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The Architecture Of The Mosque

Info: 5355 words (21 pages) Essay
Published: 3rd May 2017 in History

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Philosophically, the whole Earth is a mosque and by this principle namaz will be complete wherever performed. Initially there was no specific building to spread the message of Islam. The Muslim Arabs, being nomads, had a minimum approach and preclude the use of permanent buildings and everything they possessed had to be demountable and portable. Thus there was no specific edifice as such. Only a square area marked out by a line drawn in the sand was sufficient for communal prayer. The only basic necessity was that one side of the square had to face Mecca to indicate the direction of the prayer.

Knowing the importance of the mosque to the religion of Islam today it is quite surprising to hear the ironic story behind its evolution. From the start, monotheistic religions like Islam were opposed to the idea of building specially designed to house the faithful for prayer.

The mosques (literally meaning place of prostration), are the Centre of religious life throughout the Muslim World and develops as one of the major forms of religious architecture. In one of its most evolved forms, it has one or more minarets, arches, domes and is often decorated with elaborate tracery and Arabic calligraphy from the Koran. The evolved mosque forms are known to be some of the finest structures in Islamic architecture. The mosque is the only building type, which has spread throughout the entire Muslim world, from the beginning of the religion in 610 A.D.

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A mosque is a building, where Muslims congregate to pray. Mosques can be small, at a neighborhood scale or large, at the town/ city level. Such as a neighborhood mosque or they can be large and used by Muslims of a large town, or city. The large mosque is called a Jami Mosque. Jami means Juma or Friday. All Muslims are required to pray together every Friday at midday and the large mosques were constructed for this purpose. Mosque is used for worship usually for which there is a hall and open court, but could also have other functions like that of a Madarsa, a school for education and a community center. It consists of many architectural elements like, minaret, arch, dome, color, calligraphy and other decorative forms ornamenting the surfaces.

Like all other liturgical edifice, the mosque has a standardized assembly of components, which vary in accordance with the size of the prayer (i.e. whether it’s for prayer for an individual or congregation-small/ large). There is a demarcated space, partly roofed and partly open to sky, varying in size and form, from region to region depending on the harshness of the climate. The roofed part is the prayer hall, rectangular or square in plan, supported by a trabeated structure or arcuated structure.

The Prayer hall must have one wall facing Mecca (Qibla wall) with a niche or series of niches (Mihrab), which is the central and most decorated part of every mosque. The pulpit (Minbar) consisting of steps of varying height is stationed to the right of the mihrab and the imam during Friday prayer delivers the oration (Khutba) from it. The minbar is however absent in smaller mosques. A wooden platform (dikha) of single storey height is positioned in line with the Mihrab. From there the respondents (qadi) of the mosque repeat the ritual postures of the imam and give their response. Next to the Dikha, the lectern (kursi) is placed on which the Quran rests.

Another most necessary feature of many mosques is the water pool or fountain intended for the prescribed ritual of ablutions (wazu) before the prayer. The five times daily call for prayer (azan) is heard from the minaret, a tower like structure, originally serving as more of a local landmark. A portal is created as a general characteristic of the architecture of the Islamic world as the concealment of the interiors of a building from outside view. Thus, most mosques are surrounded by high walls.

With reference to architectural elaboration, the art of writing is taken to higher level of visual expression in mosque architecture. Certain calligraphic scripts are used in the Qibla wall and direct focus, helping substantiate the religious importance of the mosque. The writing often quotes from the Quran or is information about the builder of the mosque.

Another mode is geometric patterns and vegetal forms used in screens (jali) and as surface ornamentation. Geometric patterns result from taking a simple form and replicating/ extending it in various directions to arrive at the final. The patterns in their dizzying and unending configurations connote unity in God.

In the present time, modern mosques designs have been modified as per newer technologies and ease of building construction. The size of mosque has been decreasing due to lack of space in cities. The main components of the mosque have been reduced and elements have lost their original meaning and serve as symbols. The geometric patterns rich with meaning are devalued to mere decoration.

The architecture of mosque has been changing to modern, to contemporary but to what end?

