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Tehran s Grand Mosque a symbol of prayer, pride -- and waste
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posted April 26, 2001 11:32
by Matthew McAllester (Middle East Correspondent)
April 25, 2001
TEHRAN - For the capital of the world's only Muslim theocracy, Tehran does not have a particularly Islamic skyline. To gaze across the rooftops of Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur or Cairo is to behold the silhouettes of dozens of domes and minarets. But in Tehran, home to a government run by Muslim clerics, it's hard to see a single mosque breaking the horizon.
Apart from the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque, that is. Planned to be the biggest in the world, its two unfinished minarets stand more than 450 feet high, soaring into the beige smog that so often blankets the monotonous skyline of Tehran.
In a bid to refashion Tehran as as an Islamic-looking city, the clerics who control Iran are building the enormous mosque in central Tehran in compliance with an injunction by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, revolutionary founder of the Islamic republic, who died in 1989. In a country with a tradition of grand architectural gestures spanning more than 2,500 years, the construction of the mosque is a typically flamboyant Iranian way of reminding future generations and the rest of the world of the existence of the Islamic regime that has ruled since the revolution of 1979.
But to many Iranians, particularly the young, the revolution belonged to their parents, Islam belongs to the mullahs, and the $100-million mosque project belongs on the shelf.
"We would have preferred to have had the biggest library in the world or the biggest computer center in the world, said Yadi Ebrahimi, 30, a software engineer who was walking home just a few blocks from the site of the mosque on a recent evening. "There is no honor in having a mosque 400 years from now. We would have preferred having a company like Microsoft here.
For many of the young people of Iran -- and this is a country where 60 percent of the population of 70 million are under age 25 -- religion and its symbols are losing their attraction. As they prepare to vote for president in the June elections, most appear to hope for a president who will loosen the Islamic regime's firm grip on the country.
For now, however, mullahs, not computer moguls, run Iran and so the construction of the gargantuan place of prayer continues.
Already six years under way, with five more to go, the mosque compound, when completed, will be considerably bigger than the holy sites at Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam.
Before laying a brick, the builders removed 1 million tons of soil from the 650,000-square-meter site. Each of the two main minarets comprises 5,000 cubic meters of concrete and 2,000 tons of reinforced steel. Two hundred engineers work on the project, and at any given time there are 500 to 600 laborers on the site. The central mosque in the compound will have a diameter of 330 feet, slightly longer than a football field. There will be 6,000 toilets for the more than 1 million worshipers that the mosque complex will be able to accommodate at a time.
The sound system alone will cost $1.6 million, to give sufficient amplification to the muezzin's call to prayer.
The entire edifice is about 30 percent completed so far.
"It is an ambitious project indeed, Vahid Shariatmadari, the executive deputy engineer on the project, said with such nonchalance that one might imagine he is in charge of refitting someone's kitchen. "There are even some people who say that we are hungry, the economy is bad, why build such a big and prestigious mosque. On the other hand, it will be great glory. And this will be a multi-purpose building, not just a mosque. There will be a museum, films, exhibitions, book fairs.
Most of all, there will be prayer and pride.
"If you go to America, you have the Statue of Liberty, Shariatmadari said. "In France there's the Eiffel Tower. Egypt has the Pyramids and China has the Great Wall of China... Everyone who passes by here will realize this is the center of Islam in the city, and it will be a good reminder of the Islamic Revolution. And it will stand in history for at least 400 years, so that people of that time will know about the struggle of this time.
For the young people of Tehran, the struggles of the present are more about finding jobs than building mosques.
"I won't go to it when it's finished, not at all, said Davood Mir, 25, who is unemployed. "Religion has a part to play in my life, but anyone who wants to pray can do it at home. I think they're being extremist. It's a waste of money.
To Mir, the mosque is a symbol of a revolution that so far has not catered to the economic needs of his generation.
"If the youth here had a comfortable life, if people had that, then maybe this would be a symbol of success, he said. "But I think it's a political gesture. They want to say to the world that we are all really religious and I don't think we are.
To another young Iranian, the project has very little to do with religion and everything to do with Iran trying to project itself to the world as a powerful country, capable of building something breathtaking.
