Kaaba Tiles (more questions than answers)

Ever since my recent visit to Istanbul, Kaaba tiles have been swirling around in my mind. I first discovered them during a trip to Turkey two years ago, when I thought that I’d get home and look them up on the magical interwebs and find information and images to sift through to my heart’s delight. Not so much. Before we go further, here’s one, from the Mosque of Rustem Pasa (in Istanbul):

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Kaaba tile, Mosque of Rustem Pasa, Istanbul

Just look at it for a minute – see the Kaaba (the black rectangle) in the middle? See the minarets around the outside? See how there are six? Well, a seventh one was added to the actual mosque that surrounds the Kaaba after the Blue Mosque (Mosque of Sultan Ahmed) in Istanbul was built with six minarets. Of course, the mosque at Mecca, the center of Islam, had to have one more. So a seventh one was built at the Al-Masjid al-Haram (surrounding the Kaaba and meaning “the sacred mosque”) in 1629. Does that mean that this tile dates to before 1629? It seems like it must, but as with most questions about these tiles, then again, it may not.

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The Al-Aqsa Mosque: A Quick Reminiscence (and a little bit of history)

I’m writing a post about the Dome of the Rock, but I’m stuck.  It’s not good when you’re boring even yourself, though how anyone could make the Dome of the Rock boring is mind-boggling.  So I’m taking a break from that and wanted to share a little bit of history and a short reminiscence about the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, 11th century, Jerusalem

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, is definitely overshadowed by its neighbor, the Dome of the Rock. When I visited, the Dome of the Rock, –so beautiful, so rich in history, so significant to Islam — felt like a tourist site, while the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque felt like a religious site. It was the first mosque I entered in my life, and I was overwhelmed by the quiet, my bare feet on the carpets, slightly annoyed but respectfully covering my head, feeling somewhat exotic with bare feet and a scarf over my head. After the noise of tourists in the Dome of the Rock — the explosion of color from the mosaics, the wonder and fascination elicited by the rock — the Al-Aqsa mosque was calm, and cool, and soothing.  And a great introduction to Islam. (I’ll come back to this.) Continue reading

Malian Mosques Re-Mudded

I am totally in love with the mosques from Mali.  Check this out — here’s an example from Djenne, Mali:

Grand Mosque, Djenne, Mali

They’re so beautiful!  But wait! There’s more!  They’re made out of mud, which is what they’ve got, right?  Not a lot of trees in Mali.  Not a lot of stone.  It’s the Sahel (between desert and grasslands).  So they use what they have.  Which is dirt, basically. And they build these amazing structures from it.  It gets even better.  Some of them have been around for hundreds of years.  Made out of mud.  Which collapses in the rain.  But they don’t let this happen.  In Djenne, they recover and repair their mosque every year as part of a city celebration.  Every year the whole mosque is recovered in mud and repaired.  I love this.  And I love that these buildings are so different than what we often think of when we think “mosque.”  They’ve combined Islam with their traditional culture and come up with something practical that works for their climate and their lifestyle.

What happens when a mud building is left to deteriorate. Siwa Oasis, Egypt

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