Study – The Evolution of Minarets ; The Early Forms of the Minarets

Minarets are one of the distinct feature of the Islamic architecture particularly Mosques. The word minaret comes from the Arabic loanword manara(منارة), which originally means lighthouse. It is usually a structure taller than the main building, with a base, shaft and gallery, and have certain characteristics unique to different regions.

During the early years of Islam, there was no minarets for mosques. The call for prayers or Azan would be made on the roof of the Prophet Muhammad, according to some Hadis (the Prophet’s saying and traditions), the place which also used as a place for prayer. It is only after 80 years from the Prophet’s death that the first minaret of the Islamic world emerged.

The first minaret in the Muslim world is one from the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia hence it is the oldest minaret. It was completed in 836 CE. It reaches the height of 31.5 meters. The design, which is three square sections stacked up and decreasing in size from bottom up, became the ubiquitous plan for many other early Islamic minarets.

Tower (Minaret) of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, Tunisia

Two other surviving examples of the minarets that follows this minaret’s plan are in Syria, one in the great citadel of Aleppo and another is in Damascus. Two of these sites are also significant sites in Islamic civilization.

The minaret of the Great Mosque of the Aleppo citadel only have two levels but follows very closely to the one in Tunisia. It is simpler, topped with a balcony where the Muezzin calls to prayer.

Author - Bernard Gagnon

Minaret of the Great Mosque of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syria

The Minaret of the Bride in the Great Mosque of Damascus or the Umayyad Mosque, is one of the three minarets of the mosque. It is considerably larger and taller than the one in Kairouan, and more decorated. There is a balcony in the middle and topped with a domed finial.

Author - Bernard Gagnon

Minaret of the Bride, Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

On the course of the years of the Islamic civilization, the minaret became increasingly lerger, taller and more decorated but differs from region to region.


Mawlid An-Nabi ﷺ

Today (here in Brunei) is the anniversary of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the prophet and founder of the religion of Islam. Since this blog is about Islamic art and architecture, I think it is quite appropriate to put this up.

For my fellow Muslim brothers, let us all be in remembrance of our great prophet and messenger, Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah ﷺ. He who brought us the religion of Islam, and the message of peace. Remember him not just as a messenger and a holy man, but also as a human who lived his life with the best of ways.

“The Messenger of Allah said: Whoever sends one salah upon me, Allah will send ten upon him.”

To my non Muslim readers – Why not go to your local library or do an internet research about Muhammad, and I am pretty sure you will find an inspiring lifetime spent by this individual, and it might inspire you as well 🙂

Imagining Islamic Aesthetic #39 – Nasrid Art and Architecture

Now I am restarting the IIA (Imagining Islamic Aesthetic) after a long time not posting any articles under this category. For this edition, I would like to focus on one of my favourite Islamic period, in the artistic sense, the Nasrid period.

The Nasrid dynasty, or Banu Nasr in Arabic was the last Muslim dynasty that ruled Spain, rising to power after the collapse of the Almohad Dynasty in 1212. The Nasrids are known for their expansive palaces and mosques, as well as highly developed arts. Below are few of great examples of Nasrid art and architecture.

Nasrid situla from the Alhambra of Granada, Made of cast, engraved, nielloed and fire-gilded bronze. At the rim (repeated): “The continuous happiness”. At medallions: “Happiness and prosperity, blessing and wishes come true”.

Alhambra-type vase, made in the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.It comes from Hornos (Province of Jaén, Andalusia, Spain).

Lamp from the mosque of Oran (Algeria). It is a bell reused and transformed into a lamp.It was made in the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

mosaics and arabesks on a wall of the Myrtle court, Alhambra, Granada, Spain. The tiling, called Zillij or Zellige in Morocco can be found all over the Alhambra and Generalife complex.

Author - Hans Bernhard (Schnobby)

The Alhambra in Granada (Spain) at night. Alhambra is one, if not the proudest and most grandeur architectural masterpiece of Nasrid dynasty.

History – The Origin of Islamic Calligraphy

First of all, I would like to apologize, again, for the lack of posting. As I had mentioned, I have been very busy with work that I could not find time to dedicate myself with this blog, but still I will never abandon this blog, because I still have more to share with you!

