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

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Book: Islamic Art and Architecture: Unit 2 Muslim places of worship and devotion
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Date: Wednesday, 21 March 2018, 8:11 PM

2.1 Introduction

This section will introduce you to the physical requirements of Muslim prayer and how these requirements are reflected in mosque architecture. Hattstein and Delius (p. 21) provide a brief description of Muslim prayer. The only defining requirements of a mosque are the orientation towards Mecca – the qibla (Arabic) – and ritual purity. A Muslim can perform his or her prayer anywhere that is clean, without the need for a physical structure. Furthermore, the personal cleansing process required for ritual purity does not need to take place in the same location where the Muslim is praying. Muslims of both sexes are required, however, to cover parts of their body while they are praying.

Mosques developed in different shapes and forms according to the geographic regions in which they were built and in response to environmental factors, local building traditions and stylistic developments. With time, the need for rows of worshippers to face the mihrab (Arabic) became a catalyst for design, and more often than not this is reflected in the architectural composition. The idea of a specific type of a building with a dome and a minaret (Arabic) that came to be perceived as the universal symbol of a Muslim place of prayer is a later development that can be linked, in part, to the political and historical development of European Imperialism. The Middle East with its building styles came to define what the West perceives as ‘Islamic architecture.’ We should add to that, however, that in the decades following the independence of the nation states in which Islam is the majority religion, most of the newly formed states (such as Pakistan and Indonesia) chose the domed structure with one or more minarets as a symbol of their identity and sovereignty.

By the end of this unit you will:

  • be able to identify the requirements for Muslim prayer and devotion
  • understand the architectural components of mosques and their decoration for different regions and styles
  • have an overview of diversity of Muslim cultural expression
  • have an overview of other places of devotion such as madrasas and khanqahs (both Arabic)

Please begin by reading the following sections from Hattstein and Delius:

  • ‘The Mosque’, ‘The three pan-Islamic sanctuaries’, and ‘Structure and function of the mosque’, on pp. 40–45

By the end of this unit you will have read the following sections from Hattstein and Delius:

  • ‘Courtyard Mosques in the early Islamic world’ and ‘The Great Mosque of Damascus’, pp. 67–71
  • ‘The Great Mosque of Isfahan’ and ‘The Friday Mosque at Isfahan’, pp. 109 and 368–9
  • ‘The Suleymaniye Complex, Istanbul, Turkey’, pp. 546–57

Glossary activity

Find out the meaning of the following, or a bit about their meaning in the context of this course, and add them, with your explanations, to your Blog:

  • Buyids
  • Hadith
  • Iwan
  • Jami‘
  • Khanqah
  • Khutba
  • Kiswa
  • Masjid
  • Masjid al-Jama‘ah
  • Masjid al-Jum‘ah
  • Mihrab
  • Minaret
  • Mughals
  • Musalla
  • Ottoman
  • Qibla
  • Ribat
  • Saljuq/Seljuk
  • Sufi
  • Tekke
  • Zawiya

Optional personal activity: State mosques

To view examples of the modern ‘state mosques’ go to ArchNet’s Digital Library:

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.

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.

2.4 The Holy sanctuaries of Islam: Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem

In this section we’ll briefly discuss the three holy sites in Islam – Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. These three sites are considered holy for all Muslims. Other sites, such as the cities of Najaf and Karabala (also Kerbela) in Iraq, are considered places of pilgrimage for Shi’i Muslims (also Shia, Shi’ite) but not necessarily for Sunni Muslims. Hattstein and Delius discuss these three sanctuaries (pp. 40–2) and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (pp. 64–7).

Mecca (Arabic Makka)

The Haram (Arabic) or Sanctuary in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia surrounds the Ka‘ba. It was considered a sacred pace and a place of pilgrimage before Islam. The Qur’an (sūra three, verses 96–7) mentions the Ka‘ba as the oldest house built for the worship of God, and (sūra two, verse 127) gives Abraham and his son Ismā‘īl the role of building the Ka‘ba and establishing pilgrimage to it.

