Catching Up


You may notice on onslaught of posts coming in the next few days.  It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I apparently left all the posts sitting in the draft section.

The good news is that Bright Buffalo Niagara (an entrepreneurial and economic development vehicle that I have worked on) had its forum the second week in June, and it was a success.  Press from around the Great Lakes covered the event, and investors thought that there was new energy in Buffalo.

Additionally, Saving Cities interviewed people in Buffalo about possible ways to redevelop and re energize the Great Lakes region.  Basically, this means I got to sit around with other people who only laughed and didn’t roll their eyes when I said the term “Great Lakes Megalopolis.”  But the interviews are part of their effort – Red, White and Blueprints – to document the various cities in the Rust Belt and how they are redefining themselves within 21st century economic constraints.  Cleveland, Buffalo and Beyond! I’ll post updates here as I have them on the initaitve.



Ibn Tulun Mosque

You’re going to have to use your imagination for this, as I didn’t want to take too many pictures in a sacred place and my hands were too shaky from climbing up to the top of the minaret. But to see pictures of the mosque, check out the Sacred Spaces page.

In the heart of medieval Cairo, there lies a mosque built in 879.  It is the oldest unmodified, constantly used mosque in the city.  The man who commissioned it  – Ibn Tulun – was a son of Mongol slaves who rose to great power, establishing a dynasty in Egypt.  The site of the mosque was originally a Christian/Jewish area, which he cleared to establish his city and mosque for his troops.  The site is believed by some to be where Noah’s ark landed after the flood (Wikipedia) and near the site where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac (

The space is open and, like much of Cairo, beige with dust and age.  It’s like viewing a city through sepia tint glasses – it is a city bordering a desert. While some of the prayer area is covered by a roof, and the minbar, mihrab and qibla are all under it,  the majority of the prayer area is in the open.  The only real walls are the four foundations of the structure, the roof itself is help up by columns.  I was totally enthralled by this, daydreaming about service in the open, which would definitely make me feel something spiritual more–  until I realized that Cairo was much more amenable to this experience than say the Northeast coast of the US in February.  The mosque offers “helical outer staircase similar to that of the famous minaret in Samarra.”(wikipedia)  From here, you can see across Cairo, and realize why the city has the nickname ‘The City of Minarets.’

The mosque is built of mudbrick, and is the third oldest mosque in the world (according to the Tour Egypt site). Because of its openess, the colors and are faded and the importance of the site takes a while to sink in. Luckily, while I was there, a group of either Indian or Pakistani tourists came in.  They were lead on a guided tour around the structure, in their own language.  The men wore traditional white kaftans and pants, and the women dressed in an array of colorful saris with little embellishment.  Watching them tour the site reminded me of just how vast the reach of  Islam is.   The colors of the tourists made the interior of the mosque pop and highlighted how old and important this space was.

Lingua Franca/Lingua Sanctus

Roughly 25 percent of the world’s population is Muslim, spread across the majority of countries. These numbers are concentrated in the Arab world (where demographics show populations average 95 percent Muslim) and Asia, including all of Turkey, where 60 percent of the world’s Muslim population lives. Just over 200 of the 232 countries and territories that comprise the current geopolitical landscape are home to Muslims. [1]

You could circumscribe the globe by connecting all the countries in which a Muslim person resides. Think of an X-Men like cerebrum lighting dots on the globe, with different colors showing how widespread any faith is.  The second most abundant would represent those of the Islamic faith, first being all of the combined Christian faiths.  The sacred text for those of this faith is the Qur’an – the first edition was printed in Arabic during  the 8th century CE and represented through a series of symbols the supposed correct pronunciation and recitation established by the prophet Mohammad.

In Cairo, I visited several of the historical mosques – each reflect the use of Arabic as linqua franca of the faith and the historical language of the country as well as even the history of Egypt in their architecture  According to Wordnet , Lingua Franca is properly defined as “a common language used by speakers of different languages” or an inter-language. The prophet spoke Arabic, not because he foresaw the need to have one text which could span the globe, but because Classical Arabic was the language of record of the political force of the time.

The very first mosque established in Cairo  – the Al Azhar mosque – is mash-up of the forces that controlled Egypt’s destiny, both prior to its being built in 970 CE and afterwards.  The original design reflected classical aspects of earlier Roman and Greek architecture and Coptic Christianity– and additions to the structure came from various sultanates and the Ottoman Empire.  Its minarets come from at least three different sultanates, the last added in the 1500 CE.  The Ottomans doubled the size of the area to pray in and gated the mosque on three sides (it is adjacent to the Khan El Khalili suq).

In many of  Cairo’s mosques, including the Ibn Toulun Mosque (completed just years after the Al Azhar) as well as the Mosque of Sultan al-Muayyad – a monumental mosque built from 1415-1422, Arabic is a design theme.  The Qu’ran’s text is incorporated into elaborate decoration, stone work and especially the mihrab, a semicircular space in the wall of a mosque which indicates Qibla – the direction to face when at prayer.

Seeing the sacred text as part of the design and worship, I begin to understand the allure of bringing back a lingua sanctus by Pope Benedict. Arabic,  as the language of the Qur’an,can unite people from Detroit, Khartoum and Jakarta under one faith umbrella.   Catholicism, though only one of the many Christian denominations, could stand on its own as the third largest religion, after Islam and Hinduism.  And, unlike the other two which continue to grow, neither it nor Christianity as a whole,  has a uniting language.  Vatican II may have brought religion to its people by eliminating an archaic barrier, but it also eliminated the common thread that could connect millions.

[1] Mapping the Global Muslim Population, The Pew Forum on Public and Religious Life