The Transnational Mosque Architecture and Historical Memory in the Contemporary Middle East By Kishwar Rizvi (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. 253 pages.)

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Tammy Gaber



This catchy title, The Transnational Mosque, is timely and implies an analysis
of global Islam and the multiplicities of mosque construction today. The premise
promises to contribute to the scholarship on Islamic architecture, and yet
there are some issues with the argument’s structure and even greater ones with
the analytical depth with respect to architecture.

The book’s structure highlights the attempt to separate itself and “builds
upon” (p. 7) established texts on the subject of contemporary Islamic architecture.
However, its relatively small format, dense with text, is populated
sparely with uneven visual representation. The photographs vary in quality
and vantage, and not all of the mosques discussed have images and architectural
drawings – serious omissions in a field that is so visual, systematic comparative
analysis requires analogous efforts with visual representation for the
argument to sustain itself. The book contains an introduction; one chapter
each on Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE);
and an epilogue that serves as a conclusion. But this four-fold argument,
which focuses on the patron countries, is flawed because it inherently sets
up a hierarchy of influence that situates equally the relatively minimal works
of the UAE with the far-reaching impact of Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
It also ignores the “transnational” quality of those mosques not patronized
by any of them.
The introduction, “Agency of History: The Symbolic Potential for the
Transnational Mosque,” begins with an italicized brief first-person narrative
that describes Beirut’s Muhammad al-Amin Mosque followed by a long account
of patronage and political climate. Rizvi promises an interdisciplinary
approach with field work, architecture and photo documentation, interviews
with architects and patrons in a “study [that] interrogates multiple agents and
diverse agendas behind the construction of transnational mosques” (p. 5). She
defines “trans” as “beyond and across time of history and spaces of nations,”
but nevertheless frames the book in terms of nations ...

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