Mosques - Islamic Architecture answers questions
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What is a mosque?

stone building with tall thin towers
Al-Azhar Mosque, Cairo (Egypt, 900s AD)

A mosque (MAH-SK) is a kind of building where people who follow the Islamic faith worship God. The first mosques were built in the 600s AD, when the Arabs first conquered Jerusalem and other parts of West Asia. One of the earliest mosques is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which is built on the place where the Jewish Temple once stood.

Kairouan mosque
Kairouan mosque (ca. 800 AD)

The architecture of mosques depends on where you are and when the mosque was built, and there are many different styles. Still, most important medieval mosques had a large open courtyard when you first came in, and then an inner prayer room. Inside the prayer room was a mihrab, a niche or hole in the wall which showed the direction of Mecca (because all Muslims pray facing the holy city of Mecca, where Mohammed was from). If you were in Baghdad, Mecca is to the west, but if you were in Jerusalem, Mecca was to the south, and if you were in Kairouan or Cordoba, then Mecca was to the east.
Most mosques also had a minaret - a tall tower. The muezzin (moo-EZZ-inn) climbed up the steps inside this tower five times every day to sing out the call to prayer. In this way everybody knew when it was time to pray (and also when it was time to go to school and so on). This was very important because there weren't any clocks yet.

Cordoba mosque
Cordoba mosque

The great mosque in Cordoba, Spain was also built around this time.
By 800 AD, people in Africa had converted to Islam and built the Great Mosque at Kairouan, in Tunisia. And the Arabs built great mosques at their capital, Baghad, in Iraq.

Here's a very short video of men praying in a mosque in India

By 1100 AD, people in India were converting to Islam, and they built mosques there as well - but in a different style. After the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople in 1453 AD, the sultans converted the great Christian churches there into mosques as well. The most famous is Hagia Sophia.

Learn by doing: visit a mosque in your town
More about Islam

Bibliography and further reading about Islamic mosques:

Kairouan mosque
More Islamic Architecture
More about the Islamic Empire home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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