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

2.3 The architectural components of a mosque

It is important to remember that the main symbolic components of a mosque are neither obligatory nor ubiquitous. Some or all of the following elements are often found in mosques, however, and they then have particular symbolic meanings:

  • The mihrab (Arabic) is a physical indication of the direction of Mecca in the qibla wall. It also acts as a symbol that commemorates the Prophet Muhammad in mosque architecture. The mihrab can be flat, such as the seventh-century mihrab in the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, 691–2, that can be viewed at the Creswell Archive, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, or in the form of a concave niche, such as the sixteenth-century mihrab of the Great Mosque of Manah, Oman, seen below.

The mihrab of the Great Mosque of Manah, Oman, 1534.

© Ruba Kana’an

  • The minaret is a place for the call for prayer attached to or associated with a mosque. minarets do not have a specific shape or form. The most common type of minaret is a tower that is square in Syria and North Africa, cylindrical stone in Turkey and brick in Iran and Central Asia (such as the minaret of the Kalayan Mosque (also Kalan) built in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, in 1127 seen below), or multi-storey with different profiles in Egypt. The function of the minaret first evolved when Muslims used elevated buildings and rooftops to call for prayer during the life of the Prophet. Mosques and other buildings serving a religious function usually have one minaret, yet two minarets flanking an iwan (Arabic) or portal became common in Iran from the thirteenth century onwards and the Ottomans framed their mosques with two, four or six minarets.

Minaret of the Kalayan Mosque. Bukhara, Uzbekistan. 1127.

© Yahya Michot

  • The minbar is a raised pulpit used for the delivery of religious sermons (khutba). Its most common form is a few steps with an elevated seat, with or without a hood. Its development is linked to a seat on which the Prophet used to stand when addressing his followers. Not all mosques have minbars as their function is linked to the performance of Friday prayers. A less well-known type of minbar, in the form of a concave recess next to the mihrab and sometimes connected to it, was common in East Africa and southern Arabia.