Shopping is the new religion and malls are its cathedrals

13/1/2006

Ibn Battuta Persia Dome

When you hear about a mall that it probably 1.5 kilometers in length, that’s divided into zones that are themed as China, Egypt, India, Persia and so on, you might smile, cringe or do both. But after visiting the Ibn Battuta mall today convinced me I was doing neither. When one enters the Persia hall, one cannot but stand in awe, dwarfed by the magnificence of its ornate, tiled dome. And that’s just the beginning of the (religious?) experience.

Ibn Battuta Mall Persia Hall

Yes it is crazy, and yes it drives me mad when I see the best of ancient traditional architecture just copied and pasted for the glorification of shopping. And days it completely destroys a sever year old kid’s sense of history, place and architecture. But it WORKS. The craftsmanship and effort put into this mall is just amazing. People love it. Everyone is just standing there taking pictures of the dome.

Who of us can visit the four corners of the earth to see the architectural treasures of the East and West. just come to Dubai and you can enveloped by the wonders of world architecture, while drinking a latte. For heaven’s sake this mall even has a guided tour!

If shopping is really the NEW religion, is that we still lack a NEW architectural language to glorify its places of worship? Are we like the designers of the first cars, which looked more or less like ‘horseless carriages’. What are the implications of such extreme examples of copying and eclecticism. Lots of questions, that quickly dissipate at the sight of the next special offer!

16 Comments

  1. Batir Wardam says:

    I read a scientific report last years which states taht if all the inhabitants of this planet have the same consumption patterns witnessed in the UAE we will need 6 more Earth’s to satisfy their need. I really admire the dynamism of the UAE but there should be limits to glory and luxury. This is destroying the culture and sense of appreciation for the old and classic. The sad thing is that no one seems to care, the religion of shopping is a very creative expression, and I think you should register this as your property right. This religion is being practiced in the UEA as the most extreme case but it is also in other areas especially in the Gulf. Do you know that the total purchase of women perfumes in the Gulf in 2004 can wipe out hunger and povety in Yemen, Sudan and Muaritania combined?

  2. jameed says:

    Those who don’t have, copycat. Hence Dubai and Las Vegas. You live in a beautiful, but artificial, environment. It is like bragging that I met and took pictures with Pamela Anderson at Madame Tussaud’s.

  3. Roba says:

    Great post Ahmad.

  4. Hasan says:

    If the goal was to attract more tourists, then they have succeeded, temporarily. Since the majority of tourists who come to our lands are interested in the historical aspect, it is usually buildings and structures that they 1st visit. From Mosques/Churches to Crusade Castles, this is what is unique about our part of the world.ei

    On thing unique about the Islamic world is that its architecture was under a direct influence of religion, in addition to some traces in Hellenic and Roman influences to name a few. It is the necessity to glorify gods beauty in a way without associating his beauty by anything he has created i.e. animals/plants ect. That’s why Muslims reverted to geometrical designs and the heavy use of Calligraphy (beautifully,) into a more abstract beauty.

    If malls like these are built to resemble, or worse copy the great heritage we have, then it is only making it cheaper. Unfortunately, the Islamic world today having such a bad rep. is very reliant on its glorious history to prove the major stereotypes wrong. And we Arabs today have reverted to use buildings to attract attention by building the tallest ones and now copying and undervaluing our rare masterpieces. I think money is cheap. If only buildings will grant us respect, then this respect is (and will be) as cheap as an empty oil well.

  5. queenie says:

    It’s a shame to see such beautiful architecture and art wasted on something such as malls. I love malls (and shopping!) but I go there to shop and placing such historical designs there is not going to get the attention (or audience) it deserves. It should be placed in places such as museums or historical sites, where they can be appreciated more for its history and significance!

  6. Jordan: Shopping cathedrals

    When you hear about a mall that it probably 1.5 kilometers in length, that’s divided into zones that are themed as China, Egypt, India, Persia and so on, you might smile, cringe or do both. But after visiting the Ibn Battuta mall today convinced…

  7. Well… using the Islamic ornaments and arts or through my point of view [abusing] them in such a way is another typical commercialized act… yeah right if u think of shopping as a new worshipping act… then these walls will serve well… since people like to be surrounded by these old Islamic designs… to only look at them… and this is a great fault of that architecture of this mall… where the mall is turning into an exhibition… spaces are only seen not lived… that is why some architects and I agree call it [pseudo Islamic architecture]… cuz… it is deprived from all of its concepts and metaphors… it ceased to be a stage for events… events that are not produced but stimulated by the space surrounding them…
    It is a great fault indeed to impose fragmented designs to a place full of events without allowing any kind of deep spontaneous interactions other than the typical [[Everyone is just standing there taking pictures of the dome.]]
    We all know… architecture is much deeper than that… and in this new commercial worship… the challenge is much greater…

  8. moryarti says:

    It’s a shame to see such beautiful architecture and art wasted on something such as malls…….placing such historical designs there is not going to get the attention (or audience) it deserves.

    I disagree .. one of the reasons I dislike this mall is the constant bumps I receive from the hoards of tourists staring and taking pictures of the roof!

    Mall developers here aren’t out there to undermine any culture or civilization. Its all about attracting tourist dollars.

    When visiting a new destination, tourists like to head to places where they can take photos and see new things – no matter how silly they seem to be.

