Islam is one of the world’s largest religions. The number of its adherents is growing as well as the number of mosques – the places where Muslims worship. In this architectural research paper, the writer defines the term “mosque,” investigates the history of Muslim architecture, and describes two types of mosques: hypo-style mosque and four-iwan mosque. The Muslim religion has a great influence on the life of its believers. Moreover, the religion has affected the cultural legacy of a wide range of countries: Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and others. The mosque architecture has a considerable number of specific traits which set it apart from the world’s architectural heritage.
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What Are Common Types of Mosque Architecture?
The Muslim world is always associated with special kind of religion and people who manifest it. For the Muslims, religion is the most important thing, and they pay a lot of attention to it. Logically, the worldviews, values, and attitudes of these people are formed on the base of religion. It became the essential part of people’s lives; religion influenced their traditions and mentality. The Muslim religion is considered to be closely connected with the original approach to the means of art. With the reference to the main ideas in religion, the Muslim architecture is a special one which can be distinguished among the world art heritage. Mosque architecture is supposed to be the center of the Muslim religion and communities. With the development of mosque architecture, a lot of mosques have been built not only in the countries belonging to the Muslim world but all over the world. Having the sacral meaning for the Muslims, the buildings which are identified as the representatives of this type of architecture have some bright features and can be defined according to three common types.
To start with, the mosque is the specific Islamic building. Originally, the mosque (masjid in Arabic) is the place for prayers to meet five or more times a day. They stand in one direction in the rows praying for God. All people are obliged to gather at the mosque every Friday. Additionally, the mosques played not only the role of the place for prayers. They were the learning schools for different subjects, from religious to scientific ones. Besides, it was used as the court, and there all the serious judicial proceedings were carried out (Maqsood, Ruqaiyyah Waris). Moreover, it was the place for all the citizens to gather together to discuss some problems and find the solutions. It included some pronouncements and speeches from the representatives of the powers. However, they had the opportunity to interact with the Khalifa, take part in the important affairs of the community. That is why the mosques were the center of the Muslim society. Its decorations and specific features can be construed as the things which help to find out more about the Muslim religion, the peculiarities of people who manifest this type of religion, and the area where the buildings were construed (Hoag, John D).
The first mosque is connected with the home of the Prophet Muhammad located in Medina in modern-day Saudi Arabia. It is the example of the typical mosque architecture with the great columns and long rooms. In general, if a person wants to distinguish this type of architecture from others, he or she would pay attention to its common features. And they were defined by the traditions of certain region and time of construction (Salam-Liebich, Hayat). That is why different buildings can have different style and decoration. But still, people can highlight some features which are common for the mosques throughout the world. In general, a lot of mosques have been built in different countries, both the Muslim and non-Muslim ones. Originally, there are a lot of different types of mosque architecture, but the main three ones are considered to be common.
The first and the basic type of mosque is the hypostyle mosque. It is supposed to be the earliest one distributed throughout the Islamic world. The great example of this type is the first mosque building, the house of Prophet Muhammad. The Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia is the instance of typical hypostyle mosque. The large stone building was constructed considering the primary details. It has a hypostyle hall with the great number of columns. In general, the most common peculiarity of the hypostyle mosque is a lot of columns. Besides, the Great Mosque of Kairouan has a large internal courtyard (Salam-Liebich, Hayat 118). However, the building has three-level minaret created on the base of Roman lighthouses. The architects decided to use the old material because of the practical reasons. As the area suffered from the Islamic conquests, the columns played an important role regarding protection. In addition, the Great Mosque of Kairouan has the place for the ruler called the maqsura.
It was the place for Khalifa during the gathering of citizens in order to discuss the affairs in the community. The special pulpit called minbar was used by the rulers to be in the center of people’s attention. They were carved from the special kind of wood brought from Southeast Asia. The hypostyle type of mosque was used in the Muslim world as the earliest one (Salam-Liebich, Hayat 126). Being unique thanks to the great number of columns and the hypostyle hole, this type can be considered as traditional one.
