Gothic mystery: How many of Europe’s favorite buildings came from the East

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A view of Westminster Abbey. (Shutterstock)
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London’s Big Ben/ The Elizabeth Tower. (Flickr: ChrisA1995)
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The central lobby of the Houses of Parliament. (Wikimedia Commons: Jorge Royan)
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Houses of Parliament, north front. (Wikimedia Commons: HeyRocker)
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An aerial view of St Paul’s Cathedral. (Wikimedia Commons: Mark Fosh)
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Westminster Abbey cloister. (Wikimedia Commons: Bernard Gagnon)
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Westminster Abbey medallion. (Wikimedia Commons: Fczarnowski)
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Westminister Abbey. (Wikimedia Commons: Σπάρτακος)
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Updated 22 August 2020

Gothic mystery: How many of Europe’s favorite buildings came from the East

Gothic mystery: How many of Europe’s favorite buildings came from the East
  • New book opens door into lost history of Arab and Islamic design
  • Darke offers insights into the scale of culture that was imported from East to West

LONDON: It is the architectural style that gave Europe some of its best-loved and most beautiful buildings, including the Duomo in Milan and Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

But a new book reveals how Gothic architecture — and many of the dramatic landmarks it inspired — were heavily influenced by Arab and Islamic cultures.

“Stealing from the Saracens,” launched in London on Thursday, details the debt that many iconic European buildings owe to Islamic and Arab design.   

Diana Darke, an author and Middle East cultural expert, said the reaction to the fire at Notre-Dame cathedral in April 2019 inspired her to write about the topic.

People were saying that the cathedral was “a great symbol of French identity,” Darke said. “But this building is not nearly as European as they think.”

Darke told Arab News: “The reaction to the fire made me angry. It prompted me to put out a tweet the morning after saying Notre-Dame’s ancestor was standing on a hilltop in Idlib province, and I attached a photo of Syria’s Qalb Lozeh, a fifth-century church.”

She then wrote a blog about the subject that went viral. It featured in the Shanghai Times, newspapers in India and across the world.

Darke said she still had no plan to write a book on Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages borrowing heavily from Islamic and Arab heritage.

However, on a visit to Cordoba in 2019, she was shocked to see the level of cultural appropriation at the Mezquita and the Syrian origins of the World Heritage Site ignored.

“If you didn’t know, you could honestly be unaware that it had originally been a mosque,” Darke said.

The trip was a turning point and the author began writing “Stealing from the Saracens” to put the record straight.

A derogatory term used by Christian writers in Europe during the Middle Ages to refer to Arab Muslims, the noun “saracens” comes from the Arabic verb “saraqa,” meaning to steal.

Saracens were seen as looters and thieves, leading to a double irony in the book’s title: Gothic cathedrals and churches actually adopted features influenced by the architecture of Arab Muslims, not the other way round.

Gothic architecture’s main characteristics are pointed arches and ribbed vaulting, Darke said. Both features, along with trefoil arches, are inspired by Islamic and Arab design.

Pointed and trefoil arches came to Europe from the Levant where Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock is situated.

The trefoil arch, with its three rounded lobes, “feeds perfectly into the Christian trinity and that’s why the Christians adopted that so readily,” Drake explained. 

“It fitted their symbolism perfectly. But it did not exist on any Christian building in Syria before the Umayyad dynasty — they definitely introduced that as an architectural form in their desert palaces scattered across Syria and Jordan.”

Pointed, trefoil and ogee arches, along with ribbed vaulting, can be seen in iconic London buildings such as the tower of Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

The trefoil, ogee and pointed arches of Westminster Abbey, as well as the twin tower flanking its monumental entrance, can be traced back to Islamic and Arab architecture, as the book illustrates using beautiful labelled pictures.

The Big Ben clock tower’s delicate finials and arcades of ogee arches can also be traced back to the Middle East, while St. Paul’s Cathedral’s double dome, clerestory windows and domed ceiling are also inspired by Arab and Islamic styles.

Darke offers insights into the scale of culture that was imported from East to West and how heavily Gothic architecture relied on buildings in the Middle East.

“Everything, except the flying buttresses that became necessary as bishops went into rivalry with each other, trying to build higher and higher cathedrals” was inspired by Middle Eastern architecture, she said.

Another key feature of Gothic architecture was the extensive use of stained glass.

“The glass in many early cathedrals came from Syria, and studies have been done in several key locations to trace its origins,” Darke said. 

Stained glass in Canterbury Cathedral and York Minister in England, and in Rouen Cathedral in France were found to have Islamic composition.

“They can tell because of the plant ash that was used,” Darke explained.

Readers of Darke’s book should not be surprised by Gothic architecture’s debt to Arab and Islamic culture — this was acknowledged by the man who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral.

