How Lebanese Christian Artist, Harout Bastajian Transformed the Largest Mosque in the US

How Lebanese Christian Artist, Harout Bastajian Transformed the Largest Mosque in the US

Around the time of the 2008 financial crisis in America, the Dearborn Michigan Islamic Center of America, known as the largest mosque in the country, needed to be finished, but the institution’s founding members were still in debt from the mosque’s initial construction. Enter Harout Bastajian. The Lebanon-born Armenian decorative artist moved to Dearborn that year and developed a kinship with the large Arab diaspora there. The Islamic Center reached out to him and he estimated that the job would take months, and cost $200,000. The institution’s leadership told Bastajian they couldn’t afford the project just then and that they would be in touch later. Harout Bastajian countered by offering to do it as a gift. 

Bastajian is a devout Christian and is quoted as saying “God works in mysterious ways, brings us all together to decorate his house of worship.” His first big project came in 2004 to decorate the Hariri mosque in Sidon, Lebanon, which was built by the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in memory of his father. The Hariris are one of the most important political dynasties in the Middle East and by then word of Bastajian’s mastery of Islamic geometry led them to reach out to the then 20-something-year-old upstart. Bastajian undertook the task of painting the biggest dome in the Middle East, at 44 meters high and 900 square meters of surface. The artist used gilding ornamentation, calligraphy, a patina and stone imitation to decorate the building. It took him two and a half months

Due to the vast scale of the domes he paints, Bastajian doesn’t get a clear view of his work until he’s lowered to the ground. Islamic art is known for circular and fractal motifs, and arabesque lines which are curvy and intertwined. Arab America reports, “He works on a large scaffold where he is up close to his work and once he steps down the unveiling begins and there’s no starting over.” As of presstime, he has painted 42 and a half domes around the world, including ones in Nigeria, Switzerland, the UAE and Kuwait.  

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