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Sydney’s 99-Domed Mosque to Open in Ramadan

An inside view of the mosque in PunchbowlAn inside view of the mosque in Punchbowl

A new 99-domed mosque in Australia is attracting attention for its special design. But the architect behind the project, renowned Australian Angelo Candalepas, is hoping that his creation can do more than win plaudits -- he wants it to help improve interfaith relations in the Sydney suburb of Punchbowl.

Scheduled to open in time for the holy month of Ramadan (ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting) this May, the mosque has been designed to welcome the whole community, regardless of religion, CNN reported.

“The courtyard enables all people to embrace the use of the building,” Candalepas said. “The doors are absolutely directed to the street front, such that it will always have its doors open to the people.”

At a September event called “Meet the Aussie Mosque,” the unfinished building was opened to the public as part of the Sydney Architecture Festival. Architects led tours of the mosque, while members of Punchbowl’s Muslim community spoke to visitors about their faith and the fundraising drive behind the $9million project.

Candalepas’ eye-catching concrete design also challenges preconceptions about how a mosque should look.

“The outside has been totally reimagined,” he said. “Gone is the central dome with four minarets planted like garden stakes at the corners. Candalepas’ mosque strings (together) smaller spaces, like washrooms, along the boundary while scooping light in as you would see in a high-end art gallery.”

Commissioning a contemporary design (and a high-profile architect) was a response to the reported difficulty of obtaining planning permission for new mosques, according to the vice president of Punchbowl’s Australian Islamic Mission, Zachariah Matthews.

Yet, Matthews said that plans for his mosque were unanimously approved by the local council. Of Australia’s more than 340 mosques, almost half are in Punchbowl’s state of New South Wales.

  Act of Faith

Finding a religious architect was another key priority for Punchbowl’s Muslim community. “It gave them confidence that the foundations of their faith would be incorporated into a building that may not appear ... to be a traditional mosque, but would retain all of the meaning that is so much a part of sacred spaces,” Candalepas, a Christian, said.

To find inspiration, Candalepas traveled to Ahmedabad and Agra in India while forming his vision of a mosque that could represent Australia’s Muslim community. The traditional dome is still present in his design, but it has been reimagined as 99 half-domes cascading down from a larger, central one. Later this month, calligraphers will arrive from Turkey to spend a month inscribing the domes with Allah’s 99 names in Arabic.

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