Welcoming the minirets
Posted by paulipoldie on December 7, 2009
By Henrik R Clausen 04 Dec 2009
After the Swiss voted overwhelmingly to ban the construction of minarets in their country, it is time to examine possible alternative solutions. This essay proposes, in the spirit of dialogue and compromise, to replace the traditional design with a modern, resource-saving alternative.
First a little historical background. The minaret is not a classical Islamic design, in that it does not stem from Muhammad directly. From the Sirat, we have this account (Ibn Ishaq, p. 757):
When the apostle raided a people he waited until the morning. If he heard a call to prayer he held back; if he did not hear it he attacked. We came to Khaybar by night, and the apostle passed the night there; and when morning came he did not hear the call to prayer, so he rode and we rode with him.
This is from the opening of the Battle of Khaybar. Muhammad and the early Muslims had traveled some 150 kilometers to reach it, and soon conquered the under-defended oasis, turning the Jews into dhimmis until their final expulsion under caliph Umar. The victorious battle is still held in reverence among Muslims, who use the battle cry ”Khaybar, Khaybar, ya Yahoud, jaish Muhammad sa yaoud” (”Khaybar, Khaybar, Oh Jews, the Army of Muhammad will return!”) to intimidate Jews today, for example in demonstrations in Copenhagen and elsewhere, January 2009.
We shall not here deliberate the morality of the attack on Khaybar. What matters is Muhammad awaiting the call to prayer. He had a clear policy distinguishing believers and non-believers, as he would only assault people not already in submission to him and his religion. Back then, there we no minarets to indicate that a given town or area was subject to Islamic rule, thus the waiting was needed.
Encyclopedia Britannica has some background information on minarets:
Arabic: “beacon”), in Islamic religious architecture, the tower from which the faithful are called to prayer five times each day by a muezzin, or crier. Such a tower is always connected with a mosque and has one or more balconies or open galleries. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the call to prayer was made from the highest roof in the vicinity of the mosque. The earliest minarets were former Greek watchtowers and the towers of Christian churches. The oldest minaret in North Africa is at al-Qayrawan, Tunisia. It was built between 724 and 727 and has a massive square form.[…]
These towers were built to be “landmarks of Islam”—to be visible from afar and to stamp a site with Islamic character.
Minarets are built to ”stamp a site with Islamic character”, not for their religious signifiance. Actually, no building should in principle have any religious significance, for only Allah is to be worshipped, not stones, buildings and holy water. The reality, of course, is somewhat different. The core purpose of a minaret remains to mark the ownership, that this land is Islamic.
A side purpose was that of making calls to prayer. This had a practical in the days before amplified speakers, but is neither a traditional religious dogma nor a technical necessity today. Further, most people would rather be without five daily interruptions for the religious duty of prayer. Duty is the proper word in context, for there is no benefit of performing it, apart from a possible feeling of pleasure from having obliged to a religious demand.
Now, the idea of putting land under religious rule, Islamic rule in particular, is something we don’t quite like in the West. Here, religion is primarily a personal, not a political matter, and we have a certain dislike for the idea of permitting alien landmarks to dominate our lands, not to mention having religious law dominate our societies.
Truly moderate imams, like Taj Hargey in the United Kingdom, make it clear that minarets are not really needed. In his article “Minarets are not an essential part of Islam” (Times Online), he states clearly that “The Swiss vote does not infringe Muslim religious rights”, and proceeds to make the point that Islam will do just fine without minarets:
Switzerland’s referendum vote to ban minarets […] does not infringe the religious liberty of Swiss Muslims. Minarets remain emblematic of mosques in the Muslim heartlands but there is no theological reason why houses of worship in the West have to incorporate such towers.
Fundamentalist imams who hold the different views have, according to Hargey, a different and dangerous agenda, one that will stoke Islamophobia and conflict. That agenda has to do with the minarets as symbols of conquest.
