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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The 6 Architectural Elements of the Mosques | Islamic Art

The 6 Architectural Elements of the Mosques, mosque architecture plan, modern mosque architecture, mosque interior design, mosques design, mosque architecture, masjid architecture, contemporary mosque architecture, sheikh zayed mosque architecture, architectural elements of a mosque,
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in the UAE; One of the most marvelous projects of its kind, due to the usage of expensive materials in its construction which reflects the beauty of Islamic Mosques Architecture and its elements, Photo: www.flickr.com 

Introduction to the Islamic Architecture

The Islamic Art Early Period

To define the Architecture of the Mosques, we should initially glance at the roots and the origins of Islamic Arts in general.
Islam goes without saying, for its richness in all kinds of arts. Therefore, mosques will not be an exception, as they are related to Islamic Architecture in the first place, which derives in particular from Islamic Art.
In addition, and as acknowledged, the architectural work is created under specific needs to be filled accordingly; therefore the call for God’s faithfulness accompanied by the Prophet’s Revelation was enough to start over the mission.

Islamic art has developed throughout the time inspired by an exceptional and unique mix of different civilizations and nations that were conquered by the Islamic World itself: from the Byzantines, the Copts, the Romans, and the Persians, Islamic Art has it all!
If the word Copts doesn’t seem familiar to you, here is a brief historical fact about it: The Copts (an Arabic word pronounced as al-Qibt) are an ethnoreligious community originated from North Africa who primarily resides in the area of modern Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country, as well in Sudan and Libya. As mentioned in an old manuscript, Christianity was introduced to modern-Egypt by Saint Mark in Alexandria, soon after the ascension of Jesus-Christ, and during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius around 42 AD.
Back to our main subject: the theory mentioned above will lead us to the conclusion that Islamic Art is an art that compounds many kinds of visual arts such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, designs, architecture, and others, that were produced in the Islamic world during the era of its sovereignty.

Islamic Art is actually hard to enclose within territories, or a specific time, or even particular categories because it spread over a wide range of places, and several periods of time in history, plus multiple genres and sorts.

In addition, it is an amazing mixture of various styles from different nations that were under its reign or not.
Inspecting the various categories of this art, it includes and is not limited to Islamic Architecture, Islamic Calligraphy, Islamic Miniature, Islamic Glass, Islamic Pottery, and Textile Arts such as carpets and embroidery.

It comprises both the religious and civil art forms.

Therein lays the greatest advantage of this Art; its skill to mix the native designs with the imported ones to obtain a completely distinct end result. The one common factor in all kinds of Islamic Art is abstract embellishments and designs.

The main element of the Islamic Art

The curved and interlacing lines were mostly utilized in bright and vibrant colors to enhance the various styles.
The 6 Architectural Elements of the Mosques, mosque architecture plan, modern mosque architecture, mosque interior design, mosques design, mosque architecture, masjid architecture, contemporary mosque architecture, sheikh zayed mosque architecture, architectural elements of a mosque,
Fig. No.1- A seamless sample of a floral pattern used in the ornament of several Islamic Architectural Elements, as shown in (Fig. No.2)

The finest pieces of this art and architecture are clearly distinguishable across the world by the vivacious colors in floral designs. ( see Fig. No.1)
The 6 Architectural Elements of the Mosques, mosque architecture plan, modern mosque architecture, mosque interior design, mosques design, mosque architecture, masjid architecture, contemporary mosque architecture, sheikh zayed mosque architecture, architectural elements of a mosque,
Fig. No.2- An example of a mihrab decorated with various rich ornaments
particularly the Arabic Calligraphy and the floral designs are shown in Fig. No.1 

The current form or version of Islamic Art is believed to have emerged during the reign of the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750).

Therefore, this art is most commonly classified according to the reigning empire when and where the artwork was created.

Most museums and art galleries have categorized their collections according to the different Muslim dynasties which include the Umayyad, Abbasid, Safavid, Ottoman, and Mughal.

The 6 Architectural Elements of the Mosque

Across the Muslim world, the mosque in its many forms and types is the characteristic of the Islamic buildings and edifices.
The first mosque plan was inspired by the layout of the Prophet
house, in Medina Saudi Arabia

The mosque called a masjid in Arabic, is the place where Muslim people gather for prayer or celebrating common events and feasts.

