Born in Mecca, in western Arabia, Muhammad (ca. 570–632), last in the line of Judeo-Christian prophets, received his first revelation in 610. Muslims believe that the word of God was revealed to him by the archangel Gabriel in Arabic, who said, "Recite in the name of thy Lord …" (Sura 96). These revelations were subsequently collected and codified as the Qur’an (literally "recitation" in Arabic), the Muslim holy book. As the source of Muslim faith and practice, the Qur’an describes the relationship between an almighty and all-knowing God and his creations. The Qur’an also maintains that all individuals are responsible for their actions, for which they will be judged by God, and so it provides guidelines for proper behavior within the framework of a just and equitable society. At this time, Mecca was a prosperous city whose wealth and influence were based on the caravan trade and on the Ka c ba, a shrine and a place of pilgrimage housing the pagan deities then being worshipped by the Arabs. Muhammad's message, heralding a new socio-religious order based on allegiance to one god—Allah—was unpopular among the leaders of Mecca, and they forced Muhammad and his followers to emigrate north to the oasis town Yathrib (Medina). This occurred in 622, the year of the hijra , or "emigration," which marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. In Medina, Muhammad continued to attract followers and, within a few years, Mecca had also largely embraced Islam. Although Muhammad died in 632, his followers, led by a series of four caliphs (Arabic: khalifa , "successor") known as the Rightly Guided, continued to spread the message of Islam. Under their command, the Arab armies carried the new faith and leadership from the Arabian Peninsula to the shores of the Mediterranean and to the eastern reaches of Iran.. Here in these lands, Islam fostered the development of a religious, political, and cultural commonwealth and the creation of a global empire.
The Five Pillars of Islam
The affirmation that “ There is no god
but Allah, and Muhammed is the messenger.
Ritual prayer in the direction of Mecca five times a day
Almsgiving (charity to the poor)
Fasting and abstinence during the holy moth of Ramandan.
Participation in the haji , an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in one’s life.
While the full formation of a distinctive Islamic artistic language took several centuries, the seeds were sown during the Prophet's time. Because it is through writing that the Qur'an is transmitted, the Arabic script was first transformed and beautified in order that it might be worthy of divine revelation. Thus, calligraphy started to gain prominence, becoming essential also to Islamic ornament. While most works of art had legible inscriptions, not all Muslims would have been able to read them. One should always keep in mind, however, that calligraphy is principally a means to transmit a text, albeit in a decorative form. In architecture, following the hijra , Muhammad's house in Medina developed into a center for the Muslim community and became the prototype for the mosque, the Muslim sanctuary for God. The early structure, known as the hypostyle mosque , included a columned hall oriented toward Mecca and an adjacent courtyard surrounded by a colonnade. The call to prayer was given from a rooftop (later the minaret was developed for this purpose). Essential elements of the mosque were a minbar (pulpit) for the Friday sermon and a mihrab (prayer niche) set in the wall oriented toward Mecca.
The Islamic faith takes the ban of graven images (particularly regarding humans and God in a religious setting), also found in the common Christian Old Testament, much more seriously then do Christians in general. While the early Christians developed all manner of religious icons of Christ, his apostles, saints and others, the Islamic faith substituted geometric designs to decorate their sacred places. Both divergences evolved in sophistication, and so often the decorations within a mosque will seem very alien to a modern Christian visitor, though a more thorough examination of ancient Christian churches will reveal some similar elements. The geometric design work in ancient mosques are, to many visitors, their most impressive architectural elements, and those who transgress beyond simply viewing this work, to imagine the craftsman's skill, will often become awestruck.. In gazing at the intricate geometric decorations within a mosque or other Islamic monument, what may be missed is the magnificent geometry of such buildings in general including both the decorative elements and the more basic architectural elements. Of course, all architecture is a study in geometry, but Islamic architecture is most often intricately extreme in comparison with western styles. Symmetry is also a basic element of Islamic architecture though it may not extend along a whole axis of the structure, but is rather localized to specific parts.
