WASHINGTON - Facing a popular discomfort with minarets rising from mosques, American Muslims are exploring new concepts of designing their places of worship.
"I don't think identity should be based on symbols only," Haris Tarin, director of the Washington DC office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told the BBC on Thursday, February 2.
"Identity has to be based on the fact that you are part of a community, part of something bigger than you."
In the post 9/11 era, building mosques has become a difficult mission in the United States.
Several projects to build Muslim worship places have been met with local opposition.
In Manhattan, a project to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero has turned into a national debate.
This opposition has prompted American Muslims to seek new ways to design their mosques.
Building domes and minarets has been an integral part of architecture of mosques around the world.
For instance, the National Islamic Center in Washington, which was built in the 1950s, has a towering minaret.
But such a building with domes and minarets is not now possible in the post 9/11 America.
"It's a bad time for Islamic architecture," said kbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington DC.
"If there was some visionary with money who wanted to build the Taj Mahal in the US, he'd be attacked as a stealth Jihadist."
Muslim leaders underline the importance of having mosques serve the community, rather than having domes and minarets.
"You can have a grand dome and grand minaret, but if it doesn't really serve the purpose, if it only has a large prayer space and nothing else, then you're not really fulfilling the needs of the community," said Tarin, who is the co-founder of Ehsan Center in San Fernando Valley, California.
"That's why, to be very honest, a lot of young professionals and a lot of young people don't feel comfortable going to mosques."
Architect Maryam Eskandari, former associate director of the American Institute of Architects, agrees.
"The Ka'aba itself doesn't have a dome, it doesn't have a minaret - that was built later on," she said, of Islam's most holy site.
"It's just a cube. So traditionally speaking that is the idea of Islamic architecture," added Eskandari, who is touring the country with a photo exhibition illustrating the transition of American mosques from traditional to postmodern design.
She cites the case of the Manhattan mosque, whose planners refuse to build domes and minarets, saying that the area's Muslims want a skyscraper mosque.
"That's how they are relating to the infinite concept of God, through geometric shapes," she says, "which is perfectly fine."There are an estimated Muslim minority of between seven to eight million in the United States.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net