Deconstructing : “Weird” pattern in Suleymaniye Mosque

As I had noted in one of my posts under the Istanbul series I had found a rather peculiar pattern on the carpet of the Suleymaniye Mosque. Perhaps a modern or new take on a classic pattern, this nevertheless it is rather unsettling, for me at least, as a stuent of Islamic art and Islamic Geometry.

The carpet is part of the carpeting for the main prayer hall, where it becomes a border. I *think* it is carpeting for the corridors on the side of the main hall, but my memory could betray me. It is in a dark tan colour, light mauve and light blue. A floral pattern not unlike Iznik tiles further embellish the pattern executed in white with black borders. The colours looks a bit faded ; perhaps it has not been replaced for quite a while. However, this is not the issue I am addressing…

It is the pattern itself. Again whether it is intentional or not (I believe carpeting this large would be made with machinery, thus have their limitations) or just ,again, simply a modern take on a well known classic eight fold pattern, I will not be able to know. I think I stared at the carpet for a few minutes when I saw it, trying to deconstruct it and trying to make sense of the pattern. I feel a bit betrayed, for the lack of better word, to see such a weird pattern in one of the greatest mosques in Islam. I would expect a better executed pattern in a setting such as this, but again I could understand that it could be an effort to breathe a new life to a classic but rather overused pattern.

This is the pattern I am talking about.


Below I had marked the problematic shapes I found within the pattern, namelya square and a half bow-tie shape.


This is a (amateur) computer rendition of the said pattern with the strange shapes coloured ; red for the squares and yellow for the half bow-ties. The blue line marks where the borders of the pattern in the carpet. I honestly think they would be better off repeating the eight pointed stars with the projected triangles of the center pattern rather than making thse awkward shapes. It feel like there is no flow ; the line stopping abruptly at the sharp corners of the squares.


Below is the classic rendition of this eight fold pattern. Instead of the sqaures and half bow-tie shapes used in the above pattern, I replaced them with octagons, marked in green and in bold lines. This creates a visual flow to the pattern, so that your eyes naturally follows the line continuously without any abrupt stops, unlike the pattern with the squares. With the octagons,  five pointed star shapes is created instead of arrows.


Study – Colours in the Islamic World Pt 2– The Nusantara

This is a continuation from the series about the colours of the Islamic world. For this post we will be looking at somewhere place closer, to me anyway. I am talking about the Nusantara, or the Malay Peninsula.

Nusantara – The Malay Peninsula

Nusantara refers to the Malay Peninsula, that is the area in South Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Borneo (Including Brunei) and South Philippines. Historically the region is a crossroads for trades from India and China ; thus Islam were propagated through Indian and Arab traders.


It is said that Islam arrived in the peninsula in the early ninth century, however it does not gain significant followers until around the 12th century, where rulers of kingdoms around the peninsula began accepting Islam as their faith, beginning with the Sultanate of Kedah with the conversion of Phra Ong Mahawangsa.  In the Nusantara propagation of Islam is rather unique ; old established customs and traditions that are rooted in Hindu-Buddhist faith were intermingled with Islam, meaning that the old ways were not eradicated entirely, but rather adopted in accordance to the Muslim laws. This can be seen in the cultures and the arts, where heritages such as songs, music and dances, well established before the arrival of Islam, were modified according to the tenets of Islam. The same could be said of visual art and architecture ; influences of the old faiths such as pagodas and Wat were apparent in the older mosques, while vegetal and floral motifs used in the old days were still used, abandoning human and animal motifs, in accordance with Islam forbidding the imagery of living beings. Mosques were built almost in a similar way to Hindu temples, especially in the Javanese region, where Hindu influences were strong. While some may not follow the Hindu temple architecture, influences are strong. You can see this with the finials on the roofs of the mosques, where traditional finials were used instead of the common crescent and star used across the Islamic world. One mosque in Kudus, Java even have a Balinese Hindu style tower as a part of its mosque complex.

Colours :

For this article I am only discussing about the traditional vernacular architecture of mosques in the Nusantara.

Wood and timber are easily obtained in the region, being having an equatorial climate. Thus if left unpainted, the natural colours of the wood shine in the buildings. Browns are most prevalent in the earlier mosques such as those built around the 15th Century. Sometimes bricks were used, which are made from mud which when dried turn into reds. Furthermore, the roofs are traditionally made with clay tiles, which has the natural colour of dark reds. Stone were less commonly used, except for foundations and half walls, as they are not as easily obtainable and heavy .

Notable Examples :

Wapauwe Old Mosque (Indonesian Masjid Tua Wapauwe or Masjid Tua Wapaue) is a historic mosque in Kaitetu village, a village in the Wawane Mountains on the north part of cape Keitetu, North Maluku, Indonesia. Established in 1414, it is the oldest mosque in the Moluccas and possibly the oldest mosque in Indonesia which has been maintained in its original state (Wikipedia)

The natural colour of the wood and the roofing of this very old mosque is shown here. The white and green colour are probably of concrete and painted at a much later dare.

