The Space Mosque: The Future of Religious Architecture

Religious architecture is often seen in the UK as something of a bygone era, however this is simply not the case in other areas of the world…

When you think of Istanbul you think of towering masterpieces of Ottoman Architecture from ages past. Giant baroque buildings like the Blue Mosque and the magnificent Byzantine former Church Ia Sofia. Many of Istanbul’s newer mosques seem like cheap copies of the Blue Mosque. It very much looks like a copy/paste situation a lot of the time.

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However not the Marmara Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Cami (In English: Marmara University Faculty of Theology Mosque), or as I have dubbed it: the Space Mosque

I remember the curiosity surrounding this strange new mosque as it was being built. I 20161228_152041remember going past on a bus and someone saying “Saruman gibi”- “it looks like something of Saruman’s”. Of course referring to the minarets that look more like the spires of Isengard from Lord of the Rings! From the outside it at first seems utterly bizarre, looking more like it would belong in a star trek film than in a modern Muslim city. It might even look a little soviet!

The spiraling dome seems extremely odd. It hardly even looks like one! It’s all so geometric! It looks 20161228_152240more like a weird ice cream cone than a mosque. The minarets really do look like they should sending transmissions to distant alien civilisations. There is nonetheless something radical about the prominent use of triangular shapes as opposed to the very rounded forms seen in most other Turkish mosques. Almost organic Ottoman cathedrals give way to a new interpretation of mosque design.

It’s pure white architecture seems relatively minimalist compared to the average local Cami. However on closer inspection there is much continuity with Islamic tradition. The pattern of the mesh over the windows is reminiscent of the Ottoman love of foliage in architectural form. The green streak across the dome pays homage to the tradition of green as the colour of paradise in Islam. A mosque that is white all over, but the only other colour in it’s pallette is full of meaning…

However, as soon as you step inside, the atmosphere changes. Gone is the noise of the teeming traffic and building projects. Gone is the biting cold of an Istanbul winter.

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It’s like stepping into a hot spring. The air is warm and silent. Only the sound of a small fountain in the centre of the prayer hall and the whispering of prayers to the Lord can be heard. Beautiful calligraphy lines the walls. White and gold become almost one as you stare around the beauty of the prayer hall. The Mihrab (the archway at the front of the prayer hall that points towards Mecca) is delicately and intricately beautiful. The soft glow of the lights behind the gold seems to fill you with a knowledge of God’s tenderness. Many mosques are a filled with a flurry of colour, however this pallete just glows with warmth.

The inside of the mosque seems at first to be far more traditional that outside. However the unique design is evident in the sheer expanse of the prayer hall and it’s geometric organisation. The design of the fountain and calligraphy lining the walls can be found in many other mosques

But then you look up…

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I don’t know why people don’t compare mosques to cathedrals more because this is awe inspiring. You can finally see why it is so oddly shaped on the outside. Light streams in through the gorgeous skylight and the green windows seem like giant emeralds pointed towards heaven. The spiraling geometric shapes give the illusion of roundess and organicness. The eye cannot help but marvel at it.

Religious architecture in Turkey is dynamic and fresh, far from the tired old churches that dot the UK. If anything this mosque teaches us that religion and regression do not go hand in hand. Creativity and innovation are charged by ideas and Islam is no different from the rest in the sheer creativity of it’s adherents.

If you are reading from Turkey, I want to see more of this innovation. If you are in Britain, think what we could do to revamp our own tired old religious buildings if we put our mind to it…

Left-Wing Orientalism and Communism

artist_93586Of all the celebrities to die this year, Fidel Castro has to be the most controversial. Why am I calling Castro a celebrity? For all the coverage in much of the western press he might as well have been. In this post-cold war age of re-evaluating an American bias towards history, Castro can often be seen as a sort of David to America’s Goliath. On the day of his death several people not least British Labour Party leader (lol) Jeremy Corbyn came out and named him a great figure of social justice in the world.

Ah yes brilliant. What an excellent way to make that socialist pill easier for the general public to swallow. We think Castro was a pretty swell guy! Ignoring all the totalitarianism, political executions, censorship, and of course the million or so Cubans that left the Island. I will admit there is a certain mystique around his character that many of find attractive, however when you strip away all the mythology I wouldn’t want him running my country.

And this is the problem. Figures such as Castro are viewed with a left-wing brand of Orientalism. He is this mysterious left-wing hero who somehow makes communism work in far off tropical lands. Where is the left going? Is it so out of touch that it admires the theory and ideas behind someone like Castro but ignores the human cost?

I have seen first hand what it is to live in a communist state.

