how we understand certain practices to be essentially one thing or another. In other words, what happens to our understandings of the image of the dome or the sight of men praying when we understand that the formal practice of each owes a great deal to other practices?


Jordan M said…
Food for thought:

"[Islam] grew directly out of [Christianity] and still, to this day, embodies many aspects and practices of the early Christian world now lost in Christianity's modern Western incarnation; this truth has been lost with the tendency to think of Christianity as a "Western" religion rather than the Oriental faith it actually is" - William Dalyrmple, From the Holy Mountain

Dalrymple's observations, traveling from Mt Athos, Greece to the old holy sites of Eastern Christianity, reflects this in his observations of Syrian Christians praying as the Muslims do (on the floor, with prostrations) as well as similar observations about the development of the minaret.

Not sure about the crossover with Buddhism but in the aforementioned work Dalyrmple does mention there being visiting Buddhists and Hindus to some of the ancient learned sites of the Byzantine Empire.


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