Masjid Agung Demak (or Demak Great Mosque) is one of the oldest mosques in Indonesia, located in the center town of Demak, Central Java, Indonesia. The mosque is believed to be built by the Wali Songo (“Nine Muslim Saints”) with the most prominent figure Sunan Kalijaga, during the first Demak Sultanate ruler, Raden Patah during the 15th century.[1] (Wikipedia)

Although this photo is in black and white, if you look at a contemporary photo of the mosque,you will see that it is of typical Javanese mosque architecture and hence the same colours as other mosques in the area.

Kampung Laut Mosque (Malay: Masjid Kampung Laut) is the oldest surviving mosque in Malaysia. It dates to around the early 18th century.[1] It is located in Jalan Kuala Krai Nilam Puri, Kelantan.

Masjid Kampung Laut was built in the 15th century by a group of Champa government transportation from [Kingdom of Champa] sea routers. Its style is largely typical of local traditional architecture, and climate-appropriate, similar to local houses in the area. The original mosque had a basic architectural styles, structure with four pillars and had palm fronds for the roof.[2]

By virtue of architectural resemblance, it is said that the mosque was the original Masjid Agung Demak that was built in 1401. (Wikipedia)

A Malaysian mosque based on the mosque in Indonesia I had noted above. another old mosque in local timber. The concrete foundations were apparently new additions to strengthen the mosque.

Kampung Hulu Mosque (Malay: Masjid Kampung Hulu) is a mosque in Malacca City, Malacca, Malaysia. It is the oldest mosque in Malacca and among the oldest in the country.[1]

The mosque is situated in Kampong Hulu,built around the year 1720-1728. It underwent renovation in 1892. (Wikipedia)

This is the interior of the mosque. You may see that the walls are concrete instead of wood – this is because the mosque was renovated at a later date.However you can still see the wooden pillars and the second floor balcony as well as the roofs, still traditional. Noted the intricately made woooden Minbar, exhibiting Javanese influence. In the Nusantara earlier mosques were usually whitewashed if they are made from harder materials ie concrete.

The 300 Years Mosque (Thai: มัสยิด 300 ปี; RTGSMatsayit Sam-roi-pi) also known as Al-Hussein Mosque (Thai: มัสยิดวาดี อัล ฮูเซ็น; RTGSMatsayit Wadi An Husen) or Talo Mano Mosque (Thai: มัสยิดตะโละมาเนาะ) is one of the oldest mosques in Thailand. Located in Narathiwat, a southern province in Thailand, it is in use today by the large Muslim community in the area. The mosque was built in 1634 to serve the newly settled Muslim community during that time. It is the oldest wooden mosque in Thailand.

The mosque dates back to the Pattani Kingdom, when it was ruled by a sultan. The villagers in that area who were both Muslims and Buddhists built the mosque in 1634. They cooperated in the construction of the mosque. Legend states that during the war between the Siamese Kingdom and the Pattani Kingdom, a young woman of a village in the Pattani Kingdom was fleeing from the war. She was the keeper of the village’s Quran and fled with it in her hands. Upon fleeing, she fell into a small valley. Rescued by the villagers in that area, she surprised them as she had the Quran tight in her hands. The villagers so then decided to build the Mosque after the war ended.[1] Another legend states that the mosque was built by Wan Husein Az-Sanawi, a teacher who migrated to the Pattani Kingdom, in 1624.[2] The hand-written Quran and the construction plan of the mosque are kept in the mosque itself.

The mosque combines several architectural styles from the Chinese, Thais, and the Malays. The mosque was built with wood from the hummingbird tree and an ironwood tree. Because nails were not invented at that time, wedges were used instead to hold the wood into place. Original roofing was made of palm tree leaves and it was later changed to terracotta tiles. The mosque consists of two buildings. The smaller building is where the mihrab is located and has three layers of roof. It is also where the Chinese-style minaret is located. The bigger building has more of Thai architectural influence with the Thai-style gable. The walls of both buildings has etchings of Thai/Chinese/Malay designs and patterns. (Wikipedia)

This Southern Thai mosque is made entirely out of wood, and is one of the most important mosque in the country. The architecture is traditionally Pattani-Malay style, which looks a bit different than the other mosques in Malaysia and Indonesia. Again local wood are used, and browns are predominantly featured in the mosque.

Study – Colours in the Islamic World Pt 1 – The Arab World

All throughout the Islamic world, it is quite plain to see that each region – from Andalus, to the Arab World, Africa to Far East to the Nusantara (Malay World) – have their own architectural style, artistic elements including colours specific to that region. Whether this is intentional or intentional or because of certain limitations, we will together take a look at the wonderous colours of the Islamic world, and the factors that may influence the colour palette of each region.

