The Muslim house of prayer is often a beautiful place. It can be striking for its simplicity or for its ornate designs. In some Muslim traditions, the mosque should be plain to help worshipers concentrate on prayer. In others, the mosque should be colorful and filled with decorative motifs that inspire worshipers to praise God. Both traditions are amply on display in Detroit.
Aside from the contours of its physical space, the beauty of the mosque is created through color, calligraphy, and ornamentation. Many people believe that Muslims cannot use images of the human form, or creatures, or any other figural representation in their art. This practice is more common among Sunni Muslims than among the Shi`a, whose mosques often contain pictures of the Twelve Imams, historical events, and contemporary religious leaders. In both Sunni and Shia traditions, however, there is heavy reliance on calligraphy and arabesque shapes to adorn the mosque.
Because Detroit’s Muslim communities are so diverse, their mosques are built and decorated in several distinct styles. What is attractive to Bangladeshis might not impress Syrians, and the designs featured in poor, working class mosques might seem out of place in a mosque that serves wealthy professionals. Likewise, American-born Muslims might be put off by the tastes of immigrant Muslims.
The images and objects shown on these panels are drawn from multiple locations in Detroit. They will not appear uniformly attractive to any particular set of viewers, Muslim or non-Muslim, but they reflect a common desire to make the house of prayer beautiful, both to the human eye and in the sight of God.