As a child in China I attended a Chinese state school for a few years. The Chinese education system was very rigorous and heavily based upon the memorization of facts. One figure 1487455855_fc4aebb9f6_bloomed over the whole thing. Mao Ze Dong (or Mao Tse Tung depending on how you pronounce it). His picture was in every classroom and the red and yellow of the Chinese flag flew over every school and public place. In the centre of the town where I lived there was a giant statue of the great Leader himself, proclaiming hope and glory over the city. Vast and imposing, he was there, a statement of the power and authority of the Chinese Government in the region.

Guess what? Mao was a pretty awesome socialist leader too! John McDonnell, a high ranking Labour minister, produced his own copy of Mao’s Little Red Book (quotations from Mao Tse Dong, a symbol of the cultural revolution) earlier this year in parliament. The Great Leap Forward? Oh yea that great work of socialist engineering! What an awesome guy. Never mind the tens of millions of people who died! Mao was a pretty decent chap!

Every Monday morning at my old school we would have to dress up in school uniform and line up in the playground. We would face the flag flying high and salute as the Chinese national anthem was sung by all the students. The children of Communist Party leaders were of course the ones at the front doing the honours of the flag raising. When that was done, a student would read out a speech about which class had done the best at their me and dan.pngstudies and who was to receive a red ribbon for their efforts. They might as well have been awarding factory workers for producing more coal.

A system of informing was ingrained into kids early on. Telling on kids who did not do their homework or grassing on a naughty child was encouraged. Being a general tattle tale was not something that was viewed as socially unacceptable, in fact it could make you climb the ranks of social status in the school. It took me a while to get out of this mentality myself after I left.

My point is this, be very careful who or what we trivialize. To all our liberal leaders: understand what exactly communism is before you evoke it in some way. Bashing American political figures over cold war propaganda is fine, but lets remember the Soviet Union wasn’t exactly a paradise. The west seems to have a strange fascination for North Korea like one would have for a weird caged animal, of course ignoring the medieval regime. Albeit relatively benign, I’ve had a little taste of a communist state myself. It is not something to be trivialised.

Figures such as Castro and Mao should not be treated lightly. The left needs to be very careful with who it chooses as it’s main figures. Castro and Mao are not celebrities. They are not trivial stock characters.

The reason I say this is because of this…

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Some figurines of the Chairman in an oriental curiosity shop in North London. Little figurines of a great socialist leader for every North London household. Perfect for all the family. A little symbol of oppression for your own living room.

The Mao statues are surrounded by skulls, Buddhas, and crocodiles, left-wing Orientalism indeed.

Liberals and socialists… we need to tread very carefully…

How to Sort Your Life Out

turkish-pilaf

Seriously?

For goodness sake what is this? You’re doing it wrong again.

I apologise whole heartedly to all of you from the mediterranean world but heres the thing. Your pilav (rice) is wrong. Just wrong. So wrong. Wronger than wrong.

Honestly what do you think you’re doing????

Sigh.

Ok here’s what to do. I’m going to tell you how to make Polo (p-Uh-lo, not polo as in the china-central-asia-800-080512sport) another life saving dish from Central Asia. Sometimes called Plov in Kyrgyztan or Uzbekistan but in Xinjiang, China, it’s called Polo. And it’s the real deal.

Get lots of rice. I mean lots.

Get yourself some mutton. Not lamb, mutton. I’ve already told you this but I just have to keep telling you. However, don’t just get normal mutton. Make sure it has plenty of fat and gristle on it. Be sure to get really nice wads of meat, but also some of the most fatty bits of sheep you can find.

Get some carrots. Get some onions. Get a whole blooming clove of garlic. Also get some raisins if you’re brave enough. Finally you’ve got to get your cumin. cuminseeds

CUMIN IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SPICE IN THE WORLD. IF YOU AREN’T USING CUMIN JUST GENERALLY IN YOUR FOOD YOU REALLY NEED TO RECONSIDER YOUR COOKING.

Also none of this chickpea rubbish. Ugh. Why would you put chickpeas in this dish?

Ok… you’ve get the stuff you need. Let me show you what you will be making….

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I know right? Isn’t she beautiful? Wonderful rice dripping with a red gold grease from the succulent mutton. As the dish cooks all of the juices from the meat are absorbed into the rice and carrots, creating a dish that is endless in succulence and deliciousness. The sweetness of the carrots slightly offsets the saltiness of the dish, creating a wonderful combination. The mutton itself should be tender and juicy, best eaten with the hands if you can. A topping of spinach is ideal for this dish.

a053As a side I would recommend bansantze, a light, vinegary, salad like dish that goes very well with the heaviness of the Polo.