Turkish notions of Islam and conquest
Some Islamic leaders, like the current Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, take the idea of connecting Islam with conquest quite a bit further. Erdogan stated in 1997:
The minarets are our bayonets; the domes are our helmets
Mosques are our barracks, the believers are soldiers
This holy army guards my religion
Almighty Our journey is our destiny, the end is martyrdom.
It has been said that Erdogan was merely reciting a poem by Ziya Gökalp. In reality, Erdogan changed the first stanza of the poem significantly. The original, published in 1913 in the magazine Halka Dogru, opens as follows:
Holding my rifle in my hand, keeping my faith in my heart I wish two things:
The faith and the homeland My home is the army,
my sovereign is the Sultan Strengthen my Sultan,
Almighty Give him long life,
Almighty Our journey is our victory, the end is martrydom. (Eurozine)
The remaining stanzas of the poem remains the same, except that one praising the Turkish armyh was skipped. Erdogan obviously wanted to make the point about the military significance of the mosque.
This significance is also reflected in the naming of mosques constructed in Europe. A popular name for grand mosques built by Turkish communities is ‘Fathi Camii’, meaning ‘Conqueror Mosque’. German professor Ursula Spuler-Stegemann inquired about the choice of name at the inaugeration of the Fathi Camii mosque in Kiel, Germany. She got the candid response that the choice was ”In the spirit of Sultan Mehmet II, the Conqueror”.
The greatest feat of Sultan Mehmed II was the conquest of Constantinople (1453). After his conquest of the city, the landmark of Constantinople, the grand Byzantine church Hagia Sophia (”Holy Wisdom”), was converted to a mosque, with a wooden minaret being added to show that the area was now under the rule of Islam. Later the four large minarets we know today were added, making the former church a symbol of Islamic dominance over formerly Christian land.
The naming of new mosques in the heart of Europe is not exactly tactful, nor a great example of peaceful interfaith dialogue and respect. One may wonder, of course, if these mosques are built and supported by a particular radical branch of Turkish Islamists, if mainstream, moderate Turkish Muslims oppose this tactless behaviour towards their host countries? Few, if any, such responses have been found. The supposedly moderated Turkish PM Erdogan stated on the notion of a ‘moderate’ Islam:
These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.
(Milliyet, August 21, 2007)
The Islamic tradition for conquest of infidel land is well known, and we need not dwell at the details of this. Interested readers can find more in Andrew Bostom’s book (tome) The Legacy of Jihad.
Mordern times: Dialogue, not conquest
Now, these are modern times. We do not need any more wars of conquest, the use of intimidation should be a thing of the past, and in particular the idea that religious should dominate our societies is utterly ridiculous. We are grown up human beings, each endowed with a rational mind, and with the capability to discuss in civil ways what laws make sense and for what reasons. Religion as a source of law for modern societies simply does not make sense.
Nor does erecting monuments dedicated to the dominance of a particular religion over the land. These would not only be antithetical to a modern, pluralistic society, but would also attract people who are unscrupulous enough to attempt to force theocratic systems upon an otherwise free society.
Our modern dear leaders, who are engaged in projects like Alliance of Civilizations, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, would certainly agree that the age of intimidation, threats and conquest is over. In their ideal world, nothing of that kind could possibly take place. Further, they would see no problems related to the introduction of Islam in Europe, have no fear of Europe becoming Islamized, and express their full confidence that odd details like erecting ‘Conqueror Mosques’ are merely culturally enjoyable name games, with no hidden agenda or deceptive aims behind them.
But then, our dear leaders can rightfully be expected to do more than telling us not to worry about the course of events and seek more ‘dialogue’. Some political systems are beyond the reach of dialogue, they deserve a clear ‘No!’, isolation, and close scrutiny of relevant authorities. Totalitarian systems in particular.
Now, the term ‘Totalitarian’ has in the ears of many become merely a derogative, voiding it of its real significance, the idea of a totally controlled society, with rules and regulations for every aspect of the citizens’ lives. The term was coined by Giovanni Amendola in 1923, and picked up by Benito Mussolini, who described his supposedly perfect system in this slogan:
Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.