In Arabic terminology, Masjid simply means place of prostration. While most of the five daily prayers agreed in Islam can take place anywhere, but all men are required to gather together at the mosque for the Friday noon prayer.

Mosques are also used throughout the week for prayer, study, or simply as a place for rest and meditation; Since its establishment, the mosque’s building itself was often accompanied by another block mainly a religious school called madrassah, with a specific purpose as to learn the Qur’an, which is the Holy Book in the Islamic religion.

The style, layout, and decoration of a mosque can reveal a lot about the period and place in which the mosque was constructed.

The home of the Prophet Muhammad is considered the first mosque.

Actually, his house in Medina, the city in current-day Saudi Arabia, was a typical 7th-century Arabian style house, with a large courtyard surrounded by long rooms supported by columns.

This mosque’s style is known as a hypostyle mosque, which means many columns.

For centuries, most mosques built in Arab lands utilized this style.

6 Common Features

The regional traditions of the time and location where the edifice was built, was the main influencer of the mosque architecture and may indicate its originality.
As a result, style, layout, and miniature decoration may vary greatly.

But still, the major sections are present within the general layout of the building and should be included as an obligation due to their functionality and symbolism.

We should not forget that every part or section of the Mosque has its religious signification based on what was stated in the Qur’an.

Thus and according to what it precedes, the following are the common features that should be included in the typical layout of a mosque:

1. Sahn (courtyard)

Fig. No.3- The famous spiral minaret in Sammoura',
Iraq. Photo by Wikipedia
The ability to hold an enormous number of males in a city or town is an important thing to keep in mind and to consider, as women are welcome to attend Friday prayers, but not obliged to do so.

To achieve this goal, congregational mosques must have a large prayer hall adjoined to an open courtyard, called a Sahn.

Sometimes, a fountain of water centers this open patio, for a doubled purpose;

A helpful air cooler and environment refresher especially in hot lands and important for the ablutions, which is the cleansing obligation done before starting the prayer.

2. Minaret (tower)

The Minaret is one of the most visible aspects of mosque architecture; it is a tower adjacent or attached to the main mosque building, from which the call to prayer is announced.
Some historians said that the minaret is an analog copy of the bell tower that was common in the churches before and still, and has the same purpose, but this information is not yet proven and wasn’t justified by any discovered manuscripts or other written document.
Minarets could take many different forms and shapes—from the famous spiral minaret of Sammoura' in Iraq (see Fig. No.3, above) to the tall, and pencil-shaped minarets of Aya Sophia, Ottoman in Turkey. (see Fig. No.4, below)
Fig. No.4- The pencil-shaped minarets of Aya Sophia in Turkey, Photo provided by Wikipedia 

Actually, the presence of minarets was always a strong visual reminder of Islam's existence and not only a functional element in architecture.

Fig. No. 5- Example of small-room shaped Mihrab, Photo by Wikipedia

3. The Mihrab (niche)

Next is the Mihrab, another essential element of the mosque’s architecture.

It is an important component and it is located inside the prayer hall; Actually, it is a niche recessed and not so deep in the wall (Fig. No.2, above) that indicates the direction of Mecca, towards which all Muslims pray, whatever their location is.

Another rare type takes the form of a small room, as shown in Fig. No.5.

Mecca is the city in which the Prophet Muhammad was born, and the home of the most important Islamic site: the Ka'aba, which is the first pilgrimage place for all the Muslims in the world. (see Fig. No.6, below)

The direction of Mecca is called the qibla, and so the wall in which the mihrab is set is called the qibla wall.

No matter where a mosque is located, its mihrab indicates the direction of Mecca (or the nearest direction to it, where there is an ability to place it).

Therefore, and as an example, a mihrab in India will be to the west, while another one in Egypt will be to the east.

The 6 Architectural Elements of the Mosques, mosque architecture plan, modern mosque architecture, mosque interior design, mosques design, mosque architecture, masjid architecture, contemporary mosque architecture, sheikh zayed mosque architecture, architectural elements of a mosque,
Fig. No.6- The Holly Ka'aba in Mecca, Photo by Wikipedia 

4. Qubba (dome)

Most mosques also feature one or more domes, called qubba in Arabic.