The Ka‘ba, which is now only seen draped in a fine black silk embroidered with gold and silver thread (known as kiswa (Arabic)), is a building in the form of a cube. A meteorite stone, known as the Black Stone, is built into the eastern corner of the building and revered by Muslims as it is believed to be part of the original foundations of the Ka‘ba built by Abraham. We have only historical accounts of the physical structure of the Ka‘ba during the life of the Prophet. It was built of alternating courses of stone and wood and had two rows of columns supporting a flat roof.

Medina (Arabic al-Madina)

The sanctity of the mosque in Medina is predicated upon the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 (the beginning of the Muslim calendar), and the establishment of his first mosque there. Medina, however, is not a place where Muslims go on obligatory pilgrimage. The original mosque established during the life of the Prophet was enlarged several times soon after his death to satisfy the spatial needs of the growing community. The core of the mosque that currently stands in Medina dates to a reconstruction phase from the early eighth century. Based on historical reconstruction (link below), the architectural composition of the building comprises a covered area in the direction of the qibla and a courtyard that is surrounded by arcades.

Creswell’s reconstruction plan of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina can be viewed at the Creswell Archive, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


Like Mecca, Jerusalem had a pre-Islamic history of ‘sanctity’ that Muslims assimilated and developed. For Muslims, the Haram or Sanctuary in Jerusalem is associated with the Prophet’s nocturnal journey to Heaven or mi‘rāj (Arabic) and his prayers amongst God’s messengers and Prophets (Qur’an 17:1). The Dome of the Rock is the earliest standing monument in Islam and it is dated by inscription to 691. The building is octagonal in shape and is surmounted by a high dome covered with gold-plated copper sheets. The interior comprises two ambulatories surrounding the Rock. The facades are clad with marble panels below and a profusion of ceramic tiles above. This blue-and-gold look, however, was given to the Dome of the Rock only towards the middle of the sixteenth century. For more than 700 years before that, the Dome of the Rock was covered with glass mosaics, predominantly in gold, decorated with unfolding green foliage.

Personal activity: The Dome of the Rock

Read the discussion of the Dome of the Rock on pp. 64–7 of Hattstein and Delius and answer the following questions. Post your answers in the relevant thread of the Worship and devotion forum, and reply to at least one posting by another student.

  • What does the shape of the building tell us about its function?
  • What are the architectural precedents for the form of the Dome of the Rock?
  • What are the main patterns in the interior mosaic decoration?
  • What type of information is included in the mosaic inscription?

Optional activity: The historical setting of early Islam

For a map of the three sanctuaries and a brief introduction to the historical setting of early Islam go to the page ‘The Birth of Islam’ on the Timeline of Art History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

2.5 Regional variations in Mosque architecture

In this section we learn about the regional typology of mosque architecture by analysing the architectural and stylistic characteristics of three Friday mosques. However, we should remember that the three types represented by these mosques are neither the only nor the more widespread types, as other types occur in regions such as South and South East Asia.

To make the most of this section, read the following pages of Hattstein and Delius. Make sure you are familiar with the names and terms before you proceed:

  • ‘Courtyard Mosques in the early Islamic world’ and ‘The Great Mosque of Damascus’, Syria (also known as the ‘Umayyad mosque’) (pp. 67–71)
  • ‘The Great Mosque of Isfahan’ and ‘The Friday Mosque at Isfahan’, Iran (pp. 109 and 368–9)
  • The Suleymaniye Complex, Istanbul, Turkey, also known as the ‘Suleimaniye mosque’ (pp. 546–57)

2.6 The Great Mosque of Damascus, Syria (706–15)

The style of this mosque is called the ‘Arab’ or the ‘hypostyle’ mosque. It consists of a prayer-hall with parallel rows of columns supporting the roof, and a courtyard surrounded by arcades. This style was dominant in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, in North, East and West Africa, and in Muslim Spain. The importance of this mosque is twofold:

  • It is the earliest surviving model of the hypostyle or Arab mosque. Its form and architectural details provided a model that was followed by various other mosques, including the Great Mosque of Cordoba.
  • It provides a clear evidence for the Muslim inheritance of local Byzantine building traditions and decorative techniques and the adaptation of this heritage to the needs and ethos of the new Muslim community.

Multimedia activity: The Great Mosque of Damascus

Plan of the Great Mosque of Damascus. 706–15.