“Modern Gothic, as it is called, is deduced from a different quarter; it is distinguished by the lightness of its work, by the excessive boldness of its elevations … such productions, so airy, cannot admit the heavy Goths for their author; how can be attributed to them a style of architecture, which was only introduced in the 10th century of our era?” wrote Sir Christopher Wren in the early 1700s. 

“From all the marks of the new architecture it can only be attributed to the Moors; or what is the same thing, to the Arabian or Saracens.”


Maamoul: A major sweet item for Eid in Palestine

Maamoul: A major sweet item for Eid in Palestine
Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians. (Shutterstock)
Updated 10 May 2021

Maamoul: A major sweet item for Eid in Palestine

Maamoul: A major sweet item for Eid in Palestine
  • Prepared in circles, the Eid cakes are stuffed with dates, while maamoul are stuffed with dates or walnuts, pistachios and nuts, and the outer layer is sprinkled with crushed white sugar

GAZA CITY: In the last week of Ramadan, the smell of maamoul and cakes wafts from Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Maamoul, also popular in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, is a traditional shortbread cookie popular in the region, and one of the main sweet items prepared for Eid Al-Fitr celebrations.
Samira Al-Burai, 54, is enjoys preparing maamoul with her sons and daughters.
“We bring basic ingredients a few days before making maamoul. All the family members, including my sons, will participate in making it.
“I learned (how to) make cakes and maamoul from my mother, then I taught it to my daughters so that this tradition may continue during the last days of Ramadan. My children are accustomed to the smell of cakes at this time of every year.”
Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians.
Prepared in circles, the Eid cakes are stuffed with dates, while maamoul are stuffed with dates or walnuts, pistachios and nuts, and the outer layer is sprinkled with crushed white sugar.
Some women earn money during Ramadan by making and selling maamoul to others.
Salwa Kabariti, 57, used to make them for her family. With the passage of time and after they fell on hard times, she began to produce larger quantities and started selling to neighbors, friends and even to some shops.

SPEEDREAD

Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians. Some women earn money during Ramadan by making and selling maamoul to others.

“Due to our poor economic condition, I began searching for a source of income. This work offered a good source. It helped me and my family to overcome our economic crises,” Kabariti said.
“There is no Eid without maamoul. I love (it) and will continue making it every Ramadan as long as I have the ability to do so,” she added.
Despite the large number of bakeries that sell maamoul in the Gaza Strip, many women prefer making theirs at home to preserve the festive atmosphere in their households.
Lubna Al-Sumairi, 40, said: “I like preparing it in my house with my husband and other family members. Making maamoul is one of the most important customs that we enjoy during the
last days of Ramadan; its preparation, delicious taste, and the pleasant atmosphere gives us a happy feeling.”


‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas

‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas
The US-Iranian actress is set to make her design debut with sportswear giant Adidas. File/AFP
Updated 09 May 2021

‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas

‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas

DUBAI: Part-Middle Eastern star Yara Shahidi is set to drop a new global collection created in collaboration with sportswear giant Adidas. The “Grown-ish” actress this week posted a teaser of her collaboration on Instagram, and the response to her designer debut is overwhelmingly positive.

 “Y’all knew this was coming #collab (sic),” she captioned a video of herself wearing a mustard yellow track jacket with a teal collar worn over a white shirt. “Yessss,” wrote US singer Justine Skye in the comments section, applauding her friend over her latest venture.

According to Shahidi’s Instagram post, the new line will be titled Recreate x Yara.

While Adidas hasn’t officially confirmed the news yet, it seems that Shahidi has been dropping hints about a collaboration with the sportswear giant for quite some time now — either that, or she’s just a dedicated Adidas fan. The 21-year-old has been championing the brand for months and has been seen multiple times wearing collaborations from the brand’s other partnerships, including lines with Pharell Williams and Beyonce.

In an IGTV video, the actress revealed that Beyonce sent her an entire clothing rack filled with Ivy Park x Adidas swag before the pieces even hit the shelves.

She also starred in a campaign for the brand’s signature Superstar sneakers in 2020.

The US-Iranian star appeared in the “Change is a Team Sport” advert alongside K-Pop girl group Black Pink, as well as Jonah Hill, Pharrell Williams and Anitta, among many others.

More recently, the Minneapolis-born actress starred in the latest Adidas Originals x Disney Stan Smith campaign.

Shahidi has been quite busy lately.

In addition to her forthcoming clothing line with Adidas, the multi-hyphenate is also developing two new television series via her production company, 7th Sun Productions.

The 21-year-old star is set to executive produce and develop an on-screen adaptation of Cole Brown’s critically-acclaimed debut book “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” and single-camera comedy series “Smoakland” alongside her mother, and business partner, Keri Shahidi.

