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The aesthetics of faith

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    The aesthetics of faith

    I don't agree with everything in the article but in my opinion it an interesting read.

    The aesthetics of faith
    Saeed Naqvi

    The news that a mosque is to be built in Nazareth saddened me. Unless you have been to Nazareth, Bethlehem, walked by the side of the sea of Galilee or gone up Via Rosa in Jerusalem you will not be able to see things the way I do.
    Nazareth is quintessentially a Christian town in its ambience and historical echo. Every cobbled stone is bound inextricably with the myth or the reality of Jesus Christ. There is much more of the New Testament in Nazareth than there is, for instance, in that very Mecca of Christendom the Vatican city which I associate much more with the genius and the eccentric faith of Michaelangelo. In my framework there is room for a mosque in either Nazareth or the Vatican. Just as there is no room for a church or a temple in Mecca. But mosques in Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura? I shall come to that later.

    It is argued that the demographic composition of Nazareth has changed over the years, that the majority now is Muslim. This is true. The Christian population preferred the land of milk and honey across the Atlantic than proximity to the Church of the Annunciation, the site where Angel Gabriel is believed to have appeared before Mary and told her that she would give birth to the messiah.

    In other words, Nazareth is also today a West Bank town in a politically tempestuous region of the world. The contest, exemplified by the controversy, is between its status as an important, dynamic urban centre in the new Palestinian state or a holy city, a centre for Christian pilgrimage, much more in the public focus as Jesus's 2000th birthday approaches.

    The case for building a mosque in Nazareth is, actually, quite attractive. ``One more place of worship will only enhance its holiness.'' Moreover, this place of worship is likely to be used by a majority of the town's residents.But this innocent sounding argument actually disguises a deeper plot. As the Palestinian state is in its birth throes, the secularists and the militant Islamists are vying with each other to determine the character of the new state.

    There is a faulty impression that the Palestinian struggle has, somehow, been primarily Islamic in character. George Habash, Hannan Ashrawi and one of the great thinkers of our time, Edward Said, are all Christians. I have attended midnight mass at Bethlehem (where Jesus was born) when Yasser Arafat and his Christian wife, Suha Arafat, were the principal guests at the service.

    It is nobody's case that the Islamists will be deemed to have been defeated if the mosque is not built in Nazareth. Quite the opposite might happen. Thwarting the mosque might fuel an Islamist agitation.

    But politics and general philistinism alone must not inform discussion on whether or not a Christian pilgrimage centre can accommodate another place of worship to cater to its new Muslim majority.

    Town planning and architectural additions to an ancient holy site cannot be divorced from considerations of aesthetics.

    Every great religion generates its own culture which manifests itself in architecture, literature, music and painting. Thus the great cathedrals of Europe, Michaelangelo, Bach, Handel, Milton are only some of the enduring gifts left behind by that great religion. In my book they represent the very distillate of that which came to be known as western civilisation.

    The majestic dome and measured spirals of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the mosque in Isfahan, the Jama Masjid of Delhi, the thought and poetry of Jaluddin Rumi, the dance of the dervishes in Konya, the devotional music of Amir Khusro, all represent freedom, amplitude and aesthetic pleasure derived from the faith.

    The frescos in the exquisite temple in Tanjore, depicting every known movement in Bharatanatyam, the incomparable detailing in stone at Halibed, the granite grandeur at Shravanbelagola, poetry of Sur and Tulsi and the Kritis of Thyagaraja, are the highest aesthetic expression of Hindu civilisation. Tirupati, Rishikesh, Ayodhya, Mathu- ra and Varanasi are, according to me, towns and cities which are as Hindu as Mecca is Muslim or the Vatican is Christian.

    A temple or a mosque in the Vatican or a church in Mecca would militate against the sheer aesthetic harmony of these places. Should it then be difficult to realise that mosques in the heart of the most prominent temples in Varanasi, Ayodhya and Mathura would be aesthetically revolting for any Hindu?

    Unka jo kaam hai who pehle siyasat jaane Mera paigham mohabbat hai Jahan tak pahunche, (Let those with a political axe to grind carry on with their business; mine is a message of love and let it carry as far as it can.) History of invasions and the crusades is replete with the destruction of places of worship. Europe never really forgot the hurt inflicted by the Ottomans on the Christian world by transforming the St Sophia Church in Constantinople (today's Istanbul) into a mosque. Ataturk softened the wound by shutting down the mosque and restoring St Sophia as a museum.

    Have you ever visited the mosques in Varanasi, Ayodhya and Mathura? I did and I did not like what I saw. Any Hindu would be hurt.

    That such things happen in history is true. The history of civilisation is also the history of their eclipse by decay or conquest.

    In many instances cross-civilisational contact leads to enrichment.

    Ironically, cities in the eye of recent storms, Sarajevo, Mostar and Pristina, were once the pride of what I call composite culture. A magnificent Ottoman bridge in Mostar provided the backdrop for the steeples of churches in Mostar. Orthodox Churches and the slim, thermometer-like minarets of Sarajevo are arranged side by side, almost in direct ratio to the populations of the two communities. What followed recently was an unspeakable monstrosity.

    We too lost our balance in the heat of politics when the Babri Majid was pulled down. But that irrational act apart, the fact of the matter is that the mosque in Varanasi and Mathura are, aesthetically, as incongruous as the one in Nazareth will be, if it ever is built. Like the mosque in Varanasi, and Mathura, it too will be divisive mosque. Yes, mosques must be built if there are worshippers, but not imposed or accepted in spaces where they violate the aesthetic ambience of these places.


    [This message has been edited by Rani (edited December 02, 1999).]

    Really Interesting!

    Thanks for sharing! Rani