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PRACTISING MUSLIM  
Building Design (1 Feb. 2002) talked to four British Muslim architects about how their religion affected their profession.

David Thorp, a British convert to Islam, and who is a candidate for the RIBA presidency, does not plan to draw much attention to his faith. Like the other three he practises his religion in a private personal way, an emphasis which all thought important following the events of 11 September 2001.

Faheem Aftab thought there were few Muslim architects in Britain because their families largely come from countries where it is not a significant profession. He also found it difficult to operate in an industry "where the wheels of business are often lubricated by red wine" but occasionally had a drink to keep up appearances.

Yasmin Shariff believed it fair enough to work extra hard to prove oneself in an alien culture. She pointed out that in Malaysia, a Muslim country, 50% of architects are women. In spite of the ethical values of Islam only Shariff spoke of Islam as a cultural force for social good.

Finally Layla Shamash said that Muslim students generally had a very optimistic view of architecture "because they quite often know of brilliant examples from Islamic countries; they feel they are following in the footsteps of geniuses."

In view of the many issues raised by the article it was surprising, (or was reaction too hot to handle?), that there were no follow up letters in subsequent weeks.

 

 The following letter was written to the editor but was not published.

 

 

Dear Sir

Thank you for bringing up the subject of practising architecture as a Muslim, which I hope will be the beginning of an ongoing debate.

There is general ignorance about Islam, a fact which shows the need for religious education in all schools to teach about the major world religions, as all are well represented in Britain.

There is also much misunderstanding about Christianity among English people, and even more so among Muslims who assume Britain is a Christian country. While it is true that much of British culture is still based on Christianity only around 10% of the population are practising Christians.

David Thorp seems to me a good example of someone rejecting nominal Christianity and turning to another, or no, faith because they have never encountered the real thing. As Muslims think all westerners are Christians, they reject Christianity when they see the immorality of supposedly Christian lifestyles.

What Christianity and Islam have in common is a moral and ethical approach to life based on the belief in a creator God.

It is a pity that Faheem Aftab feels it necessary (or has) to compromise his beliefs to get work. His feelings about Christian colleagues illustrate my point that Muslims think most westerners are Christians - I wonder how many of his colleagues actually are.

Muslims and Christians should work together to promote an ethical approach to architecture which seeks to empower and meet the needs of the disadvantaged, whether in Luton or a developing country. The Development Practices course at Oxford Brookes University promotes such an approach, as does arXitecture at
www.arxitecture.org.uk. A website which looks specifically at a Christian approach to the practice of architecture is www.capsite.org.uk run by Christians in Architecture and Planning.

I would like to hear about any organisations promoting an Islamic approach to architecture apart from the Aga Khan.

Yours faithfully

(name and address supplied)

Perhaps you would like to take up the ethical issues raised in the article.

 

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