Architecture and islamophobia

The UK far right’s indignation at the imagined encroachment of Islam into British life has given us some great comedy moments, including this week’s snafu by UKIP berating the BBC’s liberal bias for staging a vox pop in front of a mosque in central London, better known as the gorgeous Westminster Cathedral in Victoria. And who can forget this priceless EDL rant against the Muslamics for building a huge mosque near the sea front in Brighton?

Westminster Cathedral


The fact is, Islamic civilisation has given us some stunning architecture, a source of inspiration to Western architects and artists for centuries. The Brighton Pavilion is one such building, but there are countless others. The inspiration flows in the other direction too; I doubt there’s a major city anywhere in the Islamic world which isn’t chock full of western-influenced buildings, from gothic to neo-classical to post-modern. I wonder if pilgrims to Mecca post angry Facebook rants about the Puginesque Clock Tower overshadowing the Ka’aba?

Clock Tower Mecca

Big Bennish

Our cultures have mixed and mingled throughout their illustrious histories, much to our mutual benefit. There are mosques that have become churches; and churches that have become mosques; and they are all the more interesting for it.

Hagia Sofia Istanbul

Church that became a Mosque

Cordoba Cathedral

Mosque that became a Church

So what exactly is it that the far right find so threatening? Is it the foreign architectural style which seems so out of place in frigid England? Then let’s say goodbye to Winchester Cathedral and York Minster, which use exotic imports from Islamic architecture such as the pointed arch and the rose window. What happens when British Moslems build their places of worship in the local architectural vernacular? Is that OK with the kippers and Britain First?

Tahir Mosque, Catford

Is this OK, UKIP?

When challenged on the Daily Politics, Nigel Farage made the excuse that his party’s activists “are not wholly trained”. Wholly trained in what? Architecture? Let’s call this spade a spade: this UKIP activist’s reaction betrayed her islamophobia, and the only training she lacks is how to hide it from public view. In this, she is not an exception, she is absolutely typical of every kipper I’ve ever encountered. UKIP is an islamophobic party. Who can doubt it?

(Postscript – if you’re interested in learning more about Islamic architecture, you might enjoy The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron and In Xanadu by William Dalrymple. Non-Amazon link.)

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