1.2 Research Question:

How did local/ regional/ vernacular architecture affect mosque architecture in the past and how/ why does the contemporary mosque differ from the traditional mosque?


In modern society the mosque served as the single most important visible representation of identity and value. More mosques are being built today than any other liturgical edifice of any other religion. However for a structure representing one religion and a specific body of people, it is odd that it should be so varied in style and divergent in beauty. The reason for this lies in the mosque located in different parts of the world representing different perspectives of different clients. Each mosque is differing in traditions, climate, building materials, local condition of nature and diverse aesthetic and social requirements.

As a student of architecture and representing a Muslim region from India, I share a keen interest in Islamic Architecture. And since the mosque lies at the very heart of Islamic architecture, there is a feeling of even a greater need to study this specific structure. Due to time and space constraints, there are certain limitations; hence, I will focus on contemporary Mosques Delhi regions as primary case studies.

The architecture of the modern mosque is much at variant when compared with the mosque of the past due to globalization, advanced technology, tendency to go towards the sky due to lack of ground space, the use of architectural elements as symbols and reduction of patterns as surface decorations.


To trace the development and follow along the different established types of mosques, starting from Early Islamic period in the 7th century times.

To identify the basic principles behind the specific vocabulary of the mosque.

To study symbolic and functional attributes of the mosque and its evolution.

To study various differences in space configuration, built expression, material, elements /components and technology between modern and traditional mosque.


This dissertation is not intended as a historical survey of Islamic mosque architecture and therefore does not include all the fine monuments, which exist. The origin and development of the mosque would be understood only to get the bearings right to analyze contemporary examples. The general history of the advent of Islam in Arab, India and the mosque forms that evolve henceforth would be discussed briefly to build a context.

From vernacular mosque form, the shift is to, what is built now- what is the vernacular of today? And hence what happens to the mosque and is the use of symbols necessary to be able to identify the building as a mosque?


It is not possible to study all the mosque architecture of all Islamic regions under the given time frame. Therefore, the study is limited to mosques in India focusing on the Northern region with a brief study of the contemporary mosque outside India.

As result of time and space constraints, mosques of the entire Indian sub-continent will not be discussed in detail but only to form the overall context, with brief analysis of mosques of the South, East, West, and North. Detail account of the history of the one region is beyond the scope of this dissertation, thus only relevant pieces of their history will be mentioned.

The focus will be on selected mosques, which reflect the most prototypical form of particular periods of the respective region. Thus, only a few mosques will be discussed which act as indicators of that particular architectural form.


The first step is to analyze the topic and define what direction this dissertation takes, and what the author wants to come up with at the end of it, the end result may be documentation, a detailed analysis, or a set of solutions. The regions selected for the study are not easily accessible and this dissertation will rely mainly on literature survey from secondary sources rather that from primary data for major sections of the work.

Primary data would be collected through site visits limited to mosques in Delhi and discussion with experts. Secondary sources include literature survey.

Literature Survey:

This involves data collection, reading and understanding literature from various sources like SPA (New Delhi) libraries, Jamia Milla Islamia Architecture library and the internet. Analysis of nature of open spaces, the role of open spaces in the mosque and role of closed spaces is understood. After the collation process, the next stage would be, systematic representation of data.

Interaction With Experts

This involves opinion of various architects, discussion about what is happening in India and exposure to other related issues, along with discussion on primary case studies. Identifying issues, discussion on various issues and analyzing their opinion would be the major tasks.

Primary Data collection

Methodology for the study of Delhi mosque architecture:

A brief account of the mosque architecture in Delhi is essential to contextualize the primary studies, as these were the immediate references for what is happening now. The first mosque developed in 11th century in Delhi by the Slave dynasty. Each changing phase will be studied by taking the significant mosque of that period. Though a personal visit would be made to these sites, information will be obtained through literature survey also. The mosques of contemporary times would be the primary study, with a complete analysis of the determinants of form. The process for case studies:

Selection of case studies of new mosque buildings.

Collection of information- basic plan and maps showing site surrounding areas, site boundaries, built mass and visual readings of mosque as landmark, materiality and building elements.