The model of early mosques, was the courtyard of Muhammad's house in Madina, which was constructed in 622 AD. This was organized with a quibble, first facing in the direction of Jerusalem. To the left of this qibla, houses for Muhammad's wives, were erected. There were three entrances to the courtyard. An area of the courtyard was roofed, and here prayer was performed. The qibla was eventually changed, so that it faced Mecca. Prayer is an essential element of Islam, and the demarcated space allows a space for congregational prayer. In formal mosques, the demarcated space is almost always partially roofed, and partly open to the sky. The covered prayer hall, or sanctuary (haram) usually varies relative to the size of the open courtyard (sahn). The courtyard is most often surrounded on three of its sides by colonnades, or arcades (riwags), with the fourth side opening into the covered sanctuary. The prayer hall, which is normally rectangular or square, may take the form of a hypostyle hall with its roof supported by a number of evenly spaced columns. In this design, a system of horizontal beams known as architraves, or alternatively, a system of arches support the ceiling. In other designs, the roof may consist of a single large dome on pendentives or by one or more smaller domes. The size and proportion of the covered verses the open courtyard is dependent both on the size of the congregation and the climate of the region where the mosque is located.
The Great Mosque at Samarra, Iraq, a corner of which can be seen in this picture, is virtually a ruin today. At the time it was built (848-852) it was the largest Islamic mosque in the world. The only surviving feature is the spiral minaret , where the muezzin once called the faithful to prayer. The Great Mosque’s minaret is a vast spiraling cone 55 m. high with a spiral ramp. It is easily entered by a staircase spiralling up on the outside of the round walls. At the summit, the staircase penetrates the structure for the first time, giving access to a flat platform on the top, about 3.5 metres wide. It is believed by many that the minaret was built about 15 years before the main structure . The hypostyle mosque had 17 aisles and its wall were paneled with mosaics of dark blue glass. The mosque itself is predominantly in ruins, with only the outer walls standing.. An ambitious restoration process began in the late 1990's, aiming at rebuilding the columns and eventually the roof. The plan of the mosque is 240 x 160 meters, i.e. more than 38,000 m². The walls are about 10 meters high, 2.65 meters thick and supported by 44 towers.
The Portal Mosques are almost always surrounded by high walls. In the ancient world the protection of ones family, particularly women and daughters, rested more squarely on the shoulders of individuals rather than a public security force. Therefore, one general nature of early Muslim architecture that has survived even into the modern era is the concealment of building interiors from outside view. Enclosure walls, sometimes functioning for the purpose of fortifications, are and were common. With regard to mosques, this barrier became to symbolize the threshold between the chaos and bustle of the outside world, and the tranquil atmosphere within. Entry to this more subdued atmosphere is gained through the portal, a gateway to the mosque that takes on a powerful psychological importance. Hence, these elements are often monumental and incorporate ornate decorations intended to pay tribute to God's presence, and really, to also emphasize the generosity of the mosque's principle patron. Yet, another reason for these grand entrances is that Islamic theology requires that the outside of a mosque, remain somewhat plain and simple because the building itself may not seduce by means of ornamental frills. However, in major mosques where possible, including the minaret, dome and portal, allowances were often made so that the patronage of the mosque's major contributor, often the caliph, could be appropriately commemorated.
The Great Mosque of Cordoba is worthy of that name and the distinction of being considered an Islamic monument for several reasons. The first of these innovations is the well known arches which are two-tiered to raise the height of the roof. This along with the multicolored stonework in the arches and the fact that it is repeated so many times makes for an interesting space. It also demonstrates the Islamic idea of equality behind the division of prayer spaces. Each space between the columns is of the same height and quality of the next which is almost to say that each person praying in each space is no different than the next in the eyes of God. The second innovation is related to the additions by al-Hakam. Rather than carry over the pattern of the two-tiered arches these newer ones were polylobed . The third innovation is like the last in that it involves a simple form being broken up into more complex decorative parts. The domes in this structure are like those found in other traditional mosques, a dome resting on an octagon with squiches as a transition between, however this dome is formed by eight crossing ribs which connect to colonnettes at the corners of the octagon.
Following a brief period of Persian rule, Jerusalem was captured in 638, six years after the death of Muhammad, by the Muslim Caliph Umar. Soon after his occupation of the city, Umar cleansed the Temple Mount, built a small mosque and dedicated the site to Muslim worship. The most imposing structure the Muslims found in Jerusalem was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Nearby the Arab conquerors undertook to build a more spectacular edifice, the Dome of the Rock, not only to proclaim the supremacy of Islam, but also to ensure that the new followers of Islam would not be tempted by Christianity. Yet there was another reason for the Muslim veneration of this particular site, one more important than the political expediency of usurping another religion's holy place. A certain passage in the Koran links the Prophet Muhammad with Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. That passage, the seventeenth Sura, entitled 'The Night Journey', relates that Muhammad was carried by night ' from the sacred temple to the temple that is most remote, whose precinct we have blessed, that we might show him our signs...' Muslim belief identifies the two temples mentioned in this verse as being in Mecca and Jerusalem. According to tradition, Muhammad's mystic night journey was in the company of the Archangel Gabriel, and they rode on a winged steed called El Burak (meaning `lightning'), which according to Islamic Hadith tradition was a winged, horse-like creature that was "smaller than a mule, but larger than a donkey." Stopping briefly at Mt. Sinai and Bethlehem, they finally alighted at Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and there encountered Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets, whom Muhammad led in prayers. Gabriel then escorted Muhammad to the pinnacle of the rock, which the Arabs call as-Sakhra , where a ladder of golden light materialized. On this glittering shaft, Muhammad ascended through the seven heavens into the presence of Allah, from whom he received instructions for himself and his followers. Following his divine meeting, Muhammad was flown back to Mecca by Gabriel and the winged horse, arriving there before dawn.
