Islamic Architecture Elements

The Mosque, the palace, the tomb, and the fort are just a few of the many manifestations of Islamic architecture from the days of Islam foundation to modern-day and which are distributed across majority-Islamic cities all over the world including Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Istanbul just to mention a few. Development of Islamic architecture which comprises of designs, artifacts, and buildings –including secular buildings, was highly influenced by Persian, Mesopotamian, Roman-Byzantine and cultures of other lands which were conquered by Arabs in the seventh and eighth centuries. The spread of Islam to southern Asian countries also had a great impact on transforming the face of Islamic architecture into what it is today.


So what is Islamic architecture?

Islamic architecture refers to buildings built and occupied by Muslims either for religious purposes or secular use and architectural designs and features used in such buildings for decoration or religion. It is however not different from general architecture except for the purpose and critics in the west have been noted to be against the ‘Islamisation’ of architecture and instead preferring for it to be referred to as part of the general architecture.

Islamic architecture in the Mosque (Islamic Architecture Elements)

The mosque is one of the most important establishments in Islamic religion and occupies a nearly central position in the Muslim faith, being the official house of prayer and religious gatherings. Mosque design and architecture have evolved over time from the ancient T-type mosques, the hypostyle mosque, and the central dome mosques. Common for most of the hypostyle designs is to have a covered prayer hall that extends to an enclosed courtyard designed to accommodate large numbers of the faithful during Friday noon prayers. Large mosques especially those with flat prayer hall roofs have numerous concrete pillars to support the weight of the roofing. It was in the 15th century that the central-dome mosques were introduced by the Ottoman Empire after the hypostyle mosques lost popularity. These were highly influenced by the Persian and byzantine religious culture. The central dome mosques usually have one big dome centrally situated above the prayer hall and other smaller domes distributed throughout other sections of the mosque.

Islamic Architecture Elements

Fig: the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Dome (Qubba) “Islamic Architecture Elements”

One of the most notable ancient Islamic architectural designs is the dome otherwise known as Qubba. The dome is characterized by a large circular dome with uniquely styled decorations and patterns and vaulted spaces in the interior. Though not a mandatory requirement for any mosque to have a dome(s), it is considered to have significance in that it is a symbol of the vault of heaven with the decorations placed on its inside emphasizing this. When a mosque has only one dome it is usually placed right above the qibla wall –the wall of the mosque in the direction of Mecca. It is important to note that one of the most famous Islamic architectural artifacts is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (pictured above).

Islamic Architecture Elements

Figure 3: left: a minaret, right: Mosque with several domes

The Minaret

The minaret is one of the most visible architectural features of a mosque basically due to its height. It is a tower from which the call to prayer is made (five times a day) and has an internal staircase. Traditionally mosques are fitted with only one minaret except for cases where a mosque was founded by a sultan.

Islamic Architecture Elements

Figure 4: Mihrab

Mihrab and Qibla (Islamic Architecture Elements)

A Mihrab is usually an indicator of the direction of Mecca from within the mosque regardless of its geographical location. It is commonly made as a niche in the wall or a small room extended outwards from the wall. While qibla refers to the direction of Mecca from the mosque, it has also been used to refer to the wall of the mosque in that direction. The qibla is considered the holiest area of a mosque and as such it is highly decorated

Muqarnas and arches

Muqarnas, originating from the squinch and sometimes called honeycomb vaulting, it creates a decorative transition zone on a structurally bare space. It is significant in Islamic architecture as it signifies Allah’s universal creation and is widely used in half has done entrances, domes, Mihrab, apses, and iwans. They can typically be constructed from ceramic cray, plaster and wood, plaster-covered bricks or stone. Arches normally found on entrances and interiors are usually categorized as pointed, horseshoe, ogee or multifoil. The pointed arch and the ogee categories are almost similar to one another the only difference being that the point on the ogee is made by creating two s-shaped lines one on each side of the entrance each facing its own direction. The horseshoe arch, as you would guess, imitates the shape of a horseshoe while the multifoil arch is composed of multiple foils that together make a beautiful hollow shape.

Calligraphy and Arabesque

Arabesque is the use of Islamic art to decorate walls of mosques, homes, and buildings. Islamic art, in this case, referring to carefully arranged and repetitive geometric forms that often take on forms of part of Allah’s creation, for example, plants, birds and sometimes shapes that can be used to convey meanings. Many Muslims identify with how the geometric shapes are formatted as a representation of the decentralized and infinite nature of creation. The use of arabesque is halal and replaces the use of images for the purpose of decorating the mosque and homes. Geometric motifs from ancient times can be found in private palaces and buildings as in the works of great metal works of Safavid Iran.

Calligraphy, often associated with arabesque, is the use of inscriptions and abstractions (written in Arabic) to deliver visual messages through writings on mosque walls, ceilings, and even on-page. It is considered to provide a link between the different languages spoken by Muslims with their religion. The al-Qur’an has had a significant influence on the development of the Arabic language and is a major source for Islamic calligraphy. Verses from the Quran have been executed in calligraphy and can found in a variety of arts and architectural structures and designs. This shows the high value of the Arabic language to Muslims the world over.

Modern Islamic architecture.

Do we even have modern Islamic architecture? Has Islamic architecture even changed? To answer your questions and to make this right I will refer you to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower in the United Arab Emirates. While it may appear to be like any other modern-day design, you would be shocked to realize that its unique design is derived from a desert flower! This generally should tell you that even modern Islamic architecture has the same love for arabesque and other architectural aesthetics as the traditional Islamic architecture. As for the name of the flower from which Burj Khalifa’s design is based, I leave it to you to find out and if possible post it in the comments section.



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