Material Availability :

Suleymaniye Mosque entrance to garden from west

Arguably, this is one of the major factors influencing the choice of colours in every region. Colours were limited to the building materials available for construction. Unless otherwise painted over or decorated in any other way, the natural colour of the building materials would be the prevalent colour for the building.

Decoration :

Samarkand City Views

Decoration play another part in the choice of colours for building in the Islamic world. The prevalent art culture in the region – painting, tiling, marquetry, masonry, ironwork and the like all play an important part in decorating important private and public spaces. Areas like mosques, palaces were richly decorated and very often peruses the local craftsmen and their talents for this purpose.

Necessity :

Taj Mahal and outlying buildings as seen from across the Yamuna River (northern view)

Sometimes, colours are not merely just for aesthetic reasons for a building, but it could even be a necessity. Being in the midst of an area using the same materials, it is quite hard to distinguish normal building to special places such as mosques. By using decorations, not only it accomplishes the purpose of beautifying that particular building, but also to differentiate and hence elevate the importance of that building from the surrounding space. A building like a Mosque, for example, not only serves as a spiritual sanctuary for the faithful, it is also used very often as a public, social space. Sometimes it could also be used as an emergency shelter. Being different from the rest of the buildings in the area would certainly help people to identify it easier for example in a natural disaster, or for travelers who requires shelter.

For this article, I would like to start with the colours of Islamic Architecture in the Arab World.

Arab World –

According to the Arab League, the Arab World consists of 22 nations spanning from the Northern African Region and the Arab Archipelago. However, for this article, I would like to concentrate on the Arab Peninsula – Saudi Arabia, The Arab Emirate states, Yemen and including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, as they share the same characteristics with each other.

History –

Islam originated in Saudia Arabia, specifically in Mecca and Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations from Allah over the course of 22 years, more or less. So it is only befitting that we start our study in this region, as the first mosque in Islam, The Quba Mosque, and two of the most important mosques in the Islamic history, The Haram Al-Sharif in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, are located. However, I won’t be elaborating on these two mosques because of how far it has been renovated throughout the years, although I will refer these buildings in their original forms.

The first mosques of Islam were simple affairs – sun-dried mud brick or stone (particularly basalt) were used, as well as palm trees and leaves as roofing and pillars. Decorations were added much later in the history of the earliest mosques, and even then they were simple ornaments – except for the two greatest mosques of Mecca and Medina – where amalgamations of different Islamic artistic cultures converge in these two sites.

Islamic architecture especially early ones, are influenced by even earlier architecture of the Byzantine empire. This is most apparent in the third holiest site in Islam, the Aqsa compound, where the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Qubbah As-Sakhra were modeled after the Church of the Holy Sephulchre and Byzantine palaces and tombs. And as a direct influence, domes, most prevalent in Byzantine churches, were adopted by Muslim architects for mosques and in some instances palaces and other important buildings.

Colours :

As the most common building materials used for these constructions were mud bricks or stone, this choice reflects the colors of the materials. Brown in its different shades, are the most prevalent colours, while white were also common but usually as a paint colour rather than the natural colour of the chosen materials.

White was chosen because of the easy visibility ; the white colour against the brown sandy colour of the desert contrasts greatly, thus it is easy to identify the building amongst the other buildings in the area. White might also be chosen because it provides a cooling effect where white reflects the heat from the harsh desert sand. Early mosques are often used as public and social spaces, and the cooling effect would be very welcome in the desert heat.

Notable examples :

Ibn Tulun Mosque :

The courtyard of Ibn Tulun Mosque in Egypt, with the spiral square minaret in the distance. Brown is the most prevalent colour here , which demonstrates the contrast between the colours of the natural stone and the blue sky.

A closer look at the square Minaret with external spiral staircase

Al Azhar Mosque

The Minarets and domes of The Al Azhar University and Mosque, showcasing the different styles of each dome and minaret.

An old picture of the interior courtyard of the Al Azhar. The walls are plastered and painted white.

Quba Mosque

A modren photo of the Quba Mosque, the first mosque in Islam. Granted, this mosque is not original, however uses the same colour language as most mosques in the region. The walls are plastered and painted white, creating a stark contrast between the sky and the mosque. I would imagine that the mosque, in its state today, would have been very outstanding and easy to see in the desert sands.

Al Aqsa Mosque

One of the oldest mosque in Islam, the Al Aqsa compound is the third holiest site in Islam. The natural stone colour shows here with the Medieval architecture creates a mosque profile that is easily recognizable.

Inside of the mosque you can see the influence of Byzantine art from the golden mosaics.