Analysis of the chosen case studies.

IV. Survey methodology for case studies

Few case studies of contemporary mosques of Delhi are considered- one is under construction and the other mosques have been in use for considerable amount of time. This dissertation includes survey through discussion with the people who are users of the mosque.

The drawing and other important data would be collected from the architect’s office. All photographs are taken at the site.

After doing all case studies conclusion are drawn and recommendations are made for design strategies of the future mosque architecture.

With the help of three examples of mosques, which are built in different time periods, I want to illustrate that architecture of mosques is in a process of complete transformation because global culture and technology is constantly affecting it, along with highlighting what helps maintain its identity.

V. Analysis of case studies

The case study is analyzed as per following:

Built /open spatial – spatial configuration (arising from basic needs of religion itself)

Purpose and use of space.

Visual expression of mosque- includes massing, elements, surface elaboration and materiality.

Chapter – 2 EARLY ISLAM


Islam began in Arabia, where the revelation was first received by the Prophet, but spread rapidly among the Persians and Black Africans, and soon thereafter among Turks, Chinese, Indians, and many other ethnic groups.

Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in 570 CE. At the time, people were busy with their business, markets were crowded with nomads and residents alike, buying and selling goods. His parents died when he was 6 years old. He cared for by his grandfather, and uncle, Abu Talib and eventually became head of the Hashim clan.

Young Muhammad was a camel driver and roamed the peninsula with his uncle, to know about various cultures and religions including Christianity and Judaism. As idol worship had come to dominate Mecca, this contact turned out to be significant for later times. The Ka’bah itself housed many idols, including those representing the three main goddesses.

He continued travelling in Arabia, encountering different faiths and customs, but riches did not satisfy Muhammad and he developed enemies in Mecca. Therefore, he decided to leave Mecca. And he started a journey. This journey was known as the Hijri.

Muhammad arrived in Medina as the new leader, bearing tremendous responsibilities. While receiving communication from God and teaching his devotees, he had to protect Islam from opposition and find a peaceful solution to the local feuds. He was able to unite the feuding clans through his teachings – the Jewish and Muslims prayed together.

First time the prayer was read in the direction of Jerusalem, and after some years the prayer was read towards Mecca instead of Medina, as Muhammad instructed. For this reason some followers turned against Muhammad, and they created a separate group. Violence erupted, ending in the expulsion of some Jewish tribes from Medina.

He established a new community with his followers and began raiding caravans bound for Mecca. These kinds of raids were not uncommon at the time, and they provided sustenance for the Muslims. This angered the Meccans, and a series of battles followed. Despite a few setbacks, the Muslims gained power and recognition. After destroying or converting his tribal enemies, Muhammad controlled the entire Arabian Peninsula.

Finally, in 629 CE, Mecca submitted to the Muslims. Muhammad entered the city and headed directly to the Ka’bah. After circling it seven times, he smashed the stone idols. He spoke of the oneness of God, or Allah, and proclaimed himself a prophet.

The spread of Islam occurred in waves. In less than a century after the establishment of the first Islamic society in Medina by the Prophet, Arab armies conquered a land stretching from the Indus River to France and brought with them Islam, which, contrary to popular Western conceptions, was not, however, forced on the people by the sword.

Periods of Islamic history

Mosques were built outside the Arabian Peninsula as Muslims settled in other parts of the world. Egypt became occupied by Muslim Arabs as early as 640 AD. Islamic architectural history can be roughly divided in to three main periods, during which one or more traditions were dominant: the Early Islamic (650-1050), which may be called the age of Arab Dominance; the middle Islamic (1050-1450), the age of Iranian Dominance; and the later Islamic (1450-1850), the age of Turkish and Indian Dominance.

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2.2 Origin and evolution of mosque


It is a strange face of history that the Muslim tradition of architecture, productive of some of the world’s outstanding monuments, was first patronized by a people, the Arabs, who had none but the crudest notions of building. For them the finest architecture was a tent. In the starting of Islam, the Kaaba had only four walls in 608. In the age of the orthodox Caliphs (632-661), the eras brought nothing architectural to the conquered countries beyond what would serve their orthodoxy than by their taste. The building of their time ware utilitarian, without architectural pretense, and consisted of mosques (Basra, 638-639; kufa, 638-639; and fustat, 642) and government buildings.

