As an Arab growing up in Morocco and traveling the world, I can tell the many misconceptions of what Arabs are and what an Arab woman is. I can also tell what it felt like growing up in Morocco—being the least touched country of all Arab countries, and yet a very alienated society. A country where every square foot of it is filled with contradictions, gaps, and multiple humiliations. And, most importantly, unless one reads about what led to everything that has gone wrong with our region, people are inevitably left with misconceptions, myself included.
As a result, I wanted to tell the common story of Arab countries that have been fractured since two of the victorious allies, Britain and France, divided the lands of the defeated Ottoman Empire between themselves at the end of World War I to the Arab Spring—while focusing mostly on this latter. Today, the region has worsened: the repression, wars, and identity crisis have clearly deepened.
I worked with tarot cards, as they have first appeared in the Middle East as a mean to tell stories. With migration, Italians Christianized the design while the French gave it an occult layer. Since I want to tell a story that is repeating itself, the medium seemed the most appropriate one. Additionally, I have designed a book that explains the meaning of each card.
This project aims to tell the world, a lesson that we always seem to forget. A lesson that we should have already learned with Nazi Germany, for instance. A lesson of civilization. A lesson about how hard it is to build something on top of ruined foundations. It won’t help solve years of dishonor and scattered hopes, but it could sparkle empathy. And, that alone, could be a win. If you would like to read the book, I have an interactive version I can share with you. Just contact me. (:
After my research on what has fractured the Arab World until the Arab Spring, I found out that colonialism was the opening of a series of humiliations that alienated Arabs. In Speculative Design, we overcome problems by completely changing existing variables. In this project, I started by stating two hypotheses:
H1: If colonialism did not happen in the Arab world,
H2: and if greed was subtracted from human conscience,
What would happen?
Greed is defined as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something […] than is needed”.1 I believe greed has been the fuel of colonialism, wars, the actual global economic system and self-interested pursuits. And, as Michel de Montaigne thought, in his Complete Essays: “I am afraid our eyes are bigger than our bellies, and that we have more curiosity than capacity; for we grasp at all, but catch nothing but wind.” In other words, unless greed is subtracted from human conscience, we are left with wind.
In her book, Sultanes Oubliées, Fatima El Mernissi narrates how Muhammad built the first mosque—a simple open structure with no roof. Originally, the mosque was not meant to just be a place of worship. It was thought as a place where the community gathered (all genders included), decisions were taken, problems were fixed, ideas were discussed, news were spread, and philosophies were shared. The entire social model was based on open expression and sharing. If society shall healthily survive, this is how I picture it. Simply, open and guided by a sharing spirit. As a result, to answer my initial problematic, based on the hypotheses above, the Arab world would be a land of enlightenment guided by sharing.
Today, the main mosque of Muslims is The Great Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the community prays five times a day toward Al-Ka’aba, which lies in the center of the Great Mosque. Muslims have to go visit it on pilgrimage (called Hajj) once in their lifetime—if financial means allow. Al-Ka’aba is a cube-shaped structure, originally built as a polytheist sanctuary then later destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.
From the first 1400 followers of Muhammad to up to three million pilgrims who go to Mecca to seek redemption today, the tradition has become a nightmare—one that is nourished by a tense political climate and arduous conditions of Saudi Arabia. Fights, sexual assaults, injuries and deaths are increasing. Two years ago, more than 700 people were
killed and nearly 900 were injured in a stampede.5 For what? Greed. Nothing but greed.
In my project, I wanted to come back to the ideal society of Muhammad, using Al-Ka’aba as a metaphor. Rather than praying toward one country that does not represent Arabs anymore, Al-Ka’aba could be built in every Arab city. But to further explore this idea, the concept of Al-Ka’aba as thought by Muhammad in his first mosque, can function inside each family—since a family is a micro-society. It does not have to be religious. It only has to be based on genuine sharing. Sharing knowledge, problems, news, concerns, plans, hopes, feelings, and more.
I designed a carpet, where the family can gather around, facing their own Ka’aba, to share everything they judge necessary. I created a custom Kufic form for the word Al-Ka’aba to design the carpet. Kufic script was the most dominant Quranic script for more than 300 years. Characterized by its rectangular lines, short vertical strokes and extended horizontal lines, the geometrical letterforms appear as ornamental forms—especially when decorative elements and illuminations are added to the texts.
This project is an ideal, and like any ideal, it is not realistic. The aim is simply to use design to reflect on a speculation that could make the Arab world an enlightened place again. Although, this fiction was once a reality, long long time ago and in a land far far away. A forgotten reality.