Ithra Islamic Art Conference in Saudi Arabia examines the history of the mosque

DHAHRAN: For thousands of years, mosques have served as sacred ground for Muslims around the world. But there is more than meets the eye, with the Ithra Islamic Art Conference examining the deeper meaning and spiritual effects that mosques have on their communities.

The conference is a collaboration between the Abdullatif Al-Fozan Prize for Mosque Architecture and Ithra, a premier destination for art and culture.

(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

It was held from November 24 to 25 and involved many perspectives, covered several themes and included studies by an elite group of speakers from around the world.

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Objects and pieces from the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina on loan from the National Museum in Riyadh, 84 works from the Museum of Islamic Arts in Cairo under the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities and 34 objects from the Ithra collection are presented.

Ashraf Fagih, head of the programs division at Ithra, told Arab News: “We have philosophers, historians, the museum’s board and thinkers who all discuss different aspects of the mosque, not just in as a building, but as a vital part of human civilization since the dawn of Islam.

“When we talk about the objects, we are talking about the tangible and intangible parts of the mosque, the crafts, endowments, schools of thought and opinions that revolved around the mosque as a living entity. All of this is an essential and crucial part of our identity, not only as Muslims and Arabs, but as citizens of the world, ”he added.

Using recent studies, Abdullah Al-Rashid, director of Ithra, discussed the mosque of the future, describing its form and function, and explaining how the 3.5 million mosques around the world will transform with it. the weather.

Al-Rashid announced that Ithra is launching a mosque-related competition that will focus on university students. As part of the event, the organizers will bring together a range of specialists from the Kingdom’s universities and gather the opinions of young Saudi Arabians, their creative ideas and their visions for future mosques.

The conference facilitates a more in-depth discussion and crucial understanding of the historical development of mosques, with particular emphasis on Islamic art and the preservation and revitalization of culture.

Its six themes were the evolution of the mosque, the beauty and function of the objects in the mosque, the aesthetics of the mosque, traditional architecture and the preservation and rebirth of the mosque from the mosque to the museum.

One of the outstanding summaries presented during the first day of the conference was The Sound and Audible Mosque, A New Perspective on Islamic Architecture by Michael Frishkopf, Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Frishkopf told Arab News: “Architecture is for life. It has to be used by people, and people live in social arrangements. In the case of the mosque, there is a spiritual relationship that involves sounds. It is essential for social life, and because of speech and expression, it conveys emotions. So I called the mosque a sound object, which is much closer to the spiritual function of the mosque than to the visual.

“The root of the word masjid (in Arabic for mosque) is sojood, which is the act of prostration. It is a postural sound act, so a mosque moves away behind the idea of ​​a building, and if we look at the spiritual essence of the mosque, we should focus on prostration. Like when the forehead hits the ground, the visual field is blocked but the ears are open, ”added Frishkopf.

The discussions presented in the conference show that the value over time of mosques must be preserved and integrated into the future.

Under the theme of the renaissance of mosque arts, Minwar Al-Meheid, a Jordanian project manager with special emphasis on architectural engineering and design, discussed Saladin’s Minbar at Al-Aqsa Mosque, the pulpit most famous Islamic in design, industry and art, and how it was made with inlaid wood and carved ivory, and made with ornaments and inscriptions by skilled craftsmen.


(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

This highlighted the great efforts in the Arab world to create a replacement minbar, which would revive the remains of the original pulpit that was reduced to ashes in a 1969 incident. The new version was rebuilt in Jordan by Turkish and Asian artisans and carpenters, then moved to Al-Aqsa Mosque. Al-Meheid said the delicate nature of geometry in Islamic art also applies to the ancient mosque and its value.

Shatr Al-Masjid: The Art of Guidance

Farah Abushullaih, head of the Ithra museum, told Arab News: “There is increased interest and recognition in Islamic art and culture around the world, but Ithra’s research has identified misconceptions and perceptions established in this area. The companion exhibit, “Shatr Al-Masjid: The Art of Guidance”, the first of its kind in the world, addresses this gap in knowledge and understanding of significant impact, history and culture. around this topic.

Showcasing the aesthetics, evolution and function of mosques, the exhibition brings together the largest collection of masterpieces of Islamic art ever exhibited in the Kingdom through unprecedented partnerships at global and national levels. . It features several pieces from the greatest Islamic dynasties, from the Ayyubids and Fatimids to the Mamluks and Ottomans, spanning different styles and periods spanning over 1,000 years of history.


Visitors had the honor of participating in the weaving of part of the Kiswah located on the black stone. The section will be placed later this year, using raw silk threads and silver thread coated with gold water. (A photo by Huda Bashatah)

Objects and pieces from the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina on loan from the National Museum in Riyadh, 84 works from the Museum of Islamic Arts in Cairo under the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities and 34 objects from the Ithra collection are presented.

The exhibit also features 10 3D models of ancient mosques from around the world displayed in a sequenced timeline, starting with the Prophet’s Mosque. It also shows how other mosques are inspired by their structure, function and architecture.

Dr Sami Angawi, founder and director of the Hajj Research Center, which he established in 1975, is one of the leading researchers who helped achieve the end result of 3D modeling of the Prophet’s Mosque during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, which is featured in the exhibition.


(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

“I have searched and worked in Mecca and Medina for the past 40 years. We have cooperated with Ithra to make this particular model of the Prophet’s Mosque, ”Angawi told Arab News.

“Treating the mosques of Mecca and Medina and reconstructing them to show them in virtual reality across time and space is of utmost importance, as we try to turn what is documented in the books into visual reality. . This is one of the results that was carried out with Ithra and we have a lot of other things that we are working on, ”he added.

The exhibition uses four techniques to enhance and enrich the visitor experience: audio guides, screens, interactive timelines and virtual reality headsets that showcase five mosques around the world. Once a visitor wears the helmet, they take a tour of the mosques, which gives non-Muslims the chance to feel and walk around the two holy mosques.

Abdullah Alkadi, professor of urban and regional planning at Dammam University, told Arab News he had tried to find links between the astrolabe and GPS devices as part of his research for the exhibit. “I focused on time and space because everything, every transaction in the world falls in between these two aspects,” he said.


(AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

“I was also trying to relate this to GPS and old instruments used in the past as an astrolabe. I was trying to show how the astrolabe has been introduced over the past few centuries. It was a navigation system where people can easily know the time and directions and they also used it to determine the time of prayer, so here is where the connection between the old tool and new GPS technology. Place and time can be used, analyzed and linked to many things from the past, present and future, ”he added.

The art of masjid

On the sidelines of the Conference, an exhibition entitled “The Art of Masjid” presented contemporary works related to mosques around the world through collaborations with Turquoise Mountain. The exhibit showcases calligraphy and architectural ornaments, including panels, furniture, prayer rugs and more.

King Abdulaziz Complex for the Holy Kaaba Kiswah also participated in the three-day conference, exhibiting tools used to wash the Holy Kaaba, as well as antiques, a 3D model of Maqam Ibrahim and more.

Visitors had the honor of participating in the weaving of a part of Kiswah located on the black stone. The section will be placed later this year, using raw silk threads and silver thread coated with gold water.

Abushullaih said, “Ithra is bringing the conversation to communities with an outreach project, where the public can share their photos and stories for posting on the Ithra platform. The combined information from the exhibits and the lecture represents the importance of learning, disciplinary development and preservation of mosques and cultural heritage.


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