The first mosque was built in Mecca. This area was surrounded by pre Islamic buildings. The Kaaba mosque is the holiest structure of Islam. The earliest mosque is Prophet Mohammad house in Medina which was built in 622CE. This qibla wall was facing toward the direction of Jerusalem. Mohammad house is situated left side of the qibla wall. There were three entrances into the courtyard. The courtyard area was roofed, and the prayer was performed here. After one or one and half years, the qibla wall direction was changed, and was made to face in the direction of Mecca, as it is today.

The Medina mosque had social, political and judicial functions, in addition to being the house of the Mohammad family. The religious functions were merged with other functions. Rules of the performing prayer were not decided that time. And in the Koran, the rules had not been given till now.

In addition to early mosques of Medina and Mecca, now the cities have contemporary mosques, which are more complex as per the demands and needs of the people and their religion.

After the death of Muhammad, mosques became important symbols of Islam. The Muslim conquerors established mosques everywhere. They built the mosque first and later built the military camp around the mosque. The Muslim conquered Medina or Mecca city and constructed mosque in the place. This became the center of the region of Muslim conquered people. Muhammad’s house was divided into hall and courtyard, which was surrounded by the columned verandah. This was an ideal mosque where the faithful conjunct for prayer, but also one for social assembly and political deliberation. A building without architectural pretensions, it was a hypo style hall and was deep, apparently having three aisles, divided by three rows of nine columns each. The most significant aspect this house offers to Islamic architecture of later was that it provided the orientation (Qibla) of praying area towards the sacred city of Mecca.


The Masjid as a type of architecture intended for congregational prayer did not exist at Mecca before the hijra. In Medina, the stronghold of Islam, however, the two concepts of Musalla and Masjid came to receive distinct interpretations. The controversy among the traditionalists over the performance of prayer in either the Musalla or the Masjid was surrounded around the fact that they were structurally different.

Kaaba mosque was the first newly built mosque of Islam and Abraham assisted by his son Ismail, when he found the order of Allah, built the existing foundation. They performed prayers together with their followers at this site. The site of Kaaba was also believed to be place of angles of Adam, erected by Allah and used for worship.

The orthodox Caliph leaders were succeeded by the caliph dynasty of the Umayyads (661-750), who were held by many Muslims to be upstarts. After this the philistine people started the taunt type structure. The kaaba was rebuilt in 684 AD and was decorated with mosaic marble, which was collected from Yemen churches. Iranian architectural elements were also used in the building.

The location of the mosque was decided by Prophet Muhammad when he did the first time Friday prayer there. He lived beside the masjid in Medina, which was use as doubled purpose as both a religious and political center for the early Muslim community.

The Umayyad Mosque is an example of the form of mosque derived from the Prophet’s house, and was built in (705-715) in Damascus. In the 10th century, different types of mosque started to develop because of influences of local traditional material and techniques of building. Distinctively different types of mosque developed in the different countries.

Mosques are usually ornamented with stone, marble, wood carving, patterned brick, mosaic, glass, murals. Contemporary mosques are built using new technologies of construction, and are adopted in most parts of the world, but it is remains traditional in layout.

When Islam spreads out of the deserts of Saudi Arabia and into the cities like Damascus and Cairo, the rapidly expanding Muslims population required house for worship to meet their spiritual and social requirements. The mosques that followed are innovative and magnificent examples of architecture, original in their own way with reminensces of their culture.

2.3 Concept of mosque

The Space: The mosque comprises of a demarcated space, partly roofed and partly open to sky. This proportion of covered and open space varies from region to region depending on the harshness of the climate. The open space is a court used for performing prayers for large gatherings on occasions.

