Ahmed Keeler is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge, and was Distinguished Fellow at The Faculty of Leadership and Management, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia in 2016. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Bolton in 2016. He has spent his working life since the Festival in establishing and engaging with projects that explore and present Islamic culture as a holistic environmental manifestation. At a time of growing instability, he is now lecturing and participating in seminars encouraging us to judge the success of human culture through the criteria of Mizan, which is at the heart of the Islamic unfolding.
Presentation Title: Islam & Converging Cultures: The Case of Architecture
One of the best ways of studying the convergence of cultures is through architecture. In this paper focus will be on the impact convergence had on the design of mosques and palaces. Islam enjoyed an incredibly rich engagement with other cultures in its formation as a civilization. The rapid early conquests resulted in the Muslims ruling an empire which stretched from Spain to the Indus and the borders of China. The entire Persian Empire and the richest provinces of Byzantium were absorbed into Dar Al-Islam. A profound convergence took place, and Islamic architecture was born. The further spread of Islam through trade, deep into Africa and by sea to the Malay world brought into play a further series of convergences. The manner of these engagements ensured that the local character of the cultures was not destroyed but transformed, becoming part of the diversity within the unity that Islam provided.
The paper will then examine the relationship between Islam and the West. There was not one but three quite different Wests that were encountered. The first was Christian Europe, and in this engagement the Europeans were the recipients of knowledge, skills and technologies which enabled them to build their cathedrals, and much else besides. Then came the conquerors, newly rapped in the civilization of Rome, and intent upon creating their world empires; they brought with them classical architecture, which was considered by Europeans to be the universal form to be adopted by all cultures. The impact on the traditional forms will be then examined. Finally, Modern Architecture emerged and was once again promoted by the West as the universal system for all humanity. How Muslim patrons, scholars and architects have responded and are responding to this challenge, will be explored.