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Mosque: Definition, Architecture, Art & Facts

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In this lesson, we'll learn about mosques, which are the primary place of worship for over one billion Muslims around the world. Learn about their architecture and finally, test your knowledge with a quiz on the material.

What Is a Mosque?

More than just a place of worship for Muslims, mosques often serve as community centers and schools. Mosques range widely in architectural styles, all have certain requirements. A mosque, coming from the Arabic term masjid, or place of prostration, is a place of worship for Muslims. Observant Muslims pray five times a day, including a communal prayer on Fridays, which makes the importance of a place to pray apparent. Worthy of note is that a mosque is a permanent place of prayer; sites that are for temporary use, such as tents or short-term rental properties, are not called mosques, but instead masallas, or places of prayer.

However, since the earliest days of Islam, mosques have evolved to be much more than simply places of prayer. Required charity, or zakat, is distributed from mosques. Additionally, mosques often offer educational classes, especially Arabic language courses in non-Arabic speaking countries.

Requirements of Being a Mosque

Mosques are established as permanent places of prayer and meeting, and look quite different than Christian churches. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the complete absence of seating or pews. Instead, Muslims pray on designated spots on the floor, more often than not with the men in the front, and women in the back or in another space.

All Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca, and every mosque has a mihrab, a small niche in the wall that faces Mecca. As such, mosques are often built in alignment with the holy city. Additionally, mosques are places of ritual purity: Muslims are required to wash their hands, feet, and faces before prayers, and all visitors are asked to remove their shoes before entering the mosque itself. Furthermore, the Friday prayers offer the opportunity for the prayer leader, or Imam, to offer a brief lesson, or khutba, given from the minbar, which is the same thing as a pulpit.

However, many mosques have other architectural features that are useful for worship services. Some may have separate wings for men and women, because segregation, while no means universal, is still very much the norm in Islamic services. Additionally, mosques play a call to prayer, the adhan, often from a tall tower called a minaret. In recent times, these calls have become played over large loudspeakers in major cities, although some smaller towns still have a designated person, known as the muezzin, sing the call to prayer every few hours from the top of the minaret.

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