Study – The different forms of Minarets

in the last few post in the Imagining Islamic Aesthetics category, I have introduced you to one of the most fundamental part of Mosque architecture. In this post I would like to discuss the topic further.

Minarets come from the Arabic word manara (منارة) meaning lighthouse (literally meaning a place of light)  and the term is used interchangeably between the two towers. In Mosque Architecture, Minaret is a tower that accompanies a Mosque structure in the form of a tower, terminating in domes or conical roofs. The purpose of the structure is mainly for the Muezzin (the caller to prayers) to recite the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayers. However it also served for aesthetic reason, and this is true to recent times since there is no need for the Muezzin to climb the towers in the presence of modern amenity that is speakers. It also serves as a visual statement, telling viewers that the building nearby is a Mosque, and the surrounding areas are a Muslim community.

The style vary from region to region, and from period to period. In the advent of Islam, there is no minarets ; for example, in Medina, the Muslim community gave the Adhan from the roof of the house of Prophet Muhammad. In 670AD, a few decades after the death of Muhammad, the first minaret in the Islamic world was built. It was built for the Mosque of Uqba, or the The Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia. The shape is square, with three tiers, the lower lever is thicker than the level above. It then became the model of most North African Islamic world minarets.

Styles of minarets according to region and period

  • North African, 8th century onwards– Square shaped, thick structures. It could be in tiers, and sometimes terminating in domes. Simple and mostly unadorned, an example would be the oldest minaret in the Muslim world in the Great Mosque of Kairouan.

    Author - Wotan

    Great Mosque of Kairouan, or the Mosque of Uqba, Tunisia.

  • Moroccan and Andalusian, 8th Century onwards– Similar to the North African style, it is a square shaped structure and thick in circumference. However, it may or may not have tiers, and if it does, it usually have just two, the topmost tier being the balcony where the Muezzin would stand to give the call of prayer. Decorated with Moroccan specialty of Zillij tiles and carved Arabesques.

    Author - Agagax

    Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco.

  • Egyptian and Syrian, 8th Century– The minaret structures for these two areas and particular period are  low square structures, flanking four corners of a Mosque.

    Author - Heretiq

    Sharia Al Bara`a ibn Malek in Salihiyya district, Damascus, Syria.

  • Turkish, 11th Century– One Mosque could have multiple minarets – 2, 4 or 6. The minarets in this region are circular and slender, terminating in conical roofs, and have multiple balconies, each supported and decorated by Muqarnas but otherwise simple structures.

    Author - Cem Topçu

    Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey.

  • Egypt, 15th Century– The minaret structure for Egypt in this period is octagonal. Usually two tiered, the lower is thicker and bigger than the top. Muqarnas are employed for aesthetic reason and support of the balconies, and the rest of the structure is very richly decorated.  It is topped by domes and elongated finials.

    Author - Baldiri

    Al-Azhar Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

  • Central Asia ; Iran and Iraq (Persia), 17th Century– The minarets in these areas are usually small and slim, flanking the entrance of a Mosque or Iwans. Tiled in blue, topped with covered balconies.

    Author - Zereshk

    Jame Mosque of Qazvin, Iran

  • South Asia ; India and Pakistan, 15th century onwards– Octagonal minarets usually accompanies Mosques in these areas. Three tiered mostly and topped with an onion dome and finial. Aesthetically, the decorations have Hindu influences.

    Author - J.M.Garg

    A Mosque adjacent to Tomb of Hayath Bakshi Begum, Hyderabad, India.

  • The Malay Archipelago– Inconsistent, but the earliest minarets of the region have towers influenced by Hindu shrines. It is usually a thick structure, topped with typical pyramid roofing.

    Attributed to - Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)

  • China – The earliest Mosque’s minaret, the Great mosque of Xian does not resemble any other minarets in the Muslim world. In fact it looks like a Chinese pagoda. However as the time period changes, styles are taken mostly from the Central Asian architecture.

    Author - Omar Ansari

    A minaret of a Mosque in Linxia (simplified Chinese: 临夏; traditional Chinese: 臨夏; pinyin: Línxià),  province of Gansu of the People’s Republic of China.

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4 Comments

Filed under Study

4 responses to “Study – The different forms of Minarets

  1. Marion Gerritsen

    I have a question, do you know why there are differently shaped minarets in different wind directions. North, south, east and west.
    I hope for an answer or a way to look further.

    Marion

    • Hello Marion,

      I have no idea about the different minarets for different wind direction because as far as I know there is no such thing being implemented in any Islamic architecture, or perhaps I haven’t studied it. Let’s take Taj Mahal for example – the Mihrab wall faces west hence the four flanking minarets faces Ordinal directions. I will take a look into this subject and once I get some pointers I will email you. Thanks!

      Regards,
      Azim

  2. Minarets

    Hi,
    Great page. Just one thing – the Prophet was born about 570 a.d. and died in about 632 a.d. So, the dates for the one in Tunisia can’t be correct (846 being only 80 years after the Prophet’s death). Also, if this is the first one and was in the 9th century, then how can there be examples from the 7th century? This is a bit confusing and I recommend straightening it out. Other than that – love the work and thanks for putting it up. I, too, love studying the minarets for different time periods and styles.

    • Hello,
      Thank you for pointing out my mistakes…I am just human after all 🙂
      Turns out I didn’t double checked the article before publishing, so I am going to correct the mistakes ; I appreciate your troubles pointing it out for me 🙂

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