Umayyad Mosque

Another early Islamic mosque, it was formerly a temple of Jupiter, the a church, and then converted into a mosque. Remains of its older functions still can be seen here

Marble and stone can be seen here used as a part of the mosques courtyard. Quite commonly, pillars from previous temples and churches were repurposed to be used in mosques, especially those where Christian and Islamic history intertwines. Here you can see a gazebo (Dome of the Clock) held by recycled pillars.


Appreciation – Istanbul Trip Pt.8 – Fatih Camii

After my Little Hagia Sophia visit , I went uphill, taking the tram from Sultanahmet square to Fatih mosque, another great example of Ottoman Imperial mosque.

The Fatih Mosque, or Fatih Camii in Turkish, is a part of a large complex consisiting of the mosque, Medrese (Islamic School), a library, a hospital and hospice, a Caravanserai (traveler lodging) ,a market, a Hamam as well as a public kitchen where the poor and needy were fed. It was built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror of Constantinople, upon an older church (The Church of the Holy Apostles) which was in a state of disrepair after the Fourth Crusade, and was demolished to make way for the complex. It was built between 1463 to 1470, about ten years after he had conquered Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul.

Apparently in 1509, an earthquake damaged the mosque badly and consecutively repaired. It was repaired again following more earthquakes in 1557 and 1754 until in 1766 the main dome was so damaged it was beyond repair. Sultan Mustafa, the Ottoman Sultan in 1771 reconstructed the mosque in a new plan, meaning that the current mosque is not the original building, physically and plan-wise. This is rather apparent with the usage of late Ottoman era decoration on the interior (Painted ornament, rather than the Iznik tiling I’d imagine used for earlier Imperial mosque)

The whole plan of the mosque is based on the typical Ottoman Imperial mosque. Similar to other great mosques such as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and the Sulemaniye Mosque, which are actually based on the Byzantine Basilica (i.e Hagia Sophia)  the mosque is build on a square plan main hall with a hypostyled forecourt, surmounted by a main dome and half-domes cascading from the top to the sides. This mosque has two minarets between the main prayer hall and the forecourt.

The mosque is considerably smaller than the other Imperial mosques I had visited so far, but no less impressive. The interior reminds me a lot of the Sulemaniye Mosque, with its simple interior as opposed to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. As usual, marble were used extensively for the building, giving a cool hue to the overall ambiance of the mosque. A deep red carpet covers the floor, with floral motifs similar to Iznik tiles. Stained glass decorates the main prayer hall, allowing a beautiful light to flood into the area. The large windows makes the hall, in the daylight, seem very bright and airy. Calligraphic medallions decorate the halls, particularly under the main dome and the arches supporting the dome. A calligraphic cartouche in green and gold sits on top of the Mihrab, which apparently dates back from the original building. However, the Minbar exhibits a Baroque influence, a common occurrence during later periods of the Ottoman empire. This is again also reflected in the painted decoration of the mosque.

After a short visit, we headed next to another mosque in our visit list, which is the Yavus Sultan Selim mosque and its tomb complex.


The side entrance of the Mosque, entering the hypostyled forecourt. a şadırvan (ablutions fountain can be seen on the right. The mosque  follows closely the classical Ottoman Imperial mosque plan ; a square main prayer hall with a frontal courtyard with colonnaded gallery and an ablution fountain in the center of the courtyard.


The mosque’s main entrance, before going into the main prayer hall. The gate is a display of a great example of Ottoman Muqarnas. A calligraphic panel sits on top of the door, which I cannot actually read. Perhaps it is in Ottoman Turkish? Perhaps my reader can enlighten me on this.


The main prayer hall, flooded with light from the large windows. You can see the Mihrab and the Minbar here as well as a part of the Muezzin platform on the right (Muezzin Mahfili). I don’t exactly remember, but I assume on the second floor with the balustrade is where the Sultan would perform his prayers away from the crowd, also known as the Maqsurah.


A view of the central dome and the half domes. Calligraphy medallions decorate the arches in the name of the four Caliphs (Abu Bakar, Umar, Uthman and Ali). Underneath the main dome itself is another calligraphic medallion.


…Which I couldn’t read well. It was quite complicated and rather hard to see, even zoomed in.  Anyone has any information about the verse or surah this particular calligraphy work?


A flower decoration on the carpet. The colours plays well with with red-white arches, the dark blue calligraphic medallions and the light blues of the stained glass windows.


A closer look of the Qibla wall, where the Mihrab and Mimbar were placed. You can see here the delicate stained glass windows decorating the upper floors of the mosque.


The exterior of the Mosque with a beautiful eight pointed star fountain, acting like a park for the mosque. When I was there there were lots of people just sitting around the square. With the clear blue late spring sky, it is a beautiful day to enjoy, especially with the view of the elegant mosque.