While it is not a ritual requirement like the mihrab, a dome does possess a symbolic significance inside the mosque—as it strongly represents the vault of heaven.

Its interior decoration with its various ornaments

that is a mixture of a wonderfully painted pattern, featuring complex geometry, stellate, or plantation motifs intended to awe and inspire.

The wall of qibla, as being the holiest part of the mosque, is essentially featured with a dome above it.

However, some other mosque types incorporate multiple domes into their architecture; An example, such as the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia, has three domes: one atop the minaret, a second one above the entrance of the prayer hall, and the ritual one, if we can say, over the qibla wall. (see Fig. No.7)
Fig. No.7- A 3d model showing the different parts of a Typical Mosque and its location, here it is the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia, Photo: www.purposegames.com

Being the direct focus of the prayer, the qibla wall, with its mihrab and minbar, is often the most ornamentally decorated area of the mosque. The rich decoration of the qibla wall is apparent in this image of the mihrab and minbar of the Mosque of Sultan Hasan in Cairo, Egypt (Fig. No.8)
Fig. No.8- The Qibla Wall is the most decorated place in the Mosque, as shown here in the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo, Photo by Wikipedia

5. Furnishings

The decorative elements are common in most mosques. For instance, a large calligraphic frieze or cartouches with a major inscription are often used above the mihrab and appear in the minbar’s ornament. In most cases, the calligraphic inscriptions are quotations inspired mainly from the Qur’an, and often include the date of the building's dedication and the name of the investor.
Fig. No.9- The gigantic luster featured in Mohammed
Al-Amin Mosque in Beirut. Photo: Wikipedia

Another important feature of mosque decoration is the hanging lamps or the huge pending lusters, as noticed in the Mohammed El-Amin mosque in Beirut (as shown in Fig. No.9, below)

Those are distinctive by their massive material and immense volume and specially manufactured for the proposed project.

Since the first and last daily prayers occur before the sun rises and after the sun sets respectively, light is an essential feature for mosques.

Before electricity was discovered, mosques were illuminated with oil lamps. Hundreds of such lamps hung inside a mosque would create a magical scene, with soft light emerging from each, highlighting the calligraphy and other decorations.

Although it is not an essential part of the mosque building, not either a ritual feature, lamps, along with other furnishings like carpets and textiles, consist of a significant, though passing aspect of the mosque architecture.

6. Mosque patronage

Most historical mosques are not stand-alone buildings. Many of them include charitable institutions like hospitals, schools, or orphans. Some mosque patrons also chose to include their own mausoleum as part of their mosque complex, and the examples of such cases are various and many.


As a practical result, an extension will be added to the main block of the mosque that includes the facilities mentioned above, which can add splendor to the whole architectural composition.

Or on the contrary, it can be a more disturbing solution depending on the concept adopted by the designer or Architect.
The donation of charitable institutions is a principal aspect of Islam belief, due in part to the third pillar of Islam, which calls for Muslims to donate a portion of their income to the poorer people.

Their names will be engraved in the calligraphic decoration of the mosques.

Such inscriptions often honor the devoutness and generosity of the patron.

For instance, the mihrab recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, holds the caption:
And He the Prophet, {blessings and peace be upon him} said:

“Whoever builds a mosque for God, even the size of a sand-grouse nest, based on piety, God will build for him a palace in Paradise”

In the end, the arts-related of a certain nation, in general, is its common language to communicate with other societies in the world, and the same as music doesn't require to be translated.

We must note that Islamic Art and especially the Architecture of Mosques, is one of the rare world arts that keeps on fascinating and inspiring more designers and interested-in over the globe, because of its beauty and originality, based on the mixture of several styles and Architectural Orders together within an amazing secret blend recipe.

Still, the Islamic ornaments are the best in their class due to their richness and successful usage of proportions rules ever.

References in this article:

1- www.khanacademy.org
2- www.eng.wikipedia.org
3- www.ar.wikipedia.org

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