By Ahmad Jabbour
When we hear about Islam today, we think of scary looking bearded men dressed in black, carrying shot guns and screaming “Allaho Akbar” as they burn down churches or behead people. Mosques are thought to be places where terrorist fanatics join to discuss their next bombing. We can say that the orientalist view point has ruined the reputation of the true Islam. However, we cannot blame orientalism without first analysing the other factors for this popular reputation of Islam. The emerging of terrorist fanatic Islamist groups such as ISIL, AlQaeda, and Jabhet Al Nasra has played a vital role in creating a tag on Muslims as terrorists. However, the truth is that such groups—although seemingly abundant—are a minority, and the kind of Islam that they represent is indeed a false one. The corruption of the international system of knowledge and orientalism print on media and scholarly work in the west only magnify the false belief.
The truth is that Islam comes from the Arabic root Salam which could mean two things. The first is that a muslim should “yosallem” or surrender himself to the will of God. The other meaning, and the more important one is from the word “Salam” meaning peace. So we can see that Islam’s meaning is peace. The teachings of prophet Mohammad and the Quraan all serve to prove this point. A Muslim is ordered by God and the prophet to be good to others of all religions. He is ordered to give money to the poor, help the weak, and be selfless at all times. Mosques are places of worship, peace, of learning the true teachings of Islam, and of serenity.
I chose to do an art piece inspired by Mosques and peace as the two terms go hand in hand. I hope that by my humble project I can, at least, set one person straight on what Islam truly means and of what purpose mosques truly serve.
Historically, the first mosque that was ever created in Islam as we know it is the Nabawi Mosque in Al Madina. It is the first of the three holy sites of Islam. It was right around the time when Muslims had escaped from the horrors and terrors of Mecca tribes and into Madina’s newly converted Muslims. The migrant Muslims had left their homes, money, and lives back and ran into a new life in Madina—filled with hope. Even the prophet Mohammad did not have a home in Madina. But the people there were generous and hospitable that each person from Madina offered his home to a person from Mecca. After a while, however, it was time for the prophet to build a home of his own. It was also the time to find a place for Muslims to meet, pray, and gather around when something related to the Islamic Ummah comes up. So, hand in hand, Muslims built the mosque brick over brick. It was a simple mosque without any extravagant design. It was the house of Prophet Mohammad and a mosque that holds all the daily prayers. Each of its walls witnessed pious prayers, political meetings, round circles where the prophet would teach Muslims about their religion, and even a place to host visitors asking about this new religion.
Other important mosques around that period were the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Palestine which is said to be the place from which the Prophet’s Miraaj was from and the second of the three most sacred mosques. And the third most holy mosque is the Ummayad Mosque in Syria. More and more mosques were starting to be built around the Islamic world and with each new mosque and each call for prayer, more and more people were joining the Islamic ummah. After the death of prophet Mohammad and with the following caliphates, Islam spread widely and more money was coming into the Muslim state as new conquests were done. This meant that there was room for extravagant designs in Mosques. Now, mosques were not only places for worship and gathering. They were also forms of art. They have calligraphy on the walls and huge and beautiful insides decorated with the most beautiful tiles and stones. They sometimes have calligraphy drawn in gold. As the Islamic state spread, Muslims were showing off their mosques to the world. The more beautiful the mosques, the more powerful the state is.