"Iranians are proud people, said Afshin, 30, who works at his family's clothing store. "They like everything big. They feel they haven't found their place in the world. People know about ancient Egypt, China and Greece but not Iran, even though in history Iran was grander than any of these countries. I won't feel proud because it's a mosque but because it's the biggest in the world, like a stadium.
"Ultimately they'll write in the Guinness Book of Records that the biggest mosque in the world is in Iran, said Afshin, who would give only his first name. "It's like the biggest sandwich that was made in France. Why did they make that sandwich? No one was going to eat it. This is all just to register a record
posted May 16, 2001 10:14
Iran pays tribute to the revolution
The Toronto Star
Grandiose mosque project touted as world's largest
May 15, 2001
For the Islamic Republic of Iran, spawned by ``the last great revolution'' of the 20th century, what better symbol for posterity than a gargantuan mosque complex.
``It's going to be the biggest mosque in the world,'' boasts Vahie Shariatmadari, an engineer and deputy director of the massive, unfinished project.
Two minarets already stand 136 metres high, dwarfing the mainly low-rise buildings of the city like a stunning premonition of things to come.
``The United States has the Statue of Liberty, France has the Eiffel Tower, China has the Great Wall and Egypt has the pyramids,'' Shariatmadari says. And Iran will soon have the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosala mosque, named after the late cleric who led the 1979 Shiite revolt that overthrew the shah of Iran.
``We want to show the oneness and glory of God, and the glory of the Islamic Revolution,'' he says. ``We've designed the mosque to last at least 400 years.''
But much has changed in Iran since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the construction of the $150 million Grand Mosala after the 1979 revolution. The Shiite Islamic fervour that reigned at the time has waned, particularly among Iran's youth, for whom the revolution is barely a memory.
``There are so many poor people in Iran. They should spend all this money on them, not on a mosque,'' says Shivat Abedini, 21, her long hair flowing out of her headscarf in what the clerics who run the country would see as a provocative gesture.
According to some estimates, up to 75 per cent of Iran's population is less than 35 years old. This demographic group propels a social and political movement trying to instill the country's hardline Islamic rule with democratic and economic reforms.
The next big showdown in this power struggle will be in June's presidential elections. But almost all aspects of Iranian life seem infused with the tension between reformers and hardline conservatives, including the building of the Grand Mosala.
``I would have preferred the biggest high-tech site in the world instead of the biggest mosque,'' says Yadi Ebrahimi, a 30-year-old computer engineer who proclaimed himself ``officially secular.''
``Give me Microsoft instead of the mosque,'' says Ebrahimi, who is trying to immigrate to Canada.
Adds Afshin, a 30-year-old clothing merchant: ``Iranians are a proud people. They like big things, be it a mosque or an airport. Ultimately, the mosque will go down in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest in the world, like the biggest sandwich in the world that was made in France. Why did they make such a big sandwich? It's not as if you can eat it. It's just to have the record.''
Claims of the biggest in the world are always difficult to verify, but Shariatmadari offers some comparisons. Tehran's Grand Mosala sits on a 650,000 square-metre site, 450,000 of which will be a covered area when completed. Neither of the famous Saudi Arabian mosques in Medina and Mecca, the holiest sites in Islam, are more than 400,000 square metres. Medina's covered space is only 100,000 square metres.
``Building mosques has become a fashion'' in the Muslim world, Shariatmadari says, pointing to newly built mosques in Oman and Morocco, whose grand mosque reportedly cost more than $1 billion. And none of those come close to the Grand Mosala's size, either, he adds.
The Grand Mosala is the creation of architect Parvis Mo-ayed Ahd, 80, who divides his time between Paris and Tehran.
Construction began six years ago. Only 25 per cent of the complex is completed, but 80,000 cubic metres of concrete have been poured, and 30,000 tonnes of steel used so far.
One of its prayer halls spans 50,000 square metres, with ceilings 14 metres high. The mosque's dome will be 57 metres in diameter and will be crowned by a stylized arch spanning 130 metres.
``The arch is a big headache for us. We are on an earthquake zone . . . so it needs a very special design to make sure it will not collapse for 400 years,'' Shariatmadari says.
``It is an ambitious project and some ordinary people may say: `We are hungry, and in a bad economic situation, so why should we build such a huge mosque?' But it will be to the glory of the Iranian people.''
All times are PT (US)
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