Islamic Art and Architecture: Unit 2 Muslim places of worship and devotion

2.2 Types of mosques: Ritual requirements

We’ve seen in the previous section that there are no physical requirements for the performance of Muslim prayer. The word masjid (Arabic) was used in the Qur’an to refer to places of Muslim prayer as well as pre-Islamic places of prayer. The word masjid means any place of worship: it does not denote a shape, form, size or content. Indeed the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that wherever a Muslim prays, that place is a mosque. With time, three main types/categories of mosques evolved: mosques for everyday prayer, mosques where the Friday prayer is performed and mosques where prayers are performed during religious festivals.

  • Masjids, or neighbourhood mosques, represent the majority of mosques. These mosques are established for the practical use of worshippers and are dispersed throughout urban areas. See, for example, the Aysha Bakkar mosque built in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1973. The interior of each of these mosques has a mihrab to indicate the direction of the qibla.
  • Jāmi‘ (Arabic) is the congregational mosque where Friday prayers are performed. It is also referred to as masjid al-jum‘ah or masjid al-jamā‘ah. The difference between everyday prayers and the Friday prayers is that the noon prayers on the Friday (the Muslim holy day) are followed by a sermon, khutba (Arabic), delivered from the minbar (Arabic) or pulpit. Most of the monuments discussed in this unit are Friday mosques as they are an obvious location for patrons to demonstrate their piety and magnanimity through lavish design and decoration.
  • The third type of places of prayer is known as the musalla (Arabic) or the ‘īdgāh or namazgah (both Urdu), simply meaning ‘a place for prayer’. Historically, musallas were large open spaces on the outskirts of urban settlements devoid of monumental superstructures. The direction of the qibla was indicated by a mihrab as, for example, in the namazgah in Goa, India. (See Hattstein and Delius, p. 40.)

Funerary or memorial mosques can be added to this list but we will discuss them together with mausoleums in the final unit Unit 10: Funerary landscape - Tombs, mausoleums and gardens.