The founding editor of the International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA) shares insight on the publication’s history and mission.
The director and founding editor of the International Journal of Islamic Architecture (IJIA), Mohammad Gharipour, highlights the publication’s founding principles, and how it hopes to not only reflect current issues related to the field of Islamic architecture, but also critically explore them.
How did you start IJIA, and what are you trying to achieve through its publication?
In 2008, I looked for a journal to publish my paper in, but I could not find any major journals on Islamic architecture, especially contemporary Islamic architecture. At that point, I thought of launching a new journal, although it sounded too ambitious at first!
I shared the idea with a few colleagues and mentors, who encouraged me to pursue it further. It took me nearly two years to develop the proposal and find a publisher. Later, I met Hasan-uddin Khan, the founder of ‘Mimar’, another major journal that is no longer in print, at a conference in Saudi Arabia and invited him to be part of our team. He generously accepted my invitation and we published the first issue of IJIA in January 2012.
I need to acknowledge my colleagues who played a crucial role in launching the journal: Deeba Haider, Nancy Um and Marika Snider. I was also fortunate that the amazing colleagues who joined our team in the journal’s second year, Kıvanç Kılınç, Heather Ferguson and Patricia Blessing, have stayed on our team and have not only helped establish the journal, but have also spent a lot of time training the excellent editors on our editorial team. It if was not for their hard work and rigorous editorial efforts, we would not have reached this point. Thanks to their work, IJIA has been accepted into more than 20 academic databases, including Scopus and Arts and Humanities Citation Index, which are major achievements for any academic journal.
Since our first issue in January 2012, 19 scholars have participated on our editorial team, approximately 200 authors and reviewers have written for IJIA, and more than 400 scholars and practitioners have served as reviewers for papers. These numbers reveal how IJIA has engaged a large number of scholars not only from the field of Islamic architecture, but also from beyond.
Can you discuss how the publication works?
IJIA is a biannual publication – it is published every January and July in both print and digital formats. Normally, our January issues include regular submissions while our July issues are dedicated to specific topics that we find timely.
Then, we have open calls for regular issues or special issues of IJIA and every scholar regardless of their rank and location is able to submit a paper. Special issues are guest edited by well-known scholars who collaborate with an editor from our team.
Having a balance between regular and topical issues allows us to work with scholars who are not part of our editorial team and remain relevant by publishing on issues that are in need of urgent discussion, such as postwar recovery and cultural heritage.
How has the journal changed since its establishment?
It has been one of our missions to remain a dynamic entity and evolve over time. For instance, when I launched the journal, we had not planned to publish any special issues, but we realised that we could reach more scholars in the field by exploring contemporary research concerns via special issues. Moreover, we also realised that it was important to add new sections based on the direction of the journal, feedback from the readers and what was needed in the field.
For instance, in the fourth year of the publication, we added a new section called ‘Commentary’, which acts as a platform for short, controversial essays written by well-established scholars and practitioners on topics that the editorial team finds important in the field of Islamic architecture. So far, we have published six commentaries, and they are now very popular reads of IJIA. The first one was written by MIT’s Professor Nasser Rabbat on the field of Islamic architecture and the profession, and the latest one that is under publication was written by Dr Sheila Canby of the Metropolitan Museum on the role that museums could play in educating the public on Islamic art.
These essays are quite critical because they are commissioned by the journal as part of our mission to engage our audience with the current debates on the architecture and cities of the Middle East, and this approach is quite different from the conventional roles that academic journals are expected to play. Instead of being a passive conveyer of scientific articles, we aim to define the field; by making an impact and creating a community, we want to give the young generation a voice and a platform.
Another section we have recently added is ‘Architectural Spotlight’, which covers recent developments in architecture or historical overviews of key trends. It helps us connect with practitioners in the region and introduce exciting new projects and exhibitions. We are proud to mention that among our subscribers and readers, there are many practitioners, which is due to IJIA’s mission to serve as an interdisciplinary journal that makes an impact on practice rather than being a pure theoretical or historical publication and platform.
How do you feel the journal contributes to the conversation of Islamic architecture?
I believe the journal contributes to the conversation of Islamic architecture in two ways. First, it reflects what is transpiring in the field right now and focuses on the political, cultural and social context behind architecture and planning. Second, it is not just a reflection. We try to identify weaknesses and shortcomings of the field and use the journal to fill these gaps. The journal is here to think critically about the field rather than simply remaining within its boundaries.
