Citygroup presents Azza Aboualam: Coral Walls and Green Awnings: Mosques in Sharjah and New York City
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Citygroup presents Azza Aboualam: Coral Walls and Green Awnings: Mosques in Sharjah and New York City
Assafa Islamic Center, New York. Courtesy of Citygroup.

NEW YORK, NY.- Citygroup is presenting Coral Walls and Green Awnings: Mosques in Sharjah and New York City by Azza Aboualam.

Prayer is Islam’s only pillar with a physical and spatial dimension, outside the prominent pilgrimage of Hajj and its connection to the architectural symbol of the Ka’aba. While praying at home has minimal requirements–a mat facing the qibla, prayer at the scale of the city is reflected in the architecture of the mosque. Today, mosques serve as emblems of Islam, often erroneously expected to boast a minaret and a dome. There are myriad forms of mosques with significance that goes beyond the religious rituals that occur within their walls. With an emphasis on social interaction, they act as a shared space for prayer rather than solely exalting architectural image.

The use of the term "mosque", especially in the Quran, denotes a wide variety of structures with no specific guidelines for architectural elements and design. As a result, these spaces take on a multitude of styles and scales, manifesting differently based on their location and time of construction. There are roughly three hundred mosques in New York City, making it, informally, one of the most diverse Muslim cities in the world. In comparison, Sharjah is home to the largest number of mosques in the UAE, counting approximately 2,000 mosques dating from historic and contemporary periods.

While different, similarities can be drawn between mosques in both locations, especially in relation to their architectural form. New York’s storefront mosques express themselves with green awnings and mesh with the urban fabric of the city, appearing alongside local restaurants. Similarly, in both their form and material, historic mosques in Sharjah insert themselves into their context. The coral, plaster and mangrove trees used to construct these structures recall the emirate’s natural landscape at the time the mosques were built.

Although the mosques appear integrated with their surroundings, their spatial makeup conflicts with the growing and shifting urban fabric that surrounds them today. With regard to the remaining historic Sharjah mosques, air conditioning, ablution structures and imam housing quarters have been added, while others are awkwardly located in the city. Despite fitting within the urban grid, the interior space of New York mosques must adapt to face the qibla, creating tension and odd corners.

This project responds to the lack of documentation of these structures in both New York and Sharjah. Funded by a grant from Zayed University, the displayed drawings and images are original and constructed from site surveys and in depth analysis of the selected buildings. The exhibition celebrates these spaces that still act as a support infrastructure for their communities today. Not only do the mosques presented here act as an agent in the construction of Islamic identity, but they reflect the growth of the city and the continuously evolving nature of devotion.

Azza Aboualam is an Assistant Professor at the College of Arts and Creative Enterprises at Zayed University, Dubai. She received her MArch from Yale University. Azza’s scholarly interests include the intersection of memory, architecture and society in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. Her work with the UAE’s Ministry of Culture’s Architecture Initiative was published in the book titled In Search of Spaces of Coexistence: An Architect’s Journey (Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, 2019). Azza also contributed as a researcher in Building Sharjah, co-edited by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and Todd Reisz (‎Birkhauser, 2021), and Showpiece City: How Architecture Made Dubai, written by Todd Reisz (Stanford University Press, 2020).

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Citygroup presents Azza Aboualam: Coral Walls and Green Awnings: Mosques in Sharjah and New York City

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