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

2.10 Places of learning and devotion: madrasas and khanqahs

Other widespread centres of Muslim devotional practice include madrasas and khanqahs. The word madrasa means a place of learning. As Muslim religious institutions, madrasas are schools where Muslim law and other related topics are taught. The evolution and distribution of madrasas date back to the eleventh century. The earliest architectural examples are found in modern-day Iraq, Iran and Central Asia, and the institution and its architectural composition spread from there into Syria and Egypt. There is no uniform or universal form for the architecture of madrasas. Regional and environmental influences, the number of law classes taught within a particular madrasa and the aims and wishes of the founder influenced the specifics of its design. (For a brief introduction to Islamic law, see Hattstein and Delius, pp. 24–6.) All madrasas provide places, however, for teaching, prayer and student accommodation. Some madrasas, also known as funerary madrasas, also had mausoleums of their founders attached. See, for example, the Mamluk madrasa and Funerary Complex of Sultan Hasan, which was built in Cairo in 1356–62.

The khanqah (Arabic and Persian), on the other hand, is a building used for worship and lodging by the followers of a mystical order (sufis). Other words including tekke (Turkish), zawiya (Arabic), and ribat (Arabic) are used for similar institutions. Khanqahs did not have a single plan type but evolved in different styles. There is also some overlap in the functions of khanqahs and shrines that will be addressed in the final unit, ‘Unit 10: Funerary landscape - Tombs, mausoleums and gardens’. Khanqahs became common in Egypt under the Ayyubids (1171–1250) and the Mamluks (1250–1517).

Optional personal activity: khanqahs

To understand the variety of function and composition of khanqahs read the description of the Khanqah of Sultan Faraj ibn Barquq, Cairo, 100–1411, in pp. 185–7 of Hattstein and Delius and Maylyuda Yusupova’s 1999 article, ‘Evolution of Architecture of the Sufi Complexes in Bukhara’, available for download from ArchNet (pdf/2.49 MB).