Study – Minbars, The Artistic Significance

As discussed before in a post in Imagining Islamic Aesthetics, a Minbar resembles closely to a pulpit, but with the function of a lectern, installed in a mosque. It is where an Imam delivers his sermons (Khutbah) in communal prayers on Fridays, as well as on Eid. It is usually built in the shape of a small tower with a pointed or domed roofing (according to region) with steps leading up to the top, where a chair is placed, so that the Imam can sit in between the two sermons in Friday prayers. Usually made out of wood, and sometimes a freestanding structure which can be moved, it is also made in marble or other types of stone, and built into the Qibla wall, that is the wall which faces Mecca, where Muslims direct themselves in prayers. It is usually built on the right side of the Mihrab niche, sometimes with a space for the assistance of the Imam, the Muezzin, to call out the Adhan/Azaan, the Muslim call of prayer.

Author - Bernard Gagnon

The minbar in the Chapel of the Krak des Chevaliers, Syria


It is said that the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, only had an installations of  three steps and stood on top of it to deliver his sermons. The Minbar developed extensively from the start of the expansion of the Islamic empire until now. As Islam grew, and assimilated many cultures, so the aesthetics, in accordance to region, changes and metamorphose. Earlier Minbars were destroyed during the conquests of other cultures and civilizations such as the Mongols in Iran and Iraq, and very little early examples of Minbars survived.

Differences of Minbars Between Regions

The Fatimid era Minbars are the earliest ones that survived, one example being in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, made for Nur al-Din in 1168, which sees the Minbar as a structure of wood, with a platform on top with a dome canopy, as well as a portal before the steps. Stone Minbars are also built, an example is in the Sultan Hasan Mosque, in Cairo, Egypt. Having the same structure as the wooden ones, the decorative carvings of Muqarnas are also employed above the door in front of the steps.


The Mihrab and Minbar of the Mosque of An-Nasir Muhammad, in the Citadel of Cairo.

In Iran and its surroundings, the early Minbars were destroyed by the conquering Mongols ; only several examples from the Timurid dynasty survived. The Timurid Minbars are decorated with panels that featured geometrical shapes, Kufic calligraphies made with tiles, decorated with vegetal motifs, the same decorations that embellish the mosques and other significant monuments of Iran, Iraq and the Persian world.

Minbar in the Regent's Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: Minbar in the Regent’s Mosque, Shiraz, Iran

Turkish, particularly Ottoman, Minbars always have a  pointed top above the platform, echoing the shape of the Ottoman Mosques minarets. They are mostly made out of wood, however, the important ones, such as the Minbar in the Hagia Sophia, in Instanbul, Turkey. Both the wooden and stone Minbars are built attached to the wall, most usually to the Mihrab Wall.

Author - Giovanni Dall'Orto

A Mihrab in Sehzade Mosque in Istanbul

Indian and Central Asian mosques Mihrabs are almost always made from stone, and ornamented with carvings and Jaalis.  In North India region such as Gujerat and Ahmadabad the Minbars take the form of a pavillion on four piers. In the South, such as Hyderabad, the structure is much simpler and heavier, with no portals, doors or top covering the platform.

A stepped pulpit or minbar set between prayer niches on the western side of the courtyard at the Jamid Masjid mosque, in Fatehpur Sikri.

African mosques have stone Minbars which are very simple, only consisting of steps leading up to a platform. In Sanje Ya Kate in southern Tanzania the  mosque have a unique Minbar which is set into the Qibla wall, and entered through the means of accessing a set of steps carved into the wall that goes up to a niche in the Mihrab.

Decorations Employed

While African (Excluding the Northern African ones) have very simple Mihrabs, Other regions mostly have very heavily decorated Mihrabs, since it is one of the most prominent feature in a mosque, being next to the Mihrab and the function of the structure itself. In Syrian, Egyptian, Turkish and North African mosques, the Mihrabs are decorated with geometrical panels, made usually out of inlaid wood. Except for the Turkish Mihrabs, which have a pointed cone shaped canopies above the platform, the Minbars have domes for canopies. There are doors in front of the steps going to the platform, which the door itself, if there is any, is decorated with carved or inlaid geometrical patterns. Muqarnas decorations are almost always featured, whether above the portals, or under the canopies above the platforms. The more striking Mihrabs features exemplary Islamic artistry such as carved pierced screens and gilded decoration in the forms of vegetal and geometrical patterns.

Persian mosques features Persian craftsmen works of  relief patterned panels of geometrical forms and flowery, vegetal tendrils which are very similar to the covering of the walls of the mosques there.


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One response to “Study – Minbars, The Artistic Significance

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