Local community mosque

Chapter 3 Local culture and Variation in the Mosque

3.1 Vernacular variation across the World

The Islamic world extents its boundary from Spain and West Africa eastwards to as far as China, in south- East Asia. It is therefore not surprising to hear that Muslims comprise around one fifth of the world population and constitute a majority of more than forty nations of the Middle East Asia and Africa. Islam holds a strong position in the world. The religion must not only be powerful by faith and logic but also have charm and beauty to attract such an immense audience to brace the religion and look upon it with awe. There is no other more suitable edifice to depict this elegance and act as symbol of the religion as well as the mosque.

In the early day, Islam borrowed features from existing religious and cultural buildings. They gave them harmony with the existing and yet originality and proved beyond doubt that Islamic leaders not only possess the power of assimilation, but that of organization and adaptability as well. These borrowed styles were recognizable at first but the new styles that evolved started forming their own architectural identity and style.

In the various new lands, the mosques were built by exploring local traditions and materials available. Each region had with its own craftsmen, their own building methods. Combined with extreme differences in climate, this gave rise to highly disparate styles and each region introduced to the world a diverse style of architecture of their own. Thus it is seen that despite an essential feeling of cultural unity which pervades the entire Islamic world, there exists an investable diversity in the styles of architecture of each region.

Generally, the Islamic world had divide in to the eastern and the western regions where one gets influenced by the other. The eastern part of the Muslim world looks to the Persian Language and culture for inspiration. Iran was one of regions which is covered vast area including Central Asia and Afghanistan and spread into the Indian. Initially Iran had accepted Western architectural forms and stemming from Arab style. However with the emergence of local dynasties awareness was created.

These divergent styles may be categorized in to five basic types of mosque. These are

1.the hypostyle hall with a flat roof and possibly one or more small domes (as seen in Arabian and African Examples)

2. Building with a very large central space often covered by massive domes provided with lateral support by the weight of hall domes (such as those in the Ottoman style) or having pyramidal pitched roof (as in Indonesia)

3. The layout with an Iwan (vaulted hall) placed each side of a bi-axially divided central rectangular courtyard (as developed in Iran and Central Asia)

4. The triple – domed mosque with courtyard (typical of Mughal architecture in India).

5. And finally the walled Complex with a number of pavilions set in the enclosed landscaped spaces (as found in China).

Case study of vernacular mosque

1. Great mosque of Djenne in Mali, Africa. Economical Approach (Regional Resources) -1907

The Djenne mosque of Africa is the largest mud brick mosque of the world. This is the famous mosque of Africa and boasts of impressive mud structures.

Mud construction is a friendly environment material.

Mud is appropriate according to the climate and is less expensive to build with, as it is locally available.

Easy construction to create mud mortar and plaster. Palm wood use for the scaffolding and roofs. The walls are thick in size and tapered and provide protection from heat.

During the day, the wall absorbed the heat of the sun that is released throughout the night time; this helps to maintaining cool environment during the day time.

It also has roofs vents with ceramic cover, which is removed at night to ventilate the interior parts and spaces.

2. Traditional Kampung Hulu Mosque, Malaysia – (1728AD)

The traditional mosque design of south- East Asia has inspired the simple pyramidal layered roof, which becomes an important element of design. It relies on the roof over hangs with open serambi and the recessed walls to respond to local climate – high rain fall ƒ  excellent rain water discharge.

Wall openings are crucial in the mosque design. The wall openings are at the ground floor and segmented roof’s wall level of four-and-a-half storey building. These openings induce natural cross ventilation and stack effect. The emphasis is on cross air ventilation.

Recessed wall help tackle the problem of direct exposure from tropical sunlight, luminosity, solar radiation and this concept only works well to block high angle sunlight but not low angle sunlight.


Islam arrived in India via the Malabar Coast in 600 AD. It was just about the same time that it was spreading into Arabia. This is not surprising, considering the proximity of the two coastline trade links from pre-Islamic times. Arab merchants traded Indian spice with other parts of the known world. A number of them set up households in the Malabar as well, and it is through them that Islam was introduced into the Indian subcontinent.

According to the legend, Malik-ibn Dinar- Mohammad’s message reached king Crangannur in AD 642-643 on Hijri 22, and the Chera king, Cheraman Perumal to accept Islam.

Malik-Ibn-Dinar built the first mosque there. This was followed by eleven more along the coast. These mosques are some of the oldest to be established, not only India but within the Islamic world.

South India

Kerala Mosques


Kerala is in the middle of a mosque-building boom. Proposals for new mosques and the redevelopment of older structures have consequences on the urban landscape of this west coast state. Pan- Indian and pan- global influences sweeping across Kerala fuelled by migration to the rest of India and abroad may be the reason for this activity.

Traditional mosque of Kerala (vernacular mosque)

The traditional mosques in Kerala are different from those in the imperial and provincial Indo- Islamic architecture. In Kerala built form of the mosque derived enough from local domestic building traditions. In traditional dwellings like Nalaketts, the concerns of torrential rain and the need for the ventilation found expression in remarkable roof and wall elements, executed in abundantly available timber. In Kerala, the temple, churches and the Mosque (palli) take from the local architecture evolved from local climate, materials. The mosque was constructed under the guidance of religious leaders whose requirements were functional and simple, using the model of existing places of worship.

A traditional mosque in the Malabar comprises of a rectangular prayer hall with a mihrab on the western wall (qibla) and enclosed verandah on the sides that serve as spill over space. A front verandah facing the street becomes a space that often leads to a front hall preceding the main prayer hall. An ablution tank is accommodated on one side. The entire structure is raised on a high plinth/ base, similar to the adhisthana of a temple. The tiled roof has elaborate covered gables. The structural system for the hall is of timber posts, beams, and brackets and often the columns are square or octagonal as in the temple mandapa pillar. Nakhudas or ship builders sculpted the mimbars in many Mosques, representing the very best skills in wood-carving.

Mishkaal mosque – Kuttichira

Most of the Malabar mosques built in the 6th centuries are in Kozhikoda(Kalikat), Mallapuram, Thalassery and cochin. This time the basic building construction material was bamboo. A brief case study of two mosques in Kuttichira, a Mappila neighborhood in Kozhikode is presented here.

In Kuttichira, centered on the sacred Kuttichira tankand all mosque of Kuttichira was construced with local timber material. Miskaal palli mosque is having a largest rectangular hall and tiled roofs at fourth levels- housing subsidiary space. The existing building is dated as 1578. It sits in close association with the tank. Not very far is the Jamaat Palli, the Friday mosque, on the other side of the tank. This is smaller in size and at am awkward angle to the narrow street, proclaiming an exact orientation to Mecca. Its front porch is marked by the heavily carved gable; matched by an exquisite timber ceiling, with floral, geometric and calligraphic motifs. It has two light wells, one over the ablution tank and another in side in the prayer hall. The forms of light wells remind us of the four sides. The oldest inscription in the mosque dates from 1480-81 covered on a wooden lintel on the ante chamber.


This is the first and oldest mosque of India. The first renovation of the mosque was completed in the 11th century. And later in 1974, the masjid president P.A. Mohammed Sayed added the extension, after demolishing the front portion of the old mosque during renovation. The oldest part of the mosque, including the sanction sanctorum, was left untouched. It was renovated again in 1996 and 2003, by adding extension to accommodate more capacity of 3000 people. While the oldest part will be restored, the desire for a grand size still remains.

Surrounded by shops and homes. And a community institution is situated within the building.

The original structure did not look like the mosques of the west and rather resembles vernacular buildings. This was double stored with sloping tiled thatched roof. This mosque also does not not look like the mosques of north India, with no calligraphy used on the wall and no minarets found with the mosque. The entrance gate is very simple and inviting.

The main room is part of the original structure. This is a very small area for the mosque. Only 15 people can stand in a single row for prayer. The main room was built with old timber, with a big brass lamp hanging from the roof, which may have been a Hindu temple lamp.

West –



This is the vernacular mosque of Ahmedabad.it is made of yellow sand stone.This is the oldest mosque of Ahmedabad, built during in 1424 the reign of Ahmad Shah. This mosque is laying in the Mahatma Gandhi Road of teen Darwaza,


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