Additionally, the actress, who is the youngest network producer ever, is set to star as Tinkerbell in Disney’s “Peter Pan and Wendy.”

Production on the new film, which is expected to arrive sometime in 2022, is currently underway in Vancouver, Canada.


Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul
(Supplied)
Updated 09 May 2021

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul

DUBAI: Jordanian Chef Hassan Al-Naami shares his delectable recipe for fragrant freekeh-stuffed chicken, a dish that is wildly popular at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, where he brings his culinary vision to life at the hotel’s Middle Eastern restaurant, Amaseena.

As Ramadan draws to a close, give this dish a go for a special iftar this week.

Chicken ingredients:  

Whole baby chicken

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp paprika

1/3 tbsp 7 spice

½ tbsp coriander powder

2 ½ tbsp lemon juice

1 handful of almonds

1 handful of pine nuts

Freekeh ingredients:

5 cups freekeh 

3 tbsp olive oil

¼ cup onion (chopped)

1 tsp cinnamon powder

½ tsp cardamom powder

1 tbsp 7-spice

1 ½ tbsp cumin powder

6 cups chicken stock

Salt and black pepper to taste

Instructions:

1.       Wash and drain freekeh until clean. In a hot pan combine olive oil and spices, toss for a few minutes till fragrant. Add the freekeh then sauté for another 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes on a low heat. The freekeh should be cooked but still have a chewy texture.

2.       Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a small bowl, mix all the spices and rub chicken with spices all over and inside, including under the skin. Take the cooked freekeh and stuff the chicken with it, cross the legs and tie with twine. Place the chicken in a roasting tray, cover with foil and roast for 60-80 minutes. Allow the chicken rest before serving (keeping it covered).

3.       Serve stuffed chicken on over leftover cooked freekeh. Decorate with roasted nuts and serve with minted yogurt on the side.


Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan

Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan
The model teamed up with a restaurant in Amsterdam to prepare meals for the needy. Instagram
Updated 08 May 2021

Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan

Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan

DUBAI: This week, Moroccan-Egyptian-Dutch model Imaan Hammam teamed up with Amsterdam-based restaurant The Wild Room to give back to those who need it most by helping to prepare meals for the most vulnerable in the community this Ramadan.

“Last 10 days of Ramadan! What a beautiful healing month! So sad it’s coming to an end,” the 24-year-old shared with her one million Instagram followers, alongside a carousel of photos depicting her pouring tomatoes into a pot, surrounded by bags of prepared meals and getting ready to pray.

“Today these women and I worked so hard to prepare meals for those in need. Helping others is not only important but also a GOOD thing to do. It makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also connects us to others, creating stronger communities and helping to build a happier society for everyone. And it's not all about money — we can also give our time, ideas and energy. I want to thank all the strong women today who were involved from the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful to be part of this initiative. May Allah bless you all,” she added.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

“My hope is that we all work to inspire each other to spread love and give support. Help people around you, because you can. That’s what this is all about.”

Since the Holy Month is a time for kindness and charity, Hammam makes sure to take the opportunity to give back to those in need each year.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

Last Ramadan, the catwalk star, who was born to an Egyptian father and a Moroccan mother, revealed that she donated to two mosques and She’s the First, a non-profit organization that fights gender inequality through education that Hammam is an ambassador for. 

The model also donated funds to a mosque in Fisher, Indiana, to help them develop a prayer space for women and to the Islamic Cultural Center of New York.


Saudi actress Sumaya Rida personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
Updated 07 May 2021

Saudi actress Sumaya Rida personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em.” (Supplied)
  • Sumaya Rida is a rising star of Saudi Arabia’s fledgling domestic film industry, empowered by the Vision 2030 agenda  
  • Rida wants more investment in Saudi writers, producers and directors who can share the Kingdom’s stories with the world

DUBAI: Cinema returned to Saudi Arabia just three years ago, when a 35-year ban was finally lifted. Since then, movie theaters have been springing up across the Kingdom, invigorating the domestic film industry and inspiring a growing cast of homegrown actors.

One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em” — among the first films to premiere in the Kingdom after legalization.

From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew what was her true calling. “I also used to make short films with my little sisters and brothers using my father’s Sony camera,” the 32-year-old told Arab News.

“I actually acted and directed short films when I was 12 years old. I loved how the whole family would gather to watch what I made, and to me it meant the whole world at that time, and filled me with passion.”

Saudi-born actress Sumaya Rida moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. (Supplied)

The Saudi-born actress moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. Even while completing an MSc in international marketing management at the University of Surrey, Rida kept up acting on the side, appearing in several commercials.

