Importance of Mosques in the Islamic World: Features & Examples

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  • 0:04 Mosques in the Islamic World
  • 1:31 Features of Mosques
  • 3:35 Examples of Mosques
  • 5:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about a type of building that's considered the heart of the Islamic world: the mosque. Explore some of their common characteristics as well as their importance for Islam. Also, discover some beautiful and sacred examples of mosques throughout the Islamic world.

Mosques in the Islamic World

Most religions have a place of worship. For Islam, it is the mosque. Not only a place for praying, it's the center of the community and where many wonderful pieces of Islamic art have been created.

Mosques are the heart of the Islamic life. They serve for prayers, for events during Islam's holiest month Ramadan, as centers for education and information, places for social welfare, and also for dispute settlement. The iman is the religious leader of the mosque and the person who leads the prayers.

Mosques are as old as Islam. According to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad helped in the construction of the first mosque in the city of Medina, as part of his will to define a place of worship for Muslims. The area around the Kaaba Stone in Mecca is often considered the oldest Muslim place of worship, venerated since the 7th century. Both cities are in today's Saudi Arabia and are considered the holiest cities in Islam.

With the expansion of Islam, mosques started to be built in new territories. Between the 9th and 15th centuries, Islam reached the Iberian Peninsula, parts of Africa, regions of India, and lands as distant as Indonesia and China.

In modern times, migration processes have led to the development of Islamic communities in many countries, so mosques have been built all around the world.

Features of Mosques

There are some common elements that developed throughout Islamic history and are commonly seen in mosques around the world, although each mosque is unique in its own way.

The most important room of a mosque is the prayer hall. It can be either covered by a roof supported by many columns or covered by a large dome. This room is often decorated with religious calligraphy and is usually free from furniture, to help fit more people. Mosques should be large enough to fit the entire male population of the community, which can be many people. Therefore, some mosques have an open courtyard complementing the prayer hall to accommodate more people.

The minaret is a tall tower, commonly located in a corner of the mosque. Some mosques have more than one. The minaret is used for calling to prayer.

The mihrab is a niche on the wall that indicates the direction towards Mecca. It's usually semicircular and all Muslims inside the mosque align towards the mihrab for prayer.

The minbar is an elevated platform inside the prayer room that the leader of the congregation uses to deliver speeches. It consists of the actual platform and a ladder to access it.

Arches are constructive elements often found in mosques. They can be used for structural support and also for decoration. Horseshoe arches are frequently used in mosques in Northern Africa and Spain, while pointed arches are popular in mosques in Iran and Central Asia.

Islamic non-figurative arts are used for exterior and interior decoration in mosques. They include the arabesque, geometric patterns, and calligraphy. These elements are combined in complex designs that often follow a mathematical rigor based on fractal geometry, which consists of expanding symmetrical arrays.

In some regions of Eastern and Southeast Asia, mosques have been influenced by local architecture, and native elements and styles are incorporated into the design of these Islamic places of worship.

Examples of Mosques

Now let's look at some examples of mosques.

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