© Creswell Archive, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (EA.CA.2047)

Click on the highlighted word in the text to see the area or architectural feature in plan. Note the following

  • The mosque is a rectangular building with an open courtyard on its northern side. The courtyard is surrounded by porticos on three sides, and a covered prayer-hall on its southern side.
  • The courtyard is oblong in shape, measuring approximately 123–136 m by 48–50 m.
  • The prayer-hall measures 136 m by 37 m. It comprises three aisles separated by arcades running parallel to the qibla wall with two tiers of arches each. Each aisle is covered with a gable roof resting directly on the upper tier of the arches.
  • A broad transept or central bay leads to the mihrab. It runs from north to south and ends, on the courtyard side, with a triple arch set within an arched frame under a steep gabled roof. It cuts the prayer room in half with eleven arches on each side.
  • The transept is covered with a dome that dates to 1082–3. This eleventh-century dome replaces an earlier wooden dome.
  • The first minarets in Islam were the four-corner-towers of the Temple of Jupiter, on whose site the current Great Mosque of Damascus stands. The mosque currently has three minarets, of which only the south-western is original (surmounted by a fifteenth-century superstructure). The northern minaret dates to the end of the twelfth century.

Optional personal activity: The Great Mosque of Damascus

To learn more about this mosque and see more pictures go to the ‘Umayyad mosque’ page of ArchNet’s Digital Library.

Discussion activity: Mosaic decoration

This activity aims to introduce you to the themes and patterns of mosaic decoration under the Umayyads. You will read about and collect images for the mosaic decorations in the Great Mosque of Damascus and/or the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Depending on the time you have available, you may wish to focus on just one of these.

Discuss the origins of the mosaic tradition and the decorative themes (including colour schemes) in the relevant thread of the Worship and devotion forum.

An introduction to Byzantine decorative themes and use of mosaic is available from the ‘Byzantine Art under Islam’ and ‘Frescoes and Wall Painting in Late Byzantine Art’ pages on the Timeline of Art History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

2.7 The Great Mosque of Isfahan, Iran (700–1700)

Isfahan came under Muslim hegemony under the Umayyads and became a major capital from the Saljuq period (also Seljuk, reigned c. 1038–1194) onwards. The Great Mosque of Isfahan is the first ‘Iranian’-style mosque characterised by four iwans and a domed chamber behind the mihrab. See p. 368 of Hattstein and Delius for a top view of this great mosque and note the following:

  • The current form of the Great Mosque of Isfahan is a result of a continual process of adaptation and change by the patrons and users of the mosque in response to new architectural and decorative styles, building techniques and changes of taste. What follows is a brief account of the historical development of the important features that became the stylistic hallmarks of Iranian and Central Asian religious architecture.
  • The earliest mosque on the site was built during the eighth century in the ‘Arab’ hypostyle tradition of Abbasid mosque architecture. The central courtyard was surrounded by a single-storey brick arcade or riwaq (Arabic) on all sides and decorated with blind arches (Hattstein and Delius, p. 109).
  • An additional arcade with decorative brickwork was added around the interior of the courtyard under the Buyids (reigned 932–1056). They also constructed a minaret (no longer standing) in the qibla wall.
  • It was under the Saljuqs in 1086–7 that a square room (15 metres on each side) with a dome (30 metre high) was built in front of the mihrab. Another domed chamber was built in 1088, immediately to the north of the mosque on the same axis as the southern dome. This domed chamber contains the earliest recorded muqarnas (Arabic) zone of transition. While the southern dome in front of the mihrab became a main component of Iranian and Central Asian mosque architecture, the northern dome was only influential in so far as it documents the earliest use of the muqarnas zone of transition in Iran between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries.
  • The Saljuqs were also responsible for developing the four-iwan plan. The plan is based on the construction of a vaulted hall open on the side of the courtyard at the centre of each of the arcades. These iwans provide additional spaces for prayer and meditation. They can also provide a monumental access to important parts of the mosque. We do not know exactly when these iwans were built into the mosque but we do know that they were built at different times sometime before the 1120s.
  • The mosque continued to expand with the addition of gates, madrasas, courtyards and additional prayer spaces.
  • Most of the surviving decorative work around the courtyard is dated to after the fifteenth century.

