The focus of this article is not on the historical or traditional features
of mosque architecture but rather on the changing paradigm of
mosque design as it relates to social, cultural, economic, and human
conditions. Its development throughout history reflects constant,
changing and transformational variables related to political, social,
cultural, economic and climatic conditions. Mosque design "is" - and
"should" be – a narrator of the changing conditions of human and
Muslims conditions. While adhering to fundamental elements that
serve the religious requirements; i.e. orientation towards Mecca and
equality between people, the mosque has also served social, cultural
and community needs. Meanwhile, the mosque has suffered from
political pressures aiming at limiting its role to religious practices.
The spread of Islam during the 1st hijra century (7th century AD)
encountered long standing cultural, religious, political, economic and,
in general, human conditions packed with long established civilization
and social systems much older than where Islam originated. It added
and blended with these conditions and created non-identical forms of
societies and hence mosques’ architectures. Its call for a monolithic
belief and equality between people attracted believers and adherents
that carried its message to other parts of the world.
For centuries, the mosque played a central role in religious, cultural,
economic, and political activities. The design of the mosque reflected
the accumulated human achievements and conditions in different
parts of the world. Commonalities and differences are easily identified
in mosque design in different parts of the world. Yet the essence of
mosque design as reflection of human development and aspiration
were oppressed under political pressure to limit its role to religious
practices aiming at making it "benignant" to political change. The use
of "historical and traditional" images of mosque design was an
attempt to "freeze" it in the past and hindering it from performing a
During the 20th century mosque design reflected positive and
negative political and cultural intentions of different Muslim
communities. Today there are new attempts to relate the mosque
design to constantly changing human aspirations. While some
mosques are designed by Muslim designers, others are designed by
non-Muslim designers reflecting different views and understanding of
the religion and the changing role of the mosque in society.
What the Mosque should be and look like is an eternal question! The
general population accepts as true that the mosque should give the
impression of a "traditional" building where religious practices take
place. This traditional "container" image encourages the freezing of
the religious dialog limiting it to historical accounts and teachings.
The future of Muslim society will always be tied to the mosque as a
place of worship and religious practices. Yet, it must develop and
relate to changing human needs and conditions facilitating
progressive and forward looking vision of the society. It should not
limit its lessons to past "perfect" practices and behaviors. It should
highlight contemporary positive practices to promote and encourage
future generations. This vision should be reflected in the mosque
design promoting a new dialog and condition.
Praying experience inside a mosque. KATARA mosque, Doha, Qatar.
Images reflecting the different architecture(s) of mosque design
The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria was a Byzantine church before the
Islamic conquest of the Levant. Some ecclesiastical elements are still evident.
Mosque minaret from Yemen.
Ibn Tulun mosque, Cairo, Egypt.
The minaret at the Great Mosque of Xi'an, China
The wooden mosque in Kruszyniany, Poland shows the influence of Central
European folk religious architecture.
The Javanese style Grand Mosque of Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
A modern-style mosque built on water in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Minaret of the Menara Kudus Mosque, influenced by Javanese Hindu-Buddhist
Islamic Centre of Campinas, Brazil has a distinctive minaret.
The Badshahi Mosque (Royal Mosque) in Lahore, Pakistan, built by Mughal
The Assyafaah Mosque in Singapore
Strasbourg Mosque by Zaha Hadid
Modern mosque on a corner in a modern city, Deira in Dubai,
Avenues Mall (KUWAIT) Mosque by Zaha Hadid
A modern mosque in Doha's Aspire Zone