Sacred vernacular, a look into the storefront mosques of Seattle
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Storefront mosques are a unique, emerging type of vernacular architecture that has been adapted into sacred space. A typical commercial storefront is a first-floor space facing on the street, its entrance typically flanked by glass windows for merchandise display. Muslim immigrants, however, are transforming many old commercial buildings into storefront mosques across the city and planners and scholars know almost nothing about them. Buildings such as warehouses, pool halls, defunct industrial structures, and former churches are adapted and staged into storefront mosques. Tucked into commercial corridors, storefront mosques are places of real meaning, mundane spaces transformed into places of peace, refuge and prayer. This study identifies the types of commercial structures that are being transformed into storefront mosques. Multiple methods are used to describe these Muslim spaces: field observation, a photo essay, annotated diagrams and archival data. These descriptions illustrate how these structures are being adapted. More generally, through interviews and story telling, the societal tensions that Muslim immigrants and refugees experience living in diaspora are revealed. These tensions are reflected and negotiated through the process of storefront mosque building. Three themes arise that exhibit dual tensions. These themes are: sacred vs. profane, temporary vs. permanent and insider vs. outsider. The storefront mosque becomes a place where larger social issues are revealed and worked through. Three case studies in Seattle are presented: the Oromo Cultural Center, the Al-Noor Islamic Center and the Mahmood mosque. By looking at the particular, this study reveals observations that are generally applicable to the phenomenon of storefront mosques. The case study approach provides an opportunity for a deep investigation and development of an explanation for dynamic interaction. It also allows us to understand a particular phenomenon in relation to its context. This dynamic interaction is the process of immigrants and refugees combining secular and sacred uses to create enclaves in the neighborhoods that they reside in to help ease and mitigate the experience of learning to become Americans. The study concludes with recommendations for urban planners that can help better facilitate the incorporation of storefront mosques into the fabric of the city. Recommendations include combining secular and sacred uses by understanding lived religion, re-framing ideas of highest and best use, and the role of improvisation in the planning process.
- Urban planning