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

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: