Monthly Archives: March 2010

Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #10 – Minarets

For our Imagining Islamic Aesthetics for this edition, I would like to bring to your attention, again, one of the most fundamental Mosque architecture – Minarets.

Minarets came from the Arabic word Nour, means light. Hence, Minarets, in accordance to Arabic grammar, means “Place of Light”. It is named as such because Minarets is not actually exclusive to the mosque architecture, in fact it is a general term, as it could also be used to refer to lighthouses.

Author - damian entwistle

This the Minaret of the Mosque of Uqba, or more commonly known as the Mosque of Kairouan. It is one of the earliest minaret structure, completed in 836AD. It became a prototype for minarets to come after it, and the plan of the minaret is usually emulated by the future mosques in the Western Islamic world.

Author - Izzedine

Great Mosque of Samarra. It is a 9th century mosque in Iraq and one time had been the largest mosque in the Islamic World. This minaret is not actually a minaret – it never serves the purpose of calling the faithful to prayer, since the height is not practical. Instead it serves as a visual statement of the presence of Islam in the Tigris Valley. The tower is called Malwiya – Arabic for snail shell.

Author - Emesik

Minarets of Jame’ Atiq Mosque of Qazvin, Iran. It is one of the oldest mosque in Iran. Here you see two minarets and it should be flanking an unseen Iwan. The foundation of the mosque is undersood to be once of a Zoroastrian fire temple.  These two minarets is characteristics of Central Asian mosque architecture, and there is a possibility of these minarets to be used and serves its purpose of calling the faithful to prayers, or just as aesthetic reason.

Picture by: Giovanni Dall'Orto, May 29 2006.

Three Minarets of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is actually Sultan Ahmet mosque, but called the blue mosque due to the amount of blue tiles used to decorate the interiors of the mosque. Turkish mosque have needle pointed, thin minarets, as you can see here. There is usually one or two minarets of each mosques, however it is not uncommon to see that major mosques have much more than that, for example this Blue Mosque have 6 minarets in total.

Author - Baldiri

The minaret of Al-Azhar Mosque. Cairo. Egypt. Egyptian mosques have up to two minarets for each mosque. The shape of the minarets are usually octagonal, slim and very heavily decorated, topped by onion shaped domes and finished with finials of crescent moon. It have multiple balconies and decorated with Muqarnas.

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Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #9 – Mihrabs


In this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics (before I forget to post for a whole week again) I would like to show you a few pictures and a little info regarding one of the fundamental element of Islamic religious architecture, the Mihrab.

Mihrab usually refers to a niche on a wall (called the Mihrab Wall) that faces Mecca, the city which all Muslims face when they offer their prayer to God. To put it put for more easier understanding and draw parallels, the Mihrab is like the Altar to Christian churches. The Mihrab, like other features of Islamic architecture, develops from simple carved niche on a wall to a grandiose lavishly decorated wall.

The Mihrab of the Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain. Primary decoration of this Mihrab is the usage of gold coloured mosaics, used for the Kufic Quranic inscriptions on the top of the Mihrab. The Mezquita was build during the Umayyad Caliphate, and the gold coloured mosaics used are an apparent influence from the Byzantine empire.

Author - Bernard Gagnon

The Mihrab of Bou Inania Madrasa in Fez, Morocco. The madrasa was built in 1351-1356AD by Abu Inan Faris, hence the name of the madrasa. The Mihrab is very similar to the Mihrab in the Mezquita mentioned above. It has horseshoe arch and two black pillars flanking the niche.

The interior of the Krekelstraat Mosque, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. This mosque is not an old mosque, but retains the trait of a traditional one. Here you can see the wooden carved Mihrab and Mimbar. It is assumed that this mosque particularly served Turkish immigrants to the Netherlands and built by them . The presence of a lectern, uncommon to the rest of Islamic world but very much common to the Turkish mosque, and the shape of the Mimbar (pointed tower) further suggests the idea.

