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.


1 Comment

Filed under Imagining Islamic Aesthetic

One response to “Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #7 – Mosques

  1. Parag

    That’s list is just awesome.
    Mosque of djenne

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