    They like go back home with stories to tell or, like here .. blog about it … Places like Ibn Battuta mall is one of those places..

    Welcome to Dubai Ahmad ..

  9. [...] appointment with the recent embassy closures in the Jordanian capital Amman. Ahmad Humeid reflects while in Dubai, “Is shopping the new religion?”  Wael Attili takes us on a picturesq [...]

  10. Aladdin says:

    This link between religion and Big Business was brilliantly expressed in Nasr Abu Hamed’s latest book “Hakaza Takallama Ibn ‘Arabi” (“Thus Spoke Ibn Arabi”) published by the General Egyptian Book Organisation, Cairo, Egypt, 2002. I guess professor Nasr’s preface to the book is a wonderful piece in the area of anti-globalisation, picturing ‘globalisation’ as the ‘new faith’ in the 3rd millenium…

  11. Haitham Ibrahim says:

    Provocatively interesting comment, Ahmad…felt I should contribute with my thoughts.

    I don’t know if shopping is the new religion. i think it rather lies at the intersection of religion and capitalist-driven consumption, and so not itself a form of worship, but a pragmatic tendency to stabilize social heirarchy while maintaining cultural identity. .

    There seems to be a focal point that crystallizes two opposing tendencies in this phenomenon of malls and consumption: one is Islamic identity, which emphasizes social solidarity, cautions against unbridled indulgence in material gain, etc. The other is, pragmatic social demands, for instance, maintenance of social status and heirarchy through spending power objectified in material goods.

    It seems to me that the mall you describe precisely brings into view, crystallizes, this conjunction of elements, this contradiction in social practices. It exemplifies in architecturual representation what is already occuring in reality: this mix of consumption for maintenance of social status as against the demands of Islamic identity which drive in the other direction (feeling compassion for the poor, social solidarity, even anti-nationalism, etc).

    The architect who designed the mall probably registered something like the above, even if at an unconscious level. So before we condemn the mall, let us understand what it stands for. As I suggested, it stands for our social reality. So it doesn’t pay to say that it is outrageous. It is outrageous in so far as our societies are so. It is merely a mirror held up to our social reality. From this point of view, I don’t see how it could be condemned, since it speaks the truth in some sense of our condition. Perhaps this is why it provokes such strong reactions!

    Perhpas what we ought to worry about is not the mall per se, but the lack of cultural alternatives in the Arab world against such too-easy pastiche of Islamic identity and consumerism. In my view, one should neither celebrate the past (as some comments suggest) nor the present (consumerist capitalism).
    In the former case, the present shrivels at the expense of the past, in the latter, the future suffers at the hands of a present that is uncritically affirmed.
    Neither option seems necessary or desirable. Nietzsche long ago understood this. We have to incorporate elements of the past for the sake of the future. Nostalgia is for the museum. And we have to transform the present for the sake of a better future. Otherwise we become mummies!

  12. sonia says:

    very nice send me more photos

  13. AMANI says:

    AS SALAAMU ALAIKUM,
    I AM ATTEMPTING TO LOCATE A STORE IN A MALL IN DUBAI THAT SPECIALIZES IN NOTHINGS BUT ABAYAS. INSHA ALLAH IF SOMEONE FROM THIS SITE CAN POINT ME INTHE RIGHT DIRECTION I WOULD BE MOST APPRECIATIVE. BARAKALAH FEEKUM.

  14. Nishanth Vinay says:

    Mall Hopping is a new trend that has recently come up in the marketing dictionerority of Experts. This is a phenomenon seen largly in the UAE.

    Is it because the majority of the population does not have the time patience nor the venue toc enjoy quality time with other humans.

    Well today malls is an ideal solution. Consumers are exposed to ever exciting bursts of innovation and excitement in Malls. If its Moulinex running a consumer survey or Tefal having a cooking competition in the malls; the consumer has some means to get stimulated and pass the time.

    Speak to the average comsumer in a mall, with the amount of marketing gibrish being shoved into the typical mall family, you will see that they no longer care. If your marketing gimmick is strong you will get a response immediately. If not then thats money down the drain.

    Malls today are designed to accomodate the maximum number of people. If I had a cent for every person that just stopped in the mall, woohooo I’d be rich.

    But thats just it. More people does not neccessarily mean the equivalent in terms of sales.

    Interactive means are now being taken to make use of the footfall in malls into actual turnover.

  15. Marcio Fernandes says:

    I’m a handsome brazilian pilot working currently for Emirates Arlines and looking for men and women to new adventures together. My life here is so boring, please , help me. Yours, Marcio

  16. Leena says:

    Shopping is NOT a new religion and malls are not cathedrals!!!

    Alhamdulillah I am muslim and I am proud that Ibn Battuta mall teaches different people about our religion and history in a very beautiful welcoming way!

    I am happy the mall is not just a place for shopping but for passing the time! People of all nations and colors come there to meet, relax, drink coffee or have diner and it happens in a wonderful surroundings. Simultaneously they can learn about history, traditions and achievements of moslems of those times!

    It’s a great idea to create a mall like that! It’s rather a most interesting museum with a wonderful exhibition than a shopping mall :)

    When being there people are constantly reminded by the design that they are in a hospitable Islamic country with warm and kind, civilized, tolerant moslem people.

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