Author - Gunkarta

The interior of the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia. The building is the largest mosque in Indonesia, and features a modern architectural aesthetic. Here you can see both the Mihrab and the Minbar together, on a wall bordered with tiles. The Mimbar is on the right side, and the Mihrab is a small niche in the middle. Even though the whole structure have a modern flair, the Mihrab and the Mimbar took a rather traditional Islamic flair.

Author - Donnyhoca

Mihrab of the Şakirin Mosque, Üsküdar, Istanbul, Turkey. The whole building have a modern architecture, and even the Mihrab looks like something out of a modern house catalogue. Even if it does not look like any other Mihrab featured above, or any Mihrab in the world, that is, it still retains the same function – it points to the Qibla, and the Mihrab faces Mecca, to guide the Muslims who wants to offer their prayer to God.

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Technicals – A Variation of the Eight-Pointed Star

Before I have shown you how to create one of Islam’s prominent geometrical motif, the Eight-Pointed-Star. In this edition I would like to show you another variation of the star.

I have forgotten to mention in my last post, the Arabic name for the motif is Rub’ el-Hizb (ربع الحزب) meaning ‘quarter of a group’ – Rub’ means one-fourth or quarter, and Hizb means a group or party. Originally it is used in the division of the Al-Quran. The Al-Quran is divided into 60 Hizb. The motif is used to mark a quarter of one Hizb, while a Hizb is half of a Juz.

It is also a common shape to be used on logos and flags, most usually in the Islamic or Arabic states. It is used in the coat of arms of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, logo of the Cairo Metro and the 2009 Arab Capital of Culture – Al-Quds.

There are two ways to create the alternate version of the eight-pointed star : –

1. Using the original eight-pointed star.

This method is more simple , so it takes the first spot. Start off by drawing an eight-pointed star. (you can refer to my last post).

Extend the lines from the original shape. Don’t worry for the excess, you can erase it later. Do it for the vertical lines first…

The extend the lines for the diagonal lines.

You should note that all the lines that are extending should meet each other.

Clean the excess lines as needed, and as usual, clean as needed, that is, you can erase the original eight-pointed star for some complexity or erase it for a cleaner look.

2. Start off from scratch.

This method is harder, but I will still tell you how to, in case you would like to try it.

Start off with a square. Be sure the dimensions of the sides of the square are equal, otherwise you would end up in an asymmetrical shape rather than symmetrical.

Like the above method, extend the lines from the square.

Draw a line from the extended line of the square from any side of the square (in this case, the left side) and draw it to the third line from your original line downwards or upwards (this instance, downwards) , as such.

Draw two lines where the line you just draw meet. It should look like a half of a square. this will be your guideline.

Continue drawing another line from the extended square line, and repeat drawing the guideline.

Repeat the last two steps until you find yourself having drawn the alternative form of the eight-pointed star. You can also note that you also drawn the original shape of the star.

Erase the guidelines and clean accordingly.

ربع الحزب

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Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #8 – Dome interiors

It seems that I have no posts at all for last week, so I am making another Imagining Islamic Aesthetics post, to supplement last weeks absence of post.

For this edition, I would like to put the spotlight on Domes – unlike the last one, this is regarding the interiors of domes.

As I have noted before, domes are the main feature of a mosque and most often, the focal point of the building. It is commonly situated over the main prayer hall hence the decorating it both inside and outside of the domes. Usually, the decoration is more intricate inside than outside because of weather corrosion factor and maintenance. Materials used for decorating the outer domes are usually brick and occasionally tiles, but with the interior there are a  plethora of materials can be used – paint, tiles, mirror glass and even gold.

Author - Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

The interior of Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The main dome is lavishly decorated and painted with gold coloured calligraphy arabesques and blue tiles – hence the other moniker of the mosque – The Blue Mosque. The cords are for chandeliers that hang from the ceiling, just a distance from the devotees, and suspended from the domes. There are some discolouration on the right side medal decoration : it is said that it was damaged and the tiles fallen off from their position in the 20th Century do to earthquake, but remained unrepaired.

