Ummah HQ

Haseeb Ahmed



Collection: Courtesy of the Artist.

Haseeb Ahmed’s work Ummah HQ considers the concept of the Ummah – the global community of Muslims that supposedly once existed and remains present, but never actually has. The Ummah is, in fact, a modern construction, part of the long history of opportunistic invocation by imperialist forces, such as the former Ottoman and British Empires, to create allies, particularly towards states that emerged after colonisation. It projects the existence of a unified Islam and a collective Muslim people going back through history. Many Muslims across the world take solace in the idea of the Ummah when confronted with poverty and war endemic in the Middle East and other Muslim majority regions. Similar to many theocratic states and fascistic ideologies, this fictional origin is an idealised community, which often exists as a call to recover its lost unity, as evidenced in the rhetoric of the Islamic State. Ummah HQ gives place to this imaginary in all its ambivalence.

The dome here, made with modern construction materials like aluminium, foam and 3D prints, is fragmented with blocks missing, providing the sense that it is either under construction or a ruin. This installation is based on the Muqarnas, thought to be one of the most original forms of Islamic Architecture. Also known as Stalactite vaults, Muqarnas are an analogy here, with each block likened to an individual contributing to a community. Muqarnas form an ideal 2D geometric plan when looking from the top, while creating a 3D space to be occupied at the same time. Some speculate that it is the realisation of the influence of the ancient Greek concept of atomism, where every block is a keystone held together with a unifying force. 

The text is of obscure origin, with Arabic inscriptions written in transliterated English or Dutch. They address the actual state of the Ummah. Most, Muslims around the world are taught how to read the Quran but not to understand or speak Arabic. While these Muslims are seen as aberrations they are in fact the majority. The surprise moment for those able to read Arabic phonetically, is of recognition that one belongs to a ‘group’ not normally addressed. This group, reluctant to identify as such, is more like the actual contemporary Ummah than that addressed in political discourse historical and present.

Thanks to Igor Demchenko and Adrien Lucca.

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