I saw some mention of Julián Péter’s “Blue Mosque” zine on Instagram, and quickly order what, at the time, were his two most recent zines. The “Maru” project is on his website; “Blue Mosque” sorta came and went, maybe like zines should.
The blue mosque in Péter’s zine isn’t the Blue Mosque, the Ottoman-era Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, but the more recent, somewhat smaller, and still beautiful Imam Ali Mosque in Hamburg. According to a nice review from Barnaby Nutt, the photographs were taken on Unity Day, October 3rd, 2014, when the masjid invited people to come hang out. Péter visited and took some pictures of worshipers during a lecture or something and prayer.
As a muslim, I sorta hate it when people come and gawk at us while we worship. I’ve long felt a similar feeling about visiting churches as a tourist. I’ll walk the labyrinth outside, if there’s one there, but I’m going to drag my feet about going in. Worship is not Entertainment; my worship is for me: Allah doesn’t need it, He is free of need, and I worship Him because I’m grateful; your worship is similarly for you. You wouldn’t want me coming to gawk at while you worship, would you? I understand the impulse, especially in times of tension, for people from immigrant and outsider communities to open their places of worship, to invite everyone to visit and see, but I don’t understand what value it actually holds for either side.
Some years ago, I spent a few months as a volunteer, leading visitors on tours around the local mosque. The vast majority of people who came were already sympathetic to muslims, and the one or two per group (always white men, mostly in their 40s and 50s, who were drug along by their wives or children) scowled and muttered, and sometimes warmed to me—a fellow white man in my 40s—when I scowled and muttered back, but didn’t change their minds about “them mozlims.” Had a film photographer showed up, I would’ve had a buddy, for sure, and we ran the tours at times where there were few worshipers around and no prayer times close by, so there would’ve been no opportunity to get pictures of a people worshiping. And, anyway, the local mosque isn’t quite so picturesque as the Blue Mosque in Hamburg.
Honestly, while the photographs are lovely, I wish it was more about the mosque and grounds, and less about the people. But that’s me. Péter made his photographs his way, and they look good as a set, and the zine looks good too.
“Maru,” “まる,” “丸” means “circle” and is often appended to the names of Japanese merchant ships. It’ also often used as shorthand for “ship” in some maritime circles, according to Wikipedia. I’m not sure that the ship-related meaning has anything to do with Péter’s zine, though it seems maybe he worked on a ship for a time. (He has a photo set, “Prisoners of Pride” all taken aboard some sort of merchant ship, anyway.)
The pictures in “Maru” seem to have been taken on a walk around Hamburg. There are scenes near the Elbe, and some ships on the water, but the photographs were all taken at street level, more or less, and seem largely peripatetic.
Péter included a brief handwritten note with the zines, where he wrote that “Each [zine] has its own story and concept, too long to write here. Perhaps for the last, that the reader interprets it on his or her own.” And, dig it: the zine seems like a sort of circle around Hamburg, perhaps walking and remembering time at sea, looking up and seeing things that recalled masts, shipping containers, etc., whatever.
Apologies if it seems that I panned the “Blue Mosque” zine. Really, I quite like both zines. I wouldn’t make “Blue Mosque” myself, but I like the design—rather warm photographs on cerulean crayon-colored pages—and, may Allah forgive me, it’s interesting to see the (slight) differences in the ways Shia Muslims worship (shown in the zine) and the Sunni worship I practice 5 times a day. “Maru” is something more like what I would make, though I’d probably add some hamfisted explanatory text so everyone would know exactly what I was going on about. There seems to be a sort of circling-back in the zine, with a woman that recurs and couple of times and some repeated themes, and it’s a pleasure to flip through.
“Blue Mosque” is out of print and seems to have disappeared, but the “Maru” set is on Péter’s website, along with some other work. Péter is active on Twitter and Instagram (or, fairly active) and seems to be working on a project about Flight Sergeant Kevin George Clark, a RCAF officer who was survived being shot down over Hamburg, only to be murdered by a local militia. He shares images from his travels to various sites of interest and links to some remembrance pages on his social media, and it looks like an interesting project. Maybe give him a follow (I do) and follow along.