A newly built avant-garde mosque in the heart of Iran's capital would have hard-liners shouting from the minarets—if there were any. The architects behind the Vali-e-Asr mosque dispensed with tradition, reports the AP, opting instead for a modern design of undulating waves of gray stone and concrete, which they say complements surrounding architecture and evokes the austerity of early Islam. The new structure has infuriated hardliners, who see it as part of a secular onslaught on the Islamic republic. An editorial on the Mashregh news website compared the curvature to that of a Jewish yarmulke, accusing authorities of "treason" for approving it. The "completely neutral" design betrays an "atheistic approach," it said. The mosque has emerged as the latest battleground in a culture war between hardliners and Iran's vibrant artistic community, which has hoped—often in vain—for greater openness since President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, was elected in 2013.
The 270,000 square-foot structure is adjacent to the City Theater of Tehran, an iconic building dating back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the mosque includes its own library, reading halls, classrooms, and amphitheater. Architect Reza Daneshmir said he struggled for months to convince authorities who "objected and said it did not look like a mosque ... and that it couldn't be done. We wanted it to be an avant-garde project, not a conservative and backward one," he added. The structure was nevertheless completed, after 10 years and at a cost of $16 million. It is expected to be opened to the public within the coming months. Nima Borzouie, an 18-year-old student, acknowledged that he was initially unaware the building included a mosque, but said that "the spiritual aspect of a mosque is more important than its architecture."