Thesis Defence: Saadman Ahmed Export this event to calendar

Monday, January 4, 2021 — 2:00 PM EST

Of the thesis entitled: 
Imitation vs. Adaptation in Canadian Mosques: The Conflicts and Challenges of Purpose-Built and Repurposed Architecture

Saadman Ahmed thesis image

Abstract: 

In Canada, the construction of Islamic mosques has been influenced by various cultural biases, historical interpretation, and a multitude of subtle contradictions which shape the identities of the different generations of Muslims and their communities. Mosques in Canada also face various social and political challenges including discrimination and hostility towards traditional Islamic forms and the practice of gender segregation through spatial barriers. Although historically, Islamic architecture has played a significant role in impacting architectural practices and theories, and mosques have been symbolizing the diverse Muslim cultures across the world, such challenges are detrimental to the social and architectural identities of contemporary Muslims who already suffer from a controversial past in North America. 

The primary objective of this thesis is to document and investigate the use, interpretation, and changing nature of mosques in Canada by analyzing them in two categories: purpose-built and repurposed. I argue that the variability and polarizing nature of these two types of buildings show us that mosques and Muslims in Canada are in a state of an identity crisis. For purpose-built mosques, their overtly exotic and expressive forms attract social and political hostility, and their aesthetics (not always consistent with the congregation’s identity) become incompatible within the landscape of Canada. The tendency of Muslims to post-modernize architectural expressions of purpose-built mosques by referencing historical and middle eastern iconography, attract opposing views and prejudices from non-Muslims in their urban settings. The practice of imitating from history also produces mosques that do not fit architecturally within their urban context and as well as discourage innovation in the field of Islamic Architecture. For mosques renovated in former storefronts, warehouses, and offices – despite the fact that their grassroots ways of adapting in such spaces arises from a necessity – their appropriated interior spaces become unsuitable for the practice and experience of the sacred and secular rituals, and their exterior identities remain camouflaged behind the façades of their former buildings. I argue that not only do these issues shape western perceptions associated with Islamic architecture, but they also reveal the socioeconomic and political reality of diasporic Muslims in Canada.

Within the scope of this thesis, I also briefly raise and examine a few fundamental questions about the commonality between these two contrasting types of mosques: they both practice gender and other social segregation methods reflected in their architectural and symbolic expressions. Debates on the nature of inclusion and agency of women, as well as youth and converts, raises several perspectives on how immigrant Muslims refuse to relinquish their customary ways of practicing their faith, even in the land of diversity and multiculturalism, in the 21st century. Moreover, these practices show that reform is needed both socially and in the spatial configurations of mosques in order to create a more diverse culture within the Muslim communities.

In this research, I also present three case studies of repurposed mosques at various scales located in the neighborhoods of Scarborough and East York in the Greater Toronto Area. The former structures of the mosques include, a suburban house, a storefront and a warehouse. I investigate how their vernacular forms respond, either effectively or ineffectively, to the needs of their congregation, their religious practices and traditions, cultural expressions and other secular programs in the buildings. Finally, I respond to some of the examined challenges and issues presented in this thesis by proposing an architectural intervention in each of the three repurposed mosques. The interventions reflect and edify the mosques’ liturgical activities of worship, the multifunctional secular programs, social inclusivity, and offer a method to uphold the cultural identities of Muslims in the contemporary societies of Canada.

The examining committee is as follows:

Supervisor: Tracey Winton
Committee Member: Lola Sheppard
Internal Reader: Rick Haldenby
External Reader: Tammy Gaber

The Defence Examination will take place:
January 4, 2021, 2:00pm EST, open defence.
Teams link available via the graduate student Learn page or by request.

The committee has been approved as authorized by the Graduate Studies Committee.
A copy of the thesis is available for perusal in ARC 2106A.

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