It is eaten usually on a large plate that is shared between several people. The rice is heaped onto the platter and each person will hollow out an area of the mound for themselves. The mutton tops the lovely pile and can be eaten at any point in the hollowing out process.

What you have here is another example of perfection. A delightfully tasty dish that is full of surprisingly subtle flavours along with the pure glory of greasy stodge. When done just right the dish does not appear stodgy or fatty at all, but bursting with all round ready_4deliciousness.

Central Asia knows where it’s at. For goodness sake mediterranean cuisine (and everyone else) sort your rice dishes out.

Try doing so at Food.com or BBC good food

You’re Most Likely An Idiot and Here’s Why

lagman
Courtesy of Ottawa Uzbek Cook

You’re all idiots. You’re all ignorant fools. Your lives are just missing that one ingredient, and you know why?

No lagman.

This is a thing that you need in your life.

I completely understand if you don’t have it in your life. Innocent sheeple who have no idea what they’re doing are not to blame for their misgivings. I completely understand if you haven’t even heard of it. How could anyone know about an obscure dish from a tucked away corner of the world?

Well don’t worry. I will tell you about what it is, why you need it, and also how to get it.

Lagman is love. lagman is life. It is the food of the gods, the sustenance of the wise, and the joy of Central Asia. It is a simple yet amazing dish found (to my knowledge) in Northwest China and Kyrgyzstan, an every day dish made by the Uyghur people, a Turkic people from Central Asia.

Imagine your bog standard pot noodle and those thin wiry noodles. Now completely forget those you idiot. Standard dry egg noodles are as shower clogging clumps of hair are to laces of purest gold.

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Real noodles are little short of purest gold. They are much fatter than fake noodles, probably similar round surface area to a plastic straw but twice as long. They are much more smooth as well and if prepared well are moist and succulent. To feel one’s teeth sink into such a delicacy is nothing short of heaven. By far better than the worthless contents of plastic packets lining supermarket shelves. Homemade with the loving care fit for raising the sweetest puppy or a precious child, these noodles are a work of art. Forget actual silk, this is what the silk road was really about.

Now imagine, the human mind may find such loveliness hard to comprehend, a whole pile of these. Yes a whole pile. A bowl full to be exact. I know what you’re thinking, how could such pure wonder be concentrated into such a small space? Believe me it’s possible.

Oh but it doesn’t end there. Imagine these noodles covered in the stir fry of heaven. Tomatoes, green beens, Chinese cabbage, potatoes, peppers, onions and garlic, all the most sacred of vegetables are lovingly added to the best stew on the planet, nigh in all existence. All fried in oil until succulent. However as if these vegetables aren’t enough for sheer perfection, picture another thing for me.

Mutton. Not lamb. Mutton. The meat of a sheep. A sheep. Not a lamb a sheep. You can get much more meat off a sheep than a lamb, any idiot knows this. And you want the good stuff, all the fatty bits and the most tender bits of mutton from the carcass. In Britain our obsession with lamb robs us of so much goodness. Having access to cheap mutton should be the law in this country but that’s for later.

The mutton in lagman is marinaded in cumin and chilli powder for a few hours before cooking, infusing the already beautiful meat with the true essence of divinity. The blessed stuff is the first thing one adds to the stir fry after the onions, setting the pan ablaze with a rich muttony, cuminy taste. Then all the aforementioned vegetables are added and simmered.

Take this time to reflect on your life and meditate over your previous culinary experiences…. and confess that they are all a foolish waste of your time. Then repent of your sins so that you might be worthy to accept the coming feast.

The stew is done, heavens door is ajar a few inches away from you. You get a ladle and plunge it into the pan. Then you apply it to the noodles, waiting patiently in a bowl nearby.

Your work is done.

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Heaven is before you.

I am reminded of a verse from Isaiah about the Year of the Lords Favour. Here is the first glimpse of that.

The perfect blend of spice and stodge sits before you. You will never again feel satisfied by any other meal you eat. It sits in your stomach, providing weight and satisfaction like no other dish in the entire world. Think of it as your firm rock and foundation, the thing that keeps you rooted to the good earth.

Ok.

I hope I’ve made myself clear then. Hopefully you will all educate yourselves now and seek out this goodness. Follow this link to receive the good news straight into your own kitchen, or make a pilgrimage towards this restaurant so that your life may be whole again.

Bless you all.

P.s. I’m ashamed to say it, but packeted Udon noodles are the closest thing I can come to to get these noodles without hours of painstaking labour

(Sources for the last two photos are Bois De Jasmin and Uyghur Bread respectively)