Optional personal activity: Timurid architecture

To learn more about a later example of the development and diffusion of the four-iwan plan read ‘Timurid Architecture’ (Hattstein and Delius pp. 416–25). Note that Timurid mosques and madrasas have typical Iranian four-iwan plans. Their main features are:

  • A central courtyard
  • Four iwans in the form of a pishtaq (Persian)or iwan-like entrance that is flanked by two slim minarets
  • A domed chamber in front of the mihrab.

2.8 The Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey (1550–7)

In this section we will learn about a third regional style of mosque architecture: the central domed mosque. This style is characterised by its imposing central dome that seems to be floating over smaller domes and semi-domes. The architectonic formation of the prayer-hall is further identified by flying buttresses, pencil-like minarets, and a courtyard with repetitive domed units. This mosque style became the dominant style in modern-day Turkey and also in the regions that were under Ottoman hegemony between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries (including parts of the Arab Middle East and Eastern Europe). Most Ottoman mosques form part of larger complexes that includes additional social and religious functions such as madrasas, soup kitchens and hospices. Some mosque complexes also house the mausoleums of one or more members of the mosque founder’s family.

The Suleymaniye Complex is one of the masterpieces of Ottoman mosque architecture. It was built between 1550 and 1557 by the famous architect Sinan who served as the Chief Architect of the Ottoman court between 1539 and 1588. To view the Suleymaniye mosque complex and listen to an excellent description visit the guided virtual tour provided by the Saudi Aramco World magazine.

Personal activity: Similarities and differences

If you have not already done so, read pp. 546–56 of Hattstein and Delius now, and note the similarities and differences between the mosques discussed. Do you think that the Ottomans were merely copying the great church of Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, 532–7)? If you want to, post your thoughts on your Blog.

2.9 Other regional types of mosque architecture

In addition to the three mosque types discussed above, other regional variations in mosque architecture can be easily distinguished. These mosque styles historically followed local building traditions. In this section we will get a brief introduction to these mosque types by visiting the webpages on ArchNet’s Digital Library.

In India and Pakistan the triple-domed prayer room became the predominant style under the Mughals (reigned 1526–1857). See, for example, the Badshaahi Mosque (also visible here) in Lahore, Pakistan, which was built in 1673–4.

In sub-Saharan West Africa, builders used local architectural elements and techniques in interpreting mosque architecture from North Africa. As a result the ‘hypostyle’ or Arab mosque that we discussed earlier was the predominant mosque form albeit in a local interpretation. For a good example see the Great Friday Mosque of Timbuktu, Mali.

In China, most mosques followed Chinese traditions of monumental architecture, except in the north-west of the country where historical links with Central Asia continued to influence religious architecture. Chinese monumental architecture is traditionally oriented along a north-south axis and arranged in the form of a series of courtyards within an enclosure. In Chinese mosques, however, the general courtyard arrangement was kept but the main prayer-hall was turned due west towards the qibla. For a good example explore the link to the Great Mosque of Xi’an.

The predominant form of South East Asian mosques was an open prayer-hall with timber structure supporting a multi-level hipped roof in the local building tradition. Domes and Mughal-style mosques were only introduced under the various colonial powers. See for example the Masjid Baturrachman in Banda Acheh, Indonesia.

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).

2.11 Decoration of the mosques, madrasas and khanqahs

Two later units of this course, Unit 3: Calligraphy and arts of the Qur’an and Unit 5: Islamic ornament - Geometry, arabesque and calligraphy, will address the characteristics and techniques of ornament in Islamic art. In this section we will concentrate more on the type of decoration deemed appropriate for a religious context, and where and why some areas of religious buildings were decorated. We can divide decorative elements in religious buildings into two types: movable objects and architectural decoration.

Movable objects

Endowments for the maintenance of mosques and religious buildings demonstrate that providing Qur’ans and lighting fixtures were foremost on the patrons’ minds. Qur’ans of different sizes and decorative styles were the focus of royal patronage, as we shall see in depth in the next unit, Unit 3: Calligraphy and arts of the Qur’an. In addition to Qur’ans, Qur’an boxes and Qur’an stands were also commissioned. These were decorated with a combination of inscriptions and vegetal motifs. See, for example the carved wood Qur’an stand c.1360, Iran, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (10.218) and the bronze Qur’an box with brass and precious stone inlay from the second half of the nineteenth century, Egypt, now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.73.41).

