Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Sacred Spaces in Kuwait

As I was on my way home from picking up milk and vegetables, I passed another local mosque undergoing renovation. Or at least, that is my best guess; it has been gutted and partially destroyed. I am guessing it is about to be reconstructed, but I don’t know for sure. I am only guessing because I have seen it happen to other mosques since we arrived.

And it got me thinking, and I am going to ask a question, but I will tell you before I ask it, that if you asked me the same question about Christian spaces, I would have to ask an expert; it is not a question I can answer about my own culture.

Do Moslems have sacred spaces? How are they made sacred? Is there a ceremony? If you are going to destroy parts of a building on a sacred space, does it have to be de-consecrated (made no-longer-sacred) while it is undergoing renovation? If a mosque is destroyed/no longer used is there a ceremony that makes it no longer a holy spot?

I know that in my religion, churches are consecrated, made officially holy, and that there is a ceremony. I know that in some places, churches that are no longer needed are deconsecrated, not made UNholy, but made not a sacred place of worship any more, and they become restaurants, housing, etc.

In my specific branch of Christianity, which is Episcopalian, there is a service for blessing a new house, which I love, and it is called a House Blessing. The priest comes, usually at dusk, you can have friends there, you carry candles and he blesses every room in the house. When we buy and move into a new house, we always have it blessed. The priest tells me that it is really a mis-nomer, it is not the house being blessed, but those who live within in. To me, that is a distinction that hardly matters, all I know is that I feel more secure in a house that has been blessed.

And no, there is no un-blessing ceremony when we leave a house. The blessing does not create a holy space, a place of worship, a sacred place, but only blesses a humble dwelling.

No, I don’t understand exactly how this all works.

I remember travelling in Syria with an archaeology group one time, and we went to see the site of St. Simeon the Stylite. In my cynical heart, I was not wild about the visit – a saint who sat atop a huge rock for several years to show his devotion to God? When I got there, however, my heart changed – it felt like a holy place. It felt like Saint Simeon had done a holy act, demonstrating his faith so . . . faithfully. If you know Syria, you know how bitterly cold it can be in winter, and how bone-breakingly hot it can be in summer. The pure grit and devotion it took to stay atop the pillar of stone was an amazingly faithful act. It felt like a sacred place, a holy place, to me.

So my question is not just for the Moslem readers, but also for Christian readers – what makes a space holy? Does it need a ceremony to be holy? Does it need a ceremony if it will no longer be used for sacred purposes?

July 1, 2008 - Posted by | Building, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Spiritual | ,

12 Comments »

  1. I have experienced that ”This is a holy place”-feeling as well, I think that it has to do with people, I think that if people are truly devout and pure and honest, this will leave a kind of ”imprint” on a place. I think religions have ritualised it, and I think a ritual always helps in concentration and purpose, but it’s not the actual ritual that counts, but the humans who are doing it.
    I therefore never quite understood the need for ”de-sanctifying” a place, because I think that can’t be done anyway. You can destroy it by doing something something really evil.

    Comment by Aafke | July 1, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’m guessing, so don’t take my word for it:
    I would say any place of prayer can be considered sacred, but Mecca is probably *the* sacred place for muslims. What makes a place holy is probably declared by the prophet/messengers or perhaps the location of a very important historic religious event.

    Comment by 3baid | July 1, 2008 | Reply

  3. that sounds lovely 🙂

    Comment by 248amtheother1forum | July 1, 2008 | Reply

  4. The beach at sunset, down near Nuwaiseeb.

    Comment by 248amtheother1forum | July 1, 2008 | Reply

  5. Hi :
    there is no ceremony for constructing or demolishing a mosque. mainly because the holiness/sanctity of the mosque is only because it is a place that God is worshiped in .. so the holyness of the place starts with the Athan and prayers and never ends. in adition any place in the world can be used for prayer so the blessing is never limitted to a building.
    as for blessing places or homes, there also is no ceremony, but reading the Qoran (which is the word of God)in the premises is considered as a blessing.
    the difference in Islam is that the relationship between the person and his/her Creator is Direct, rather than thru a medeator such as a priest or the church.
    and thats why “i think” we do not have such ceremonies.
    lovely post as always 🙂

    Comment by Abdulaziz | July 1, 2008 | Reply

  6. Aafke! What a beautiful expression of what makes a place holy! Re – the last part – I know that if something really awful happens in a holy place, it can be re-consecrated. The evil can be evicted.