Author - MrFinland

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE. It is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, and the eighth largest in the world. named after the first president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Sultan Al-Nahyan, who is also buried in the mosque. The religious building was opened in the Islamic month of Ramadhan 1427 Hijra, that is 2007AD. It holds multiple world records – World Largest Carpet and World’s Largest Chandelier, as can be seen here. The design of the mosque is an amalgamation of Mughal and Moorish architecture, design and decoration. Here you can see, other than the world record chandelier, the lavish decoration adorning the walls, in the form of carved Arabesques. The designs are utilized from the walls up to the ceilings and to the interior of the dome. Absence of colour makes the design stand out with the play of light and shadow.

Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, Egypt, completed in 265 AH/ 879AD. Comissioned by The Abbasid Governer of Egypt at that time, Ahmad Ibn Tulun, it is the oldest and the largest mosque in Cairo. It was constructed on a hill called Jabal Yashkur/Gebel Yashkur, literally means the Hill of Thanksgiving in Arabic, from the local legend saying that the Prophet Noah’s (Nuh in Arabic) Ark lies here after the Deluge instead on Mount Ararat. This is the interior of the dome of the central Sabil, or the ablution fountain situated in the middle of the courtyard of the Mosque. The structure itself have very little decoration, perhaps faded over time. Here you can see the usage of Muqarnas, utilizing small niches. Also some of the niches are cut as windows for the structure. You can also see the Mamluk era calligraphy decorating the circumference and the top of the dome.

Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque in Damascus Syria. This is a shrine dedicated to Zaynab, daughter of Fatimah and Ali, and the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad. It is a shrine mainly used by the Shi’a sect of Islam. The dome of the shrine is made of pure gold, and directly beneath the dome is the tomb of Zaynab. It is maintained by mainly Iranians. The architecture of the shrine is mainly Central Asian in nature, echoing the other Shi’a shrines in Iran or Iraq. While the exterior of the dome is extravagant enough, the interior is not unimpressive. Tiles in floral motifs, in blue and red colours decorate most of the dome, with turquoise center. Calligraphy decorate the circumference in cobalt and white.

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Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #7 – Mosques

I actually left out something most basic after all this while posting about Islamic art and architecture. I left out the place where all these aesthetics come to play.

For this edition of Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, I would like to feature mosques for today.

Mosque is the name for Muslim place of . The original word for Mosque in Arabic is Masjid (ﻤﺴﺠﺪ) , meaning (place for) prostration i.e to God. It is thought that the name Mosque came to be when Islam arrived in Spain – mosques were called Mezquita in Spanish, hence English took that form of referring to Muslim place of worship and in time, Mezquita turned into Mosque.  The first Mosque in Islamic history is built by the prophet himself, the Quba Mosque. Since then the structure becomes more and more elaborate, adding features that becomes significantly Islamic in nature – Domes, minarets, mihrabs and flamboyant decorations.

An image of the Quba Mosque, the first mosque in Islam, and the oldest mosque in Saudi Arabia.  The original structure of open courtyard with palm trunks for pillars and palm leaves for roofs is no longer there, since it was torn down to be replaced with a new construction in the 20th Century.

This is the image of Masjid Al-haram, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, with the black draped Kaabah in the middle. This is the place where Muslims direct their face when they pray – Kaabah is believed to be the House of God, the base of the Throne of God or Arasy in Arabic. It also supposedly reflects a house, with the same form and circumnavigated by angels in heaven – Baitul Makmur.

Author - damian entwistle

This is the Great Mosque of Kairouan, Tunisia. It is one of the earliest mosques in Islam. Built in 670AD, it is the biggest and oldest mosque in Africa, and made the model for many mosques after it. It is also regarded as one of the masterpieces of Islamic art and architecture. This mosque utilizes the Arab Plan – that is, the Hypostyle prayer hall, supported by numerous amount of pillars.You can absolutely say most of North African and Andalusian Spain mosques were similarly built like this one, albeit the decorations that set them apart. The dome is more round, almost egg like shape. In this case, it was built with decoration that looks ribbed, in vertical stripes.