Following her studies, she spent five years in the world of business, but all the while felt a profound longing for the stage and screen. It took a chance encounter to set her on the right track.

“After working so much in the ruthless business world, I stumbled one day on Ali Al-Sumayin, a well-known, award-winning Saudi film and commercial director, who led me to the world of performing again,” Rida said.

While visiting Al-Sumayin at his office in Jeddah in 2017, Rida took part in an acting class. The familiar adrenaline rush of performing before an audience quickly came flooding back.

“I can’t describe the feeling,” she said. “I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach that day and I had this nostalgic feeling, so I told him I wanted a part in a show.”

Soon enough, Rida had recorded an audition and landed her first role. To prepare, she signed up for an intensive four-month acting course and one-to-one coaching with respected Turkish instructors, as advanced acting courses were not yet available in Saudi Arabia.

“In the Kingdom, we didn’t have any institutions for acting or performance training, so I had to do it the fast way,” Rida said.

“Every actor should have mentors, because they always direct you and show you different perspectives.”

From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew that acting was her true calling. (Supplied)

Today, Rida performs in both English and Arabic. For one show she had to master the bedouin accent. “It was a bit challenging in the beginning, but it was fun,” she said.

Her latest project is a movie called “Rupture,” a Saudi-made psychological thriller directed by Hamzah Kamal Jamjoom, produced by Ayman Kamal Khoja and funded by MBC Studios.

Playing the lead, Rida portrays the journey of a Saudi woman struggling to save her marriage, and ultimately her life, from a villain with a twisted mind.

“I played against Billy Zane from ‘Titanic’ who is both a wonderful human being and a tremendously talented actor,” she said.

“The movie intelligently incorporated a few powerful themes in its thrilling narrative. One of these was about standing up for your own cultural values, even when relocating to another country.

“Another was about the importance of privacy and the dangers of oversharing on social media, and the third was about the concept of striking a balance between co-dependency and individual freedom in a marriage.”

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For Rida, the most important part of the project was having the opportunity to play a strong, independent Muslim woman, standing up for herself, her family and her beliefs.

“It is honestly an honor and a rare opportunity to work with such gifted Saudi filmmakers and producers on this project,” she said.

“I’ve enjoyed Hamzah’s direction. His positive energy and passion were infectious. We will hopefully finish filming after Ramadan. I can’t wait to share this film. I’m excited because it’s one of the very few Saudi feature films that recognizes the struggles of Saudi women.”

The strict social codes and gender segregation of a much more conservative era meant that Saudi actresses were rare when Rida was growing up. Support from her family has been crucial, but so has been the opening up of Saudi society.

“The timing was very good because I started when Vision 2030 was taking place and I was going with it,” Rida said.

Under the Vision 2030 plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil, the Kingdom has placed greater emphasis on the arts, opportunities for young people and the social and economic empowerment of women.

Saudi Arabia has placed greater emphasis on the arts and opportunities for young people, and lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas in the Kingom three years ago. (AFP/File Photo)

As a result, Saudi women are finding their voices and discovering their strengths — a journey Rida says she found key to becoming a professional actress.

“This helped me to understand myself. I wanted to tell stories. We have a lot of stories here in Saudi Arabia, and I wanted to feel, to be able to emote, to risk and share, and to be courageous and vulnerable as an artist. This is very fulfilling.

“The real fulfilment also lies in overcoming all the limitations that have been placed on humanity.

“I discovered that performing is a very fun thing. It’s very nurturing, fulfilling and it feeds the soul and your inner self.”

As an artist, Rida is still on a journey of self-discovery and building her confidence on camera. She hopes to try new characters, to help her develop “naturally and sincerely, because acting is a continuous process — we keep learning and evolving constantly.”

As for her country, Rida says she is thrilled to see so many changes taking place and to be part of a new wave of young actors and filmmakers shaking up the Saudi film industry. “This makes me very happy and optimistic,” she said, but acknowledges there is still a long way to go.

As investment into nurturing talent in the Kingdom grows under Vision 2030, Sumaya Rida believes the future of Saudi filmmaking is a bright one. (AFP/File Photo)

“I see very passionate actors every now and then, but I really believe that we need to work on ourselves more than we think. It’s not just getting a degree in performing or acting and that’s it — it’s a continuous process.”

Rida also hopes to see more young Saudis coming forward to share their stories with the world. “We need to not only invest in actors but invest more in writers, producers and directors, because it’s not the job of one person alone,” she said.

“Acting is not only the actor you see on the screen. Behind that there is a huge production.”

Without investment, training and opportunities, this potential cannot be mastered. The raw ingredient, nevertheless, is talent — of which the new Saudi Arabia has in abundance.

“It’s unlimited,” said Rida. “It’s infinite and it keeps evolving.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek