Books on Islamic Architecture

51fjh43554l_ss500_Western Islamic Architecture: A Concise Introduction by John D. Hoag (Dover Publications, 2005; First edition, 1963) briefly introduces the social, material and visual construction of social space in North Africa, Egypt and the historical regions of Muslim Spain, emphasizing the Alhambra and Grenada. Mosques dominate the volume. Its strength is in the power of the information it delivers. It provides students with a solid academic introduction to the distinctiveness of North African architecture in illustrating the contrast between Egypt’s stylings and those of Algeria and Morocco, where many of the most historic mosques include important Almoravid elements. Its details show uncommon shots from the Alhambra, the Great Mosque of Tlemcen, and several humble yet fantastic Moroccan structures. More time could have been spent on the precise character of the Almoravids and other North African empires. Still, the context of various architectural forms, especially in mosques, is well presented with concision, though more clear differentiation between specific elements of western continental architecture and the eastern elements very much evident in Andalusia as well as those of the Egyptian form would be welcome.

Of major concern, though, are this slim volume’s illustrations, which are prodigious yet small and entirely in black and white. Hoag’s book, which was originally published in the early 1960’s, uses dense black and white images from across the region surveyed. The 2005 edition would have surely been vastly improved if it used contemporary color photographs of the same structures, comparing them with their middle twentieth century counterparts. This would have required more considerable effort and would have required an appendix noting upgrades or additions to a greater extent than they are available in the volume. Hoag’s work remains, for the most part, unaltered from its 1963 edition; It remains useful but is nevertheless, in part, dated.

51x451p3d9l_ss500_The Mosque: History, Architectural Development & Regional Diversity
, eds. Martin Frishman and Hasan-Uddin Khan (Thames & Hudson, 2002; First edition 1994) attempts to offer a wide survey of mosques across the Muslim world. It succeeds triumphantly. The emphasis of this sprawling coffee table volume is diversity. Vivid color with epic clarity make The Mosque both pleasurable and informative. The writing is at once elegant, quick and brief. The Mosque offers readers both photographic information, as well as detailed layouts of African, South East Asian and Central Asian mosques, seamlessly integrating illustration to explanation and  captions. It is judicious in its treatment of disparate traditions, and clever in its language and presentation of historical and social context. The photographs dominate the text, making it less dense — and somewhat less academic — but this is better suited to the book’s purpose.

The book’s subjects are presented in their full splendor, each of them appearing as if they were in a golden age. If the reader is familiar with some, he will know that regardless of the plush appearances in The Mosque, some of these are well beyond their prime. Again, this would appear to be precisely the point: Frishman and Khan have put together a compilation of beauty, and their purpose is to enlighten and to lift the reader’s spirits. The Mosque is anything but heavy, it is itself somewhat weighty; Instead it is lucidly hops from region to region examining the manner in which Muslims societies express and organize themselves. As it is a strong contribution to Islamic world studies, it is also a great contribution to leisure time.

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