The Dome of the Rock was built over as-Sakhra (the rock), considered the spot where the prophet Muhammed ended his Night Journey to Jerusalem and ascended to heaven. It is an eight sided building topped with a dome covered with gold sheathing. The dome marks the spot below where the hollow rock is located. It is covered inside and out with colored mosaics and Arabic calligraphy. Because the Dome of the Rock borrows heavily from a pre-existing architectural tradition it is very unique and atypical in terms of its own tradition. This is not unusual for great monuments, especially ones that come at the beginnings of new empires where it becomes necessary to borrow. Although many individual elements were not Islamic, they were arranged with an Islamic attitude and sensibility so that despite its borrowed architectural language, the Dome of the Rock still had an Islamic message.
Mosques throughout the world have a standard orientation. Within the prayer hall, one wall must face Mecca, the direction in which Muslims should face in order to pray. This wall is called the qibla wall, and at its midpoint is a niche or recess that constitutes the central and most decorated feature of any mosque, known as the mihrab . The mihrab basically takes the layout of a Roman niche, with a semicircular recess arched at the top. It should be noted that the mihrab is not considered to be a sacred element of the mosque. Rather, it prescribes the the sacred direction for prayer to Mecca. When in prayer, Muslims will form row upon row, each parallel to, and facing the qibla wall. The minbar is basically the Islamic equivalent to the pulpit and is always located to the right of the mihrab. It takes the form of a staircase leading to a small platform from which the man leads prayers and also delivers the oration (khutba), which occurs on Fridays and may be part sermon and partly a political message. An iman may be defined as any adult male who leads a congregation in prayer. In actuality, the iman usually leads the prayers not from the platform at the top of the minbar, but from a step below. This is because the platform itself is symbolically reserved for the Prophet Muhammed, himself.
When the Umayyad were supplanted by the Abbasids in 750 and the centre of Islam relocated from Damascus, Syria to Baghdad, Iraq, a Umayyad prince named Abed Al-Rahman I, moved to Spain, where Muslims were already established. He founded a dynasty with Cordoba as its capital, and the kingdom flourished, lasting for nearly 300 years (756-1031). In 929 a restored Umayyad caliphate was set up in Cordoba, in rivalry with the Abbasids in Baghdad: by any standard, Cordoba was the richest, most sophisticated city in Europe. The Great Mosque of Cordoba, one of the most magnificent buildings in the whole of Islamic Architecture, was founded by Abed Al-Rahman I in 784. It followed the customary Arab Architectural plan, a large courtyard with a prayer hall on the south side. It was substantially enlarged on four subsequent occasions (10th c. "I" Abed Al-Rahman I; "II" Abed Al-Rahman II; "III" Al-Hakam II; "IV" Al-Mansur), making it today the largest mosque in Islam outside Samarra. The Qibla wall (nearest Mecca) and the minaret date from the 10th century. The extensive arcades, which eventually quadrupled in number, amounting to 19, or 18 rows of arches, follow an unusual pattern which was faithfully followed in each successive extension. Roman columns were used but, as they were not tall enough, rectangular piers were placed on top, supporting a semicircular arch that in turn supports the roof. Each arch are alternately red brick and white stone, creating, as one looks along the aisles, a striking striped effect. This is repeated in the complex cusped arches before the central mihrab, a space sometimes called the sanctuary , where stone of two contrasting colors is employed. This elaborate and intricate chamber dates from 965 and is almost a separate artwork, unusually large and deep, with introductory trios of three-tiered arches. The decoration here is at its richest, basically floral with inscriptions from the Qur'an in carved plaster, marble and glass & gold mosaic. The vaults whose intersecting ribbed arches support the domes are so complicated they will challenge your eye & brain.