Kuwait's new mosque is more than a nod to the Taj Mahal
KUWAIT CITY // India has always been an important source of the foreign labour that has built Kuwait's skyscrapers, taught in its schools and run its businesses.
With the opening of a mosque this year, the subcontinent has become a source of architectural inspiration, too. The As-Sadeeqa Fatimatul Zahra Mosque, built in the style of the Taj Mahal, is already gaining a reputation as one of Kuwait's most distinctive buildings.
"It's giving a sight for the [passengers of] planes when they come in," said Eisa Mohammed, the supervisor of the Shiite mosque in the Abdullah al Mubarak residential area, a suburb on the approach to Kuwait International Airport.
"Inside, it's totally different. It's not the same as the Taj Mahal for sure," Mr Mohammed said. "It's not a mausoleum; it's not a visiting place; it's a place for praying."
The original Taj Mahal was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in about 1632. The mausoleum in Agra, India, was finished in about 1653 and is revered as one of the world's architectural wonders. In 1983 the building became a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Jumaa Hussain, one of the engineers in charge of the construction, said the building's internal design differs from the original by including features such as carvings of verses from the Quran. Outside, the four minarets and central dome are adorned with brass crescents.
Mr Hussain said the mosque has been built on an area of 3,136 square metres and estimated that the Taj Mahal "is three or four times bigger". The mosque was squeezed into a plot of government-allocated land and its design had to forgo the Indian tomb's famous reflecting pool for more practical considerations such as a car park.
The mosque was the idea of a member of parliament, Hassan Johar, Mr Mohammed said. The Shiite parliamentarian raised about 1.2 million Kuwaiti dinars (Dh16m) to pay for its construction, which included a 35,000-dinar carpet from Egypt and stone pillars from Iran.
Copying the Taj Mahal is not a new idea. In fact, it is a practice that dates back to the Mughals themselves. The Bibi Ka Maqbara in Aurangabad was built by Mughal rulers in the late 17th century in the image of the Taj Mahal at a fraction of its cost. Las Vegas, Dubai and Shenzhen, China, have also copied the tomb's white design in theme parks.
A wealthy Bangladeshi recently built a copy of the Taj Mahal near Dhaka, causing Indian diplomats to question if the building breached copyright laws.
The proprietors of the new Kuwait mosque have avoided that concern. Mr Johar received the blessing of the Indian embassy before building the mosque, Mr Mohammed said.