At the age of 41, I have been a grumpy old man for a while now. One of my peeves is the state of our mosques as institutions, the people running them, the maintenance (or lack thereof) and the garish “artwork” and “embellishments” people give as gifts to the mosque.
I am usually not one to question the motives of people, but I firmly believe that a lot of the “decoration” pieces that end up in the mosque are gifts that people have received from friends and relatives who have been to Hajj, Umra or to a Muslim country, the recipient probably thinks “oh man this is ugly and I don’t want it in my house, but I can’t bin it because of the sacred imagery, I know, I’ll give it to our local mosque!” (don’t tell me that you have never thought of it too!) and so, the mosque acquires an eclectic mix of , mass-produced tat, tack, trash, clutter, kitsch, hideously vulgar plastic ornaments and garish flashing pictures that are an anathema to Islamic Art and our history of embellishing the house of Allah with only the best of human endeavours.
In our mosque, on either side of the mihrab someone has “kindly” donated, what can only be described as two mini faux-fish-tanks one with a picture of the Ka’aba and the other with Masjid al-Nabi both immersed in the grotesqueries, which you plug-in to illuminate and to get the water going, wow, the genius of it! If that wasn’t bad enough, the way they have been put on the wall is just plain stupidity – take two “L”-shaped shelf brackets (one for each of the hideous abominations) put the aforementioned on the bracket, get some cellotape and cellotape the monstrosities to the bracket (make sure you do a really bad job of it too) and then screw it into the wall, for that extra special botch job touch, leave the power cable dangling. Arghhhh! Even writing this is infuriating and painful! Alhamdulillah, our mosque was generally quite well decorated when it was built, we have very nice tile-work, calligraphy (although the English script leaves a little to be desired), and the mihrab is tasteful. We had the carpet changed a couple of years ago, and although the carpet is physically of good quality, the mixture of pinks, reds, yellows and greens coupled with floral patterns is a little off-putting to say the least. Over the years, people seem to have put up stickers on the doors and tile work, if a notice has to be put up they don’t use something as discreet as blu-tack, oh no, it has to be duct-tape or that brown packing tape, you have to make sure it leaves behind gunk or when you peel it off it takes a layer of paint with it. Why, why, why? Have people no sense of the aesthetic any more, no appreciation of beauty and art and no commonsense, where did it all go wrong? Are we really the legacy of those who built the Taj Mahal, the Alhambra and made advances in sciences, literature and art? Are we?
I made the mistake of pointing out to one of the senior members of the mosque committee what I thought of the aforementioned ornaments and he totally missed what I was saying and started accusing me of disrespecting the Ka’ba and Masjid Nabi! I don’t think it was in his capacity to make the distinction between the subject matter and the presentation of it, he just didn’t get it despite my feable attempts to explain it.
We have all heard the hadith: In-Allaha jameel wa-yuhibbu l-jamal – God is Beautiful and loves beauty, has our sense of beauty and what is beautiful diminished, just as our consciousness of God has diminished? Have these mass-produced ignoble artefacts become the metaphor of our condition, that there is no depth to us and what we produce? Can’t we see past the fake-gold and ornamentation, be it of the human or of the sacred space?