    3baid – Your guesses are as welcome as my idle speculation! I was inviting input, and thank you for yours.

    248theother – LOL. I have heard stories. I guess we each define “sacred” and “spiritual” in our own way.

    Abdulaziz – long time no see! 🙂 Thank you for a considered and insightful discussion of what would make a site holy – and that holiness starts with worship.

    We also believe in a direct relationship with God – but for centuries the official church discouraged that idea, probably mostly for fear people would interpret scriptures in a way different from the official interpretation of the church, create innovations. I think all the religions face the same problems – keeping us humans within boundaries is like trying to herd cats.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 2, 2008 | Reply

  7. I absolutely agree with Aafke. In my travels and life experiences, I have come across so many places that are touched by something special – a feeling of peace and love comes through, and the place may not be religious at all. Perhaps it is an imprint of a former dweller who lived their life with a pure heart and kind soul, or simply something within us that relates to the spirit of the place. I am not religious in the traditional sense, so I hope this does not come across as too new-agey. I just sometimes find goosebumps on my arms and a comforting feeling in the oddest of places. Conversely, I have also felt a disconcerting feeling that something is not “right” about a place. In those instances, I do try to project positivity and love.

    Comment by Heather | July 2, 2008 | Reply

  8. I’ve pondered this before. Some consider a site sacred if it was at some point in time the scene of struggle (physical or philosophical) where good vs bad was perceived, for example. Some feel a sacred site is anywhere God/gods have been thought to reside or a miracle performed (which could be a building, mountain, etc.) There are occasions where I have arrived at a destination and, perhaps the lighting was just right and the geography was spectacular and I just felt spiritually uplifted without knowing itse history. I think the phenomenon (the way these places reach in and touch us) hasn’t been examined to such an extent that we can adequately define them. But I suspect that almost any place on the planet might be someone’s sacred space if it led to a shift in consciousness, where one experienced something out-of-the-ordinary at an intensely personal or spiritual level.

    Comment by Brenda | July 2, 2008 | Reply

  9. hi
    Very intresting post. thank you. In Islam mousqes and grave yards are considered sacared palces withoutout any ceremonies. Traditions has it that when the mouseque is old you have to either builed a another mouseqe in the same place or turen it into a garden. garve yards when are full, are also turned to gardens and there space should not be butt into any other kind of use. as for blessing the house, reading qura’an inside it by any one is enough.

    Comment by huda | July 2, 2008 | Reply

  10. Global Gal (Heather!) – I am so happy to see you! Will you be going back to China?

    I totally agree – one time, I was shown a large town house I would have considered buying, except I felt like terrible things had happened there. I still remember it. We still have a lot to learn about our universe.

    Thank you, Brenda, both you and Heather have added depth and insight to this discussion. I hadn’t thought of the shift-of-consciousness effect . . .

    Thank you, Huda, for more information on the Moslem sacred spaces. I am thinking about Mecca, the Dome of the Rock, the battlefield where Ali fell – all sacred to some or all Moslems . . . but I wondered about buildings. I love what you said about graveyards, that added a lot. Thank you.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 3, 2008 | Reply

  11. I will be going back to China, but we are actively looking for other opportunities. It has been almost three years and we are ready for a new adventure!

    Comment by Heather | July 3, 2008 | Reply

  12. Any thought of coming back to the Gulf?

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 4, 2008 | Reply


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