Friday Sermon

Kingdom of Bahrain’s National Participation at the 16th
International Architecture Exhibition
La Biennale de Venezia- Arsenale

26th May- 25th November 2018

Friday Sermon is the Kingdom of Bahrain’s National Participation at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition- La Biennale de Venezia. The pavilion, located at the Arsenale Artiglierie in Venice, was commissioned by Her Excellency Sh. Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture & Antiquities.

The Exhibition


A religious ritual organized by oratory practice, the Friday sermon, or khuṭba, has historically played an important role in shaping collective life, public opinion, and common space for Muslim communities. Every Friday, and in every jāmi’masjid or mosque of assembly in the world, the Imam delivers a speech before the Friday noon prayer (ṣalāt al-jom’a). While the Friday prayer is a repetitive and constant marker gathering crowds for collective worship, the sermon within it transforms weekly. From Bahrain to New York, and Amman to Venice, the sites of the Friday sermon create a network of spaces temporarily activated through mass assembly.

The khuṭbatakes root in a pre-Islamic Arab tradition of epic poem and speech recitation.Considered to be the source of the prose genres of Arabic literature, it has produced some of the most beautiful and powerful expressions of the Arabic literary tradition, and continues to carrya significant political, social, and spiritual function. This ritual continued during the early days of Islam, gathering people around the mosque for the Friday sermon, eventually giving shape to congregational spaces in Arab cities to accommodate these gatherings, and hosting a variety of events beyond the religious.For believers, the Friday sermon is a regular pulse of collective listening on the social and political conditions of the time. When thinking about free space, and by extension free speech, for Arab and Muslim communities, the khuṭba becomes a key protagonist.

The content of the sermon can range from hygienic recommendations to calls for non-alliance with Western powers, from patriarchal preaching to strategies for facing the Muslim Ban. The speech can be approved, even scripted by the authorities, or it can be a call for resistance. In times of intensified struggles for freedom, speech, and their repression, it is not only productive, but necessary to consider both the violence and the possibilities embedded in the architecture and medium of the khuṭba. Amidst a regional context, where this previous status quo on the relationship between state and religion is being challenged, it is timely to rethink what this new relationship can be and how it will manifest itself spatially, through its most relevant medium the Friday Sermon.What is the architecture of the Friday sermon, and how does it shape its influence and reach? Transcending the space of religion, the power of the sermon is derived from the persuasion and eloquence of the khaṭīb’s, or preacher’s oratory, together with the minbar they stand on, the gathering of bodies around it, and the loudspeaker technologies that control, distort, and transmit the speech beyond the confines of the mosque, and into streets and living rooms.

Friday Sermon traces the evolution and apparatus of this ritual of oratory and collective listening and registers its implications for the transformation of common space, sometimes as an obstruction and other times as reinforcement, to the possibilities for free spaces of assembly.


Nora Akawi

Nora Akawi (1985) is an architect, curator, and researcher currently based in New York. She is the director of Studio-X Amman, a platform for public programming, research, and education on architecture in the Arab region, initiated by the Columbia Global Center | Amman and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. She teaches graduate design studios, history/theory and visualization courses on borderlands, forced displacements, counter-narratives and counter-mapping at Columbia University’s GSAPP. Nora is a member of the executive committee of the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University, and of the steering committee of the Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture in Amman. She has co-edited the book The Arab City: Architecture and Representation (Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2016). She completed her B.Arch in Jerusalem, Palestine in 2009. In 2011, she received her MSc in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture from Columbia University

Noura Al-Sayeh

Noura Al-Sayeh (1983) is an architect currently working at the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA) as Head of Architectural Affairs, where she is responsible for overseeing the planning and implementation of cultural institutions and museums as well as the creation of an active agenda of exhibitions and academic exchange initiatives. Previously, she worked as an architect in New York, Jerusalem and Amsterdam. She was the co-curator of Reclaim, Bahrain’s first participation at the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2010, which was awarded the Golden Lion for best national participation and the curator of Background, Bahrain’s second participation at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012, and the deputy general commissioner for the Bahrain Pavilion at the Expo Milan 2015.


< Prev
Next >



Commissioned by Sh. Mai Al Khalifa
Bahrain Authority for Culture & Antiquities

Curated by Nora Akawi and Noura Al Sayeh

Maryam Al Jomairi
Batool Al Shaikh
Gizem Sivri

With contributions from:
Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Khyam Allami
Matilde Cassani
Giuseppe Ielasi
A Future Collective (Mezna Qato and Sadia Shirazi)

Exhibition Design:
Apparata Architects
(project team: Astrid Smitham, Nicholas Lobo Brennan, Oliver Choyce)

Sound Design:
Giuseppe Ielasi

Graphic Design:
(Studio) Jonathan Hares and
Amaury Hamon

Exhibition production and installation:
Restaura SRL
Ronchetti, Milan

Structural Engineer:
Mario Monotti

Contributors to Publication:
Nora Akawi and Noura Al Sayeh (editors), Mostafa Al Kharouf, Maryam Al Jomary, Batool Al Shaikh, Matilde Cassani, Ghassan Chemali, Edward Grazda, Ziad Jamaleddine (L.E.FT Archi-tects), Jawad Dukhgan and Mohamed Karim Shehabi, Gizem Sivri, and Camille Zakharia

Graphic Design:
(Studio) Jonathan Hares and Amaury Hamon

Arabic Translation:
Hassan Al Jundy

Arabic Copyediting:
Elie Flouty

English Copyediting:
Gabrielle Printz