Author - Arad Mojtahedi

Naghsh-i Jahan Square, with The Shah Mosque in the background in Isfahan, Iran. The mosque is regarded as one of the architectural masterpieces of Iran. It is best known for its seven coloured tiles and calligraphy work adorning the walls. As with most Central Asian religious and civic buildings, the architecture consists of Iwans – ornamental gates (in the Shah Mosque’s case, there is two) and Sahns, the central colonnaded courtyard. In decorations, these buildings are usually decorated with tiles, mostly blue in colour, as well as calligraphy work. Note the shape of the dome as well – straight base and curved inside to form a dome.

Author - Dersaadet

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. It is also commonly known as the Blue Mosque, because of the blue tile decorations inside. It is built by Ahmet I, constructed between 1609 – 1616. It closely follows the mosque, formerly a church, it faces – the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish). It has a frontal colonnaded Sahn in the front, a cavernous central praying hall and 6 minarets. Turkish mosque are essentially easy to note – sharp, pin like minarets, often two or more, lavishly decorated interiors and usage of Iznik tiles, and the domes are shaped like the Byzantium Hagia Sophia that is, shaped like 1/4th of a sphere.

Author - Miguel A. Monjas

The Great Mosque of Xi’an is one of the oldest and most renowned mosque in China. built in the Tang Dynasty (685-762), it does not follow Middle Eastern concept of Mosque architecture, but instead, it follows Chinese style of architecture, complete with a pagoda shaped pavilion for a minaret. While some mosques in China, especially those in the western parts of the country follows Central Asian style for mosques, some of the earliest mosques of the country follows Chinese architecture. It even follows typical Chinese decorations, albeit there is some Arabic calligraphy used, even though it is very similar to Chinese characters in form. There are no domes, and there are no traditional shaped minarets.

Author - Shashwat_Nagpal

This is the Jama Mosque or the Masjid-I Jahan-Numa in Delhi, India. It is the main mosque of Old Delhi, commissioned by the same Mughal Emperor who ordered the Taj Mahal to be built – Shah Jahan. It is completed 1656AD with the efforts of about 5,000 workers, with the cost of 10 lakh (1 million) rupees. The architectural style of these Indian mosque shows Central Asian influences with Iwans and Sahns. However, Hindu influences are also apparent in the form of ornamentation are decoration, replacing the blue tiles of the Central Asian mosques. Materials used are of redstone and marble and gave them their characteristic looks. The domes are onion shaped – like 3/4th of a sphere. with pointed finials. Minarets looks like long stalks with flower like shapes, an apparent influence of Hindu aesthetics.

Masjid Agung Demak (Grand Mosque of Demak in Demak, Central Java, Indonesia. It is the one of the earliest mosque in Indonesia, completed in the 15th Century. It was believed to be built by one one the Wali Songo (Nine Muslim Saints), Sunan Kalijaga. The architecture of South Asian mosques (the earlier ones) have their influences on the local culture and aesthetics. There is no domes, but replaced by multi-tiered roofs, similar to religious buildings of Hindu-Buddhist civilization of early Java and Bali. The most common building material is wood. Carvings are utilized as decorations, the same style made by Javanese and Balinese craftsmen. Middle eastern style and decoration are rarely, if not used at all.

The great  Mosque of Djenné in Djenné, Mali, Africa. Built around 1200 – 1330AD, it is one of the finest example of Sudano-Sahelian architecture. Very little is known about the history of the mosque, until the French explorer, René Caillié came and visited the place in 1828 and wrote about it. It is built using sun-dried mud bricks and coated with mud plaster, giving its smooth, sculpted look. The walls are decorated with rodier palm sticks called Toron, both for aesthetic reason and for scaffolding if the building needed repairs. There were no domes, and very little decoration both internal and external, unlike many other mosques in the Islamic world. Minarets are built with the same technique as with the main building, and connected to it, instead of being a separate tower or building.

Author - Ilmarry

An example of a modern mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Today, architects does not follow traditional rules of the place where they built the mosque on ; you can see Turkish style mosques in Malaysia, for example. Also, architects have managed to merge traditional and modern  for building mosques, making a harmonious amalgamation of aesthetics of the old and new. Styles were also merged so it is not rare to see , for example, South Asian style of architecture to be assimilated with Mughal style.

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