The architects of the Vali-e-Asr mosque opted for a modern design of undulating waves of grey stone and concrete. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
A newly built avant-garde mosque in the heart of Iran’s capital has infuriated hardliners, who see it as part of a creeping secular onslaught on the Islamic republic.
- Mosque architects say the design evokes austerity of early Islam
- Religious hardliners see it as a secular onslaught on the Islamic republic
- Project took 10 years to complete at a cost of $20 million
The architects behind the Vali-e-Asr mosque dispensed with the traditional rounded domes and towering minarets, opting instead for a modern design of undulating waves of grey stone and concrete, which they say complement the surrounding architecture, evoking the austerity of early Islam.
The new structure has infuriated hardliners, who see it as part of a creeping secular onslaught on the Islamic republic.
Religious hardliners in Iran see the modernist design of the Vali-e-Asr mosque as a creeping secular onslaught. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
An editorial posted on the Mashregh news website compared the curvature of the mosque to that of a Jewish yarmulke, accusing authorities of “treason” for approving it.
The “completely neutral” design betrays an “atheistic approach”, the editorial said.
The mosque emerged as the latest battleground in a longstanding culture war between hardliners and Iran’s vibrant artistic community, which has hoped — often in vain — for greater openness since President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, was elected to office.
The 25,000-square-meter structure rises smoothly from a major intersection, in a popular shopping area near Tehran University that also hosts cultural and artistic events.
Adjacent to the City Theatre of Tehran — an iconic building dating back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution — the mosque includes its own library, reading halls, classrooms and amphitheatre.
The location of the Vali-e-Asr mosque at the foot of the Tehran City Theatre has angered hardliners. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
Reza Daneshmir, one of the architects, said he struggled for months before finally convincing authorities that a traditional mosque would look out of place at the site.
He even argued his case before a parliamentary committee.
“[City officials] objected and said it did not look like a mosque, did not resemble the conventional form of a mosque, and that it couldn’t be done,” Mr Daneshmir said.
“I explained who the real audiences of this mosque are,” he said, referring to the young, bohemian Iranians who frequent the neighbourhood.
“I finally succeeded in persuading them … we wanted it to be an avant-garde project, not a conservative and backward one.”
Mr Daneshmir and his co-designer, Catherine Spiridonoff, pointed out that mosques come in many shapes and sizes, and that the first mosque ever built, at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, was a simple structure without domes or minarets.
Catherine Spiridonoff (left) and her husband Reza Daneshmir, both architects of the avant-garde modernist Vali-e-Asr mosque in Iran’s capital, Tehran. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
They added that the dome structure, which had been used in pagan and Christian architecture for centuries before the arrival of Islam, was only adopted later, as were minarets.
In the past, a muezzin would climb a spiral staircase to the top of the minaret five times a day to call the faithful to prayer, but that practice has all but disappeared across the Muslim world, where most mosques are now equipped with loudspeakers.
Those arguments carry little weight with Iran’s hardliners and conservatives, who fear that the questioning of traditional structures — including the concrete variety — could erode the foundations of the Islamic Republic.
The structure was nevertheless completed, after 10 years and at a cost of around $20 million.
The architects of the Vali-e-Asr mosque have say they wanted it to be an avant-garde project. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
Nima Borzouie, an 18-year-old student, acknowledged that he was initially unaware the building included a mosque, but said he approved of the idea.
“The spiritual aspect of a mosque is more important than its architecture … it is no big deal if it does not follow the stereotypical architecture of mosques that have domes or minarets … it is a place of worship,” the Iranian student said.
The mosque should open to the public in the coming months.
The architects say the mosque’s modern design complements the surrounding architecture and evokes the austerity of early Islam. (AP: Vahid Salemi)
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