The Origin of the Islamic Calligraphy –

The chief prophet of Islam, Muhammad once said in a Hadeeth (the prophet’s sayings or traditions) regarding how to write the Basmalah, the opening verse that means “in the name of God, the most Merciful, the most Compassionate” for each chapters of the Holy Qur’an, the Islamic holy book.

The Prophet Muhammad taught Muawiyah how to write the Basmalah properly, and he said – Darken your ink and ready your pens. Write the ‘Ba” in  a good way, lengthen the “Seen”, Do not make the “Meem” long. Perfect the Lafz Jalalah (God’s Name), and beautify “Ar-Rahman” and  “Ar-Raheem”….

From this Hadeeth, we can safely assume that the techniques of Islamic calligraphy are already starting to be developed by the prophet himself, by teaching Muawiyah how to write the Basmalah correctly and also how to write it in a better, stylized way.

The Basmalah, as described in the Hadeeth

Back then, the Arabic script is not very developed, and the script used at that time was derived from the Nabatean script called the Kufic script, ounded in Kufa, Iraq and is squarish and angular. Early examples of the Arabic script and the Nabatean scripts were compared by Historians and they believe and agreed that the Arabic script were derived from the Nabatean script (more on the History of the Kufic script on later post)

After the Hijrah (migration of the prophet from Mecca to Medina) the will to learn to write and master the Arabic script became widespread, and this is backed up and supported by the Prophet himself when he freed the captives of the Badar war in 24H/624M  after asking them to teach Muslim children to read and write.

Kufic script, from an early Quran manuscript showing Sura 7 (Ala’araf) verses 86 & 87, 7th century. National Library, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Islamic calligraphy is said to be in its Golden days in the Abbasid dynasty when the most important figure in Islamic Calligraphy, Ibnu Muqlah, lived. He is the Vizier of three of Abbasid Caliphs. He is also known to be very knowledgeable in Science and Geometry, and invented a method of Calligraphy that enables writers to produce systematic and symmetrical works of calligraphic art. He also invented a few Arabic cursive scripts, namely Nasakh and Thuluth, that replaces the old Kufic scripts previously used as the medium script for writing the Holy Qur’an.

The verses 1-4 of the second chapter of the Qur’an entitled al-Baqarah (The Cow). The text is written in the cursive script called naskh, and each verse is separated by an ayah marker consisting of a gold six-petalled rosette with blue and red dots on its perimeter. Both the script and the illumination are typical of Qur’ans produced in Mamluk Egypt during the 14th and 15th centuries. Recitation markers signaling where not to stop recitation (“la” or “no stopping”) are marked in red above the first two verse markers.


A Very Busy Start to the Year!

First of all, I would like to apologize to you my readers for yet again another delay of postings. These few days I got really busy doing much works in my hand plus the usual office work it seems that I cannot get myself to spend some time on the blog. However, with my absence, I managed to get some new materials to work on, and also I am working on some new projects! You see…

A few weeks ago, I got invited to this seminar/talk sponsored by the local Islamic university UNISSA, “Ceramah Khas Seni Khat dan Reka Bentuk Islam” (Seminar on the art of Islamic Calligraphy and Designs in Malay). I was invited (by phone, nonetheless) to this seminar because I, if you remembered last year, joined the university’s Mushaf designing competition, as winners of the competition was also announced in the same event. I can’t tell you how nervous I was, and how my heart beats like all hell breaks loose then. But in the end, I received a very welcome news, a pleasant surprise. I will clarify that later on in another post.

This is the opening slide for the seminar by a renowned Malaysian Calligraphist and Islamic Designer, Ustaz Abd. Baki bin Abu Bakar. The entire seminar is honestly bland and lecture-like (and I am quite sure some of the audience might be sleepy for the duration of the seminar) but I was very eager to learn more from this teacher. Though the seminar is short and in my opinion, very compact, I nevertheless got quite some new ideas on Islamic Calligraphy and Islamic Design. So, expect new materials and articles in the near future.