Photography by Ahmed Eckhard Krausen
With his book Mosques: Islamic Architecture in Europe, published by Dar Al-Arqam Foundation (Warsaw, Poland), in both English and Polish, Ahmed Eckhard Krausen opened and made accessible a chapter of European history that most of us, European Muslims and Europeans of other faiths alike, are completely unaware of. Although Krausen also includes photographs of other Europeans mosques in his book, it is the focus on historical mosques in Eastern Europe that, in my point of of view, makes this contribution to the study of Islam in Europe so special. Krausen’s own personal background as a European convert to Islam adds a further interesting layer to the reading of his books. Ahmed Eckhard Krausen was born in 1955 and grew up in a strict Protestant family. He spent his youth in a Catholic majority in the Aachen region in Germany. He embraced Islam after travels to Egypt and Sudan where he met people who changed his life trajectory. Photography has long been a tool for Krausen to come to terms with his identity as a European Muslim.
The small green wooden mosque with white powder of snow on its roof is my favorite photograph in the book. In its dignified and humble simplicity it seems to reflect the spirit of those Tatar Muslims who once built it and made a home in present day Poland. This area used to be part of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth and Muslim Tatars became its citizens. As described in detail by Musa Czachorowski, journalist and spokesman for the Muslim Religious Union in the Republic of Poland and contributor to the written part of Ahmed Krausen’s book, Tatar Muslims came as soldiers to the territories of present day Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. According to Czachorowski, it was in 1397 when the first Tatar Muslims were brought as warriors to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. They came from the most Eastern borders of Europe to the Western edges of Eastern Europe and brought with them their religious identity and heritage. Known for their bravery and loyalty, they performed military service and in return received land grants. Holding tight to their religion, they built small mosques.
Some of the original foundations of these wooden mosques that are shown in the book date back to the seventeenth century. In most places in their new home, the Tatar Muslims were not allowed to build permanent stone structure houses of worship. Their choice to build wooden mosques made these places of worship blend well with the local style of architecture. Neither drawing too much attention, which would have meant to be considered a foreign element, but also not shying away from honestly establishing their religion – Islam – amidst a Catholic or Orthodox Christian majority population and political leadership.
The interior of the small green mosque is also portrayed in Krausen’s book. It is fully furnished in wood and invites to stay, reflect and connect with the Lord of the worlds. Small details of traditional woodcarving, handwritten calligraphy, the small yet beautifully embellished mimber (pulpit)speak of a people who are grounded in their religions. This groundedness is also mentioned in one of the captions of one of Ahmed Krausen’s photograph. There it says that the Lipka Tartars remained astonishingly resistant to pressure to convert exerted by both the Catholic as well as Russian Orthodox Christians.
The photographs by Ahmed Krausen invite yet another reflection because they touch on a history that unknowingly might be part of quite a few Europeans’ family history. For example, some people from the Eastern part of Germany, who trace their family roots to Eastern Europe, have recently converted to Islam. Isn’t it interesting to think that there might be a possibility that one of their ancestors was a Muslim connected to the Tatar Muslims whose supplication (du’a) for divine guidance of his descendants was accepted by God many generations later? These kinds of thoughts emerge while looking at Krausen’s photographs. Although some information about the different mosques is given in the book, I would have liked to read and know more about the history of these buildings.
The book is further completed with two very interesting essays by two well-known and renowned Muslim intellectuals. Halima Krausen, who is currently teaching at the Academy of World Religions of Hamburg University, Germany, wrote on Islam and Europe and its complex relationship. Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad, Dean of Cambridge Muslim College, contributed a beautiful essay with the title The Mosque Paradigm of Inclusion and Diversity where he describes the function of a mosque. And one of its most important functions is to be a jewel-case to the gem of the Islamic prayer, the shalat. An additional bonus to the book is a CD with nasheed by Abdel Salam Al-Hassani.
In conclusion, Mosques: Islamic Architecture in Europe is a welcome and beautiful addition to the study of Islam in Europe. In its special edition it can be bought for 25 Euros. This book is an amazing example of a cooperation between Muslims from different countries and backgrounds. They all contribute to the preserving and making of European culture. It can be ordered directly with Ahmed Krause: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Claudia Azizah Seise isPostDoc fellow at the Berlin Institute of Islamic Theology, Germany.
Instagram/ Twitter: @clazahsei