There is one significant difference between this and the fully Islamic Sharia state: In the Sharia state, the laws are given a priori and cannot be changed by ‘mere’ humans, only interpreted. Which has to be done in accordance with a millennium of Islamic jurisprudence, and thus cannot deviate significantly from or contradict the practices in the Islamic empires of the past, such as the Ottoman Empire. A system like this is obviously not compatible with modern, pluralistic societies and their secular Constitutions.
Islamists vs. the public vote
In spite of these differences between the theocratic empires of the past and the modern, secular democracies, there are still Islamic organisations longing for the time of the caliphate, seeking to restore the uncontested, supreme position of Islam in the societies they happen to live in. A major player in this is the Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928, with the express purpose of bringing back the caliphate, which had been abolished by Kemal Atatürk in 1924.
Organisations such as Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir and others are actively seeking to restore the caliphate, and for this purpose seek to erect symbols of Islamic dominance whereever possible. European citizens understanding the implications of this will resist for quite obvious reasons, as expressed in the recent Swiss referendum banning the construction of minarets in Switzerland (BBC report).
The result of this referendum has caused grave concern in Islamist circles, and has been widely condemned by global government advocates, Amnesty International, CSCE and many others. The CSCE, for one, demands that the result be overturned, in order that the Swiss citizens may not run the risk of being viewed as ‘intolerant’. In light of the many condemnations it will be interesting to see if the Swiss will eventually be permitted to settle the matter in accordance with the wishes of their citizens, or if international agencies will trump national sovereignty and decide that the citizens cannot be permitted to make such decisions in their country.
A compromise proposal
But this hard stance is disingenuous, for a compromise is absolutely possible. Erecting minarets without the aspect of dominating the surrounding could easily be achieved, by imposing a limit of five feet (1½ meter) on the height of minarets. These would still express Islamic culture and tradition, while avoiding the unneeded and deeply offensive aspect of dominating our free and secular societies.
While technically possible in a loudspeaker-sized miniret, there is no particular need to use a it to call for prayer. In these modern times there are much less intrusive alternatives, like using text messages for those who want to live with religious duties, leaving anyone not interested free to spend their times for other purposes. There really is no need to disturb the many with calls for prayer heeded only by the few. Also, by refraining from using public calls for rituals that many would consider pure superstition, a tool for intimidation by religious zealots is removed.
There’s another beneficial aspect of moving from minarets to minirets: Minarets are basically unproductive. They make no product, they guide no ships, cars or air planes (the name ‘minaret’ originally means ‘lighthouse’), causes no improvements whatsoever in our physical lives. For that reasons, minimizing the amount of resources spent on these purpose-less structures makes sense. Downscaling a 50-foot minaret to a 5-foot miniret saves 90 percent of the material – in each of the three dimensions. That multiplies up to a factor 1000 when the two horizontal and the vertical dimensions are taken into consideration, a rather significant saving that should go down well in these somewhat troubled times.
What then would the purpose of a miniret be? From a logical perspective, there is none. From a religious perspective, where logic doesn’t matter, it still would have. It is a remembrance of Islamic cultural heritage, voided of its imperialistic aspects, and put into proper perspective, that it is not an indispensable or integral part of Islam. Those who want minirets can be free to erect them, and those who are concerned about the imperialistic aspect of minarets should have no problem with a physically benign structure that does not attempt to dominate the townships nor the people living there.
There are many aspects of political Islam that deserve suspicion and scrutiny. Any move to implement Sharia law, undermine law enforcement and dodge our Constitutions should be countered quickly and firmly. Experience over the last decade makes it clear that the label ‘Islamic’ is sufficient to warrant some suspicion for anti-Constitutional activities. That scrutiny is best left to our intelligence services, whose job is to defend our Constitutions and halt any subversive activity on sight. A task that notably takes precedence over any calls for ‘religious sensitivity’ and the like.
We need to stay vigilant, look through deception, and to make clear calls against any subversive activities. The minarets are symbols of Islam as a dominant political system rather than a religion, and have no place in the West.