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Assyafaah Mosque in Dialogue: Constructing Fetishes in the Post 9/11 Context

Part 2 Dissertation 2006
Lai Chi Kai Matthew
National University of Singapore | Singapore
The dissertation is a study of the Assyafaah Mosque by Forum Architects, which was completed in late 2004. Noteworthy for its transcendental expression and distinct break from tradition, it is celebrated for its sensitive contemporary architecture. Interestingly, it has also received a political endorsement as a relevant expression of the emerging Singapore Muslim Identity. As such, this dissertation wishes to read the building within a system of social production particular to a point in history: the current post 9/11 context.

Furthermore, this dissertation observes that the transcendental expression of the building has been enlisted into a series of hegemonic assertions. On the other hand, there is an observed resistance within the Muslim congregation to the building’s transcendental expression. Inevitably, conflicting modes of ‘loss’ and ‘recovery’ are engaged to fulfill agendas of the various parties invested in this building. Amidst this conflict, the dissertation uncovers the possibility that fetishes are being constructed around the built expression.

The investigation present concerns itself with the surfacing of fetishes (Marxist and Freudian) that exist between the built expression of the Assyafaah Mosque and its located system of social production. Through the course of these investigations, the findings reveal not only the intricacies of these fetish constructs but also serves to question the relevance of a binary between ‘modern’ and ‘tradition’ that has been employed within both the building and the Singapore Muslim Identity project.

Author: Lai Chi Kai Matthew
School: National University of Singapore, Department of Architecture

Dissertation supervisor: Wong Chong Thai Bobby
Title: Associate Professor

Lai Chi Kai Matthew

The dissertation is supported for surfacing issues that are difficult for any inter racial communities to discuss. Architecture and in this case, a “domeless” mosque, act as a 3rd term, much like a cup of coffee that holds a needless meeting together. Here architecture attains significance for various reasons by different communities and agencies. The architect himself explains his scheme as motivated by “transcendental” idioms he claims that will surpass the burden of culture. But is this true? Obviously not, each group including the Government received it differently depending on one’s investment to read the mosque in ways that compensate for their perceived lack or in ways to fit into their imagination. The student used ideas drawn from theories of fetishism, be it Freudian or Marxist, discussed them as he simultaneously unpack this particular mosque in the context of a post 9/11 environment.

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