Lighting fixtures in the form of candlesticks and vase-shaped hanging lamps were also commissioned for mosques, madrasas and shrines. A common type is the enamelled and gilded glass mosque lamp with a bulbous body and conical neck found in abundance in museum and private collections. These mosque lamps are for the most part inscribed with Qur’anic verses (especially 24: 35), and the names and titles of the patrons who commissioned them. For example, the inscription on a mosque lamp from Cairo, c. 1285, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, informs us that the lamp was made to adorn a thirteenth-century tomb, while the inscription on another lamp in the British Museum suggests that it was commissioned for the Mosque of Shaykhu, built in Cairo in 1349.

Architectural decoration

The written word remains the most important form of ornamentation in mosques and buildings that serve a religious function. Inscriptions comprising verses from the Qur’an or quotations from the Hadith are rendered in various forms and in different media. Historic inscriptions that mention the date of the building and the names and titles of the founder were also used in prominent locations. The location of decorative inscriptions in a building varied but they mostly followed the structural divisions such as the base of dome, the profile of an arch, or the frame of a recess. This applies both for the interiors as well as the exteriors of a building.

Painted dome of the al-‘Amiriyyah madrasa. Rada‘, Yemen. Sixteenth century.

© Ruba Kana’an

Top floor terrace of the al-‘Amiriyyah madrasa. Rada‘, Yemen. Sixteenth century.

© Ruba Kana’an

If you look at the interior of the sixteenth-century al-‘Amiriyyah madrasa in Rada‘, Yemen (seen above), you will see that we have a combination of painted and carved stucco inscriptions. The inscriptions in the image on the left are visible in a circular pattern in the centre of the dome, a series of cartouches at the base of the dome, a continuous band at the top of the walls and following the profile of the arch on the far left. The image on the right shows a terrace in the same madrasa with a carved stucco Qur’anic inscription. The inscription is in the form of a continuous band that emphasises the structural and architectural components of the façade including entrances, niches and recesses.

Mir-I Arab madrasa. Bukhara, Uzbekistan. 1535/6.

© Yahya Michot

The painted interior of the al-‘Amiriyyah shares the same decorative language as the façade of the Mir-I Arab madrasa in Bukhara, Uzbekistan (1535/6), albeit in a different medium. Their general decorative composition is based on the use of geometric and floral patterns along with geometry as we will see in detail in the later unit, Unit 5: Islamic ornament - Geometry, arabesque and calligraphy.

2.12 Conclusions

In this unit, we have explored Muslim religious architecture especially mosques, khanqahs and madrasas and come to the following conclusions:

  • There are no ritual requirements for mosque architecture except the orientation towards the qibla.
  • Different styles of mosques developed in different regions.
  • The decoration of buildings that served religious functions consisted of inscriptions as well as geometric and floral patterns.

Discussion activity: Favourite example

We have looked at a lot of different places of worship this week. Share with the group the one that you liked best, explaining why in the relevant thread of the Worship and devotion forum.

Further reading

  • Search for the articles on ‘Mosques’ and ‘Madrasas’ in Grove Art Online (accessible through the Oxford Reference Online link in the block on the left of the course homepage).
  • Frishman, M., 1994 ‘Islam and the Form of the Mosque’, in Frishman, M. and Khan, H.-U. (eds.), The Mosque: History, Architectural Development & Regional Diversity, Thames and Hudson, pp. 17–41.
  • Hillenbrand, R., 1994 Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and Meaning, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Necipoglu-Kafadar, G., 1985 ‘The Süleymaniye Complex in Istanbul: An Interpretation’, in Muqarnas III: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture, Grabar, O. (ed.), Leiden, E. J. Brill. Also available online at ArchNet (6.22 MB)
  • Yusupova, M., 1999 ‘Evolution of Architecture of the Sufi Complexes in Bukhara’, in Petruccioli, A. (ed.), Bukhara: The Myth and the Architecture, Cambridge, MA, The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. Also available for download from ArchNet (2.49 MB).