While the hypostyle type presents the earliest period of the development of the Islamic religion, the second type of mosque is the dated by the eleventh century. In the base, this type, called the four-iwan mosque, has a new original form and design. In general, iwan is supposed to be the open place which faces the courtyard. It was developed under the influence of imperial architecture. Originally, the iwan is closely connected with Persian types of architecture, but it was utilized in the Muslim architecture. Dated in the eleventh century, the process of the four-iwan mosque replacing the traditional hypostyle one started. The building itself has four iwans at the forefront (Erzen, Jale Nejdet 126). The great representative of the process of changing is the Great Mosque of Isfahan. Being built in the hypostyle, the construction was modified by the invaders of the city. Considering the parallels with the hypostyle mosque, it has an open courtyard. But the peculiarity is connected with four walls of the courtyard which have their own hall called iwan. The iwans of this type of mosque architecture are considered to be the most opulent and beautifully decorated. The four-iwan mosque, being widespread in the twelfth century, is also quite popular nowadays. Being originally created in Iran, this type became popular not only in the Islamic world but throughout the world (Erzen, Jale Nejdet 127).
It is true to say that the four-iwan mosques were used mostly in the Islamic world. But it was not used in the Ottoman Empire. Being founded in 1299, the Ottoman Empire was not so powerful until the fifteenth century. Taking the Roman capital Constantinople, Mehmed II renamed it Istanbul. The city became the bridge from Europe to the Asian countries. That is why, being the representative of the Christian religion, it had some differences from the Muslim world features considering architecture. Originally, the Ottoman architecture had a strong connection with the Byzantine churches, in particular, Hagia Sophia (Mustafa, Faris Ali, and Ahmad Sanusi Hassan). The specific feature of this building is the central dome high above the construction. As a result, Ottoman mosques were influenced by this dome. During the process of building new mosques, all the architects perceived it as the competition. That is why with time, new constructions had even better domes and Hagia Sophia’s one. Sinan, the great architect of the Ottoman Empire, worked on the plans of new and unordinary mosques referring to the ones in Edirne. He built the mosque for Selim II, called the Selim Mosque, which is supposed to be the best illustration of the Ottoman architecture. Creating the dome which was higher and larger than the one of Hagia Sophia, Sinan was very proud of his construction (Mustafa, Faris Ali, and Ahmad Sanusi Hassan). Combining the best features of all the earlier mosques, he created both simple and ideal building. The inner space was airier due to eight piers which went deep into the walls. Besides, the architect designed great arches decorated with different kinds of ornaments. It helped to make the building brighter and more spacious.
To sum up, religion plays an important role in the Muslim world. It influences the worldviews a mentality of people. To add more, it finds the reflections in the means of art as well. The Muslim architecture is the thing that has the direct connections with the religion itself and people who it manifest. Used for the practical purpose, mosques were the places for prayers to gather together to pray to God. Besides, they were used as the educational places and the ones for citizens to meet in order to discuss some important issue considering their communities. It is true to say that all the mosques had their specific features and design relating to the area and period of time. Originally, they are considered to be divided into three types: the hypostyle mosque, the four-iwan mosque, and the centrally-planned mosque. The first type is characterized by the great hypostyle in the center supported by a large number of columns. The second one is associated with the appearance of four iwans facing the courtyard. And the third type is defined as the one that has the high and wide dome above the construction as the main feature.
Erzen, Jale Nejdet. “Reading Mosques: Meaning And Architecture In Islam.” The Journal Of Aesthetics And Art Criticism, vol 69, no. 1, 2011, pp. 125-131. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/j.1540-6245.2010.01453.x.
Hoag, John D. Western Islamic Architecture. Dover Publications, 2012.
Maqsood, Ruqaiyyah Waris. Islamic Mosques. Oxford, Raintree, 2006.
Mustafa, Faris Ali, and Ahmad Sanusi Hassan. “Mosque Layout Design: An Analytical Study Of Mosque Layouts In The Early Ottoman Period.” Frontiers Of Architectural Research, vol 2, no. 4, 2013, pp. 445-456. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.foar.2013.08.005.
Salam-Liebich, Hayat. Expressions Of Islam In Buildings. Geneva, 1991.