For example, since its first issue, IJIA has “reappropriated” its title for a new range of uses. In recognition of the journal’s 10th anniversary, which is coming up in 2021, we are planning a special issue that presents critical reflections on the field of Islamic architecture. The main goal is to interrogate transregional trends and interdisciplinary methodologies that have helped expand and refine the meanings of “Islamic architecture” across the field.
Moreover, there are two other missions of the journal that have highly contributed to our success so far. One is our interdisciplinarity and the fact that we work with scholars and practitioners from a wide range of fields. The second is our attempt to create a dialogue between theory and practice, which also explains why our papers are so popular in architectural firms. It has been our goal to use the journal as a venue to create a community that is not necessarily bound to the limits of Islamic art and architecture but that is relevant to anyone whose research connects to the field more broadly. I believe this “community building” process has facilitated new transnational and transdisciplinary conversations and collaborations on emergent topics in Islamic architecture.
Who is the journal intended for? Who is your typical reader?
While our typical readers are experts in Islamic art and architecture, the journal is intended for a wide range of audiences interested in architectural history, urban design and planning. It is extremely important for us to expand our readership and go beyond the conventional boundaries of Islamic architecture, and, as written on our website, publish papers that explore architecture in relation to social and cultural history, geography, politics, aesthetics, technology and conservation. It helps us to not only bring new perspectives to the field, but to also reach out to people from other disciplines and professions.
What do you hope readers gain from the journal?
We hope that our readers gain new knowledge and are introduced to lesser known sites, as well as learn about new research methodologies. We try to push our authors and readers outside their comfort zone in writing, research and reading. Because of that, especially for emerging scholars, we consider IJIA to be a kind of school in itself.
Also, from the start, we have made it our goal to tackle the Orientalist undertones of the title ‘Islamic Architecture’, which defines a strong and rich field of scholarship, but whose meaning and scope have long been defined by Western scholars. We do this not by avoiding the title, but by owning and critically adopting it, thus recovering it from this ideological baggage. Finally, some of our papers play an important role in conservation and preservation because they document sites that are in danger of destruction or raise awareness and encourage readers to be advocates for preservation efforts.
I should emphasise our commitment to our global mission. We do not only cover a wide chronological and geographic territory, but we also include contributions from scholars across the globe, and this commitment takes time and energy from contributors, reviewers and the editorial team, as we work together to deal with translating multiple experiences and languages into an English-language publication.
Does the journal have anything outside of the issue? For example, does it host any annual events or support any partners that relate to its field of interest and its mission?
We are often present at various conferences and symposia, as it is our mission to identify successful, original and progressive research and invite new scholars to contribute to IJIA. The editorial team and many of the contributing essays embody the strong presence of the journal in international conferences and symposia. Emerging scholarship and emergent voices have thus become a primary focus.
One should note that we do not have any budget to sponsor panels and conferences, and even the editorial team works on a voluntary basis. However, we have found a way to bring those events into the pages of the journal, once again bridging divides between research and practice, and curation and its analysis. Now a significant part of the journal that is highly praised in the field is its review section, which not only covers other publications relevant to Islamic visual culture, but also exhibitions, panels and conferences occurring across the world.
We realise that it is a bit of a stretch for an academic journal to cover such events, but we see it as our mission to share and discuss not only events in mainstream venues like museums and universities in Europe and the US, but more importantly, to cover events in more marginal areas of the Islamic world, including Africa and South East Asia, that our colleagues rarely hear about. Thus, the journal aims at giving our colleagues from diverse geographical locations a voice that helps to shift the Eurocentric paradigm.
What is the next issue and when will it be released?
The next issue of IJIA will be published in January. It is a regular issue and will include a wide range of theory and practice papers, mostly on the architecture of the Islamic world in the 19th century, which is an under-studied age in our field.
Our Meet the Finalists series is a compilation of interviews with those who have been shortlisted for our awards. The International Journal of Islamic Architecture is a finalist for Tamayouz’s Middle Eastern Architectural Personality of the Year, also known as the Mohamed Makiya Prize. This architecture award recognizes individuals and organisations that work to advance the field of architecture in the Middle East and North Africa.