Asian Architecture [ARC 2213]
PROJECT 1: CASE STUDY
Religious Significance of Mihrab in Islamic Architecture and How
it is Adapted to Contemporary Mosque Architecture in Malaysia
Nur Aida Ashikin Binti Rosdi
Pn Norhayati Ramli
SUBMISSION DATE: 19 Nov 2013
This study is to identify the religious significance of Mihrab in Islamic Architecture and how it is
adapted to contemporary mosque architecture in Malaysia. The aim of this study is to properly
establish the function of a Mihrab for a mosque and what makes it a pivotal component of a for
a mosque and to discover is Mihrab slowly losing its significance in order to achieve a simpler
and minimalist design or is it still going strong for the contemporary mosque architecture in
Malaysia. A Mihrab is not just an architectural decoration complimented with beautiful
ornaments, it holds a greater meaning towards the religion of Islam, the mosque itself and
Muslims. By conducting a thorough research with journals, books and articles both from the web
and magazines I will be able to gather a sufficient amount of information I need in order to find
the answers to the issue. I will also do a case study comparison of a traditional Islamic
architecture mosque to a contemporary mosque located in Malaysia. Hagia Sophia located in
Istanbul is a great example of an early Islamic Architecture mosque which can demonstrate the
great use of ornaments and different materials used to build the Mihrab following Istanbul's
technology and resource of material at the time. While the Masjid Wilayah in Malaysia were built
with a different and more recent technology and materials. The location of where the mosque is
located will also affect the design of the mosque as it has to consider the immediate context of
the site. This comparison will provide clear understanding what are the variables that can affect
the design, material and construction method of a Mihrab. These findings will provide a deeper
understanding on the importance of a Mihrab and identify the steps needed to be to sustain the
significance of Mihrab. From my findings, it is apparent how contemporary mosque architecture
is slowly losing the essence of a Mihrab in order to achieve a more minimalist and modern
There is no better form of architecture that is a true equal composition of both religion and art
exist in the Islamic architecture than the Mihrab. A Mihrab in a mosque can generate a feeling of
unity which is significant as it unites the Muslims together during a prayer. The high aesthetic
and spiritual value of Islamic architecture influences the richness of the design of Mihrab while
acting as a strong component to a mosque and has a high functionality.
Main Question: What is the religious significance of Mihrab in Islamic Architecture and
how it is adapted to contemporary mosque architecture in Malaysia?
1. What is a Mihrab and its function?
2. What is the significance of a Mihrab to a mosque?
3. How does the different cultural context affect the design, material and construction
4. Is it still relevant and used in contemporary mosque architecture in Malaysia?
5. Is it still culturally and religiously significant towards Muslim in Malaysia and should it still
be implied in contemporary designs?
What is a Mihrab and its function?
Acts a prayer niche for Muslim's congregants during communal prayer. A Mihrab is a
prayer niche that has the characteristics of a small alcove and its function to indicate the
direction the sacred Ka'bah and during prayers it involuntary provides a physical and
psychological bearing during the communal prayer. During prayers, the Imam will lead the
prayer opposite the Mihrab and acts as a focal point. Although, the Mihrab is known for its high
aesthetic and spiritual value, in addition its historical function is to highlight the qiblah wall and to
indicate the direction of Mecca. It is located at the middle of the qiblah wall, perpendicular to the
directions towards Mecca. The term Mihrab derives Surah Maryam verse 11 which a the word
"mina-Imihrabi" describes as a sanctuary or a sacred place of worship in the verse of "then he
[Zakaria] came forth to his people from the sanctuary/ place of worship [mina-Imihrabi]"(Q.
19:11). This verse is usually used to convey how the word "mina-Imihrabi" influence to the
Mihrab's to be qualified as sacred space and becomes the most significant spiritual and
aesthetic value in Islamic architecture and a mosque. The Mihrab is rich with Islamic ornaments
the emphasize of Islam's non-figurative illusory while highlighting the main principles of Islamic
doctrines of Tawhid (Divine Unity and Oneness) and convey a significant message extricate
from the Quran. "Umar b. Abd al-Aziz, Walid's governer of Medina, was the first person to
introduce the mihrab mujawwaf" (Treadwall,****). It was said that when he renovated and
extended the Mosque of the Prophet(Al-Aqsa?) he incorporated the prayer niche into the
design. It was contradicted that the prayer niche was already existed in the mid-70s AB (690s)
(Treadwell, ****), therefore predating its appearance by a decade. An example of one of the
early design of Mihrab was carved from white marble with an inscribed border. With pointed
arch rested on upon two semicircular lobes and beneath it the archivolts descends vertically,
extends to form as an architrave and continues to form a rectangular shape. As a whole, the
prayer niches is not known to be either extend of Mihrab or an architectural decoration that
displays ornamentation for which it is sufficient to approximately suggest a date and providence.
Nearly all the great Mihrab has a surface inscription that was taken from the Qur'an.
What is the significance of a Mihrab to a mosque?
Commonly there is only one Mihrab in each mosque but it not unusual to see several Mihrab
located at the qibla wall. In a mosque the Mihrab would be one of the major component of
the qibla wall. The qibla wall would not be completed without Mihrab and the Minbar which is
also one of the major component of the qibla wall. Mihrab can be used as an acoustic
device as its form enables the voice of the Imam to be bounce back and it also magnifies
their voice when the Imam leads the congregation of prayers. Therefore, it shows how
functional the Mihrab can be for a mosque. The Mihrabs also acts as a centre of interest in
the decoration of the mosque interiors and offer various and unique design following
different region and periods. The creation of Mihrab is very unique as it can only be used in
a mosque. To design the Mihrab without its functional and religious characteristic and
reconstruct it outside of the context of a mosque would destroy its significance and
undermine the purpose and concept of the Mihrab as to why it was built in the first place.
How does the different cultural context affect the design, material and construction
The basic element of Mihrab's should be interpreted according to its iconography details and
context which it is located. The location and period that the mosque was build can influence
the design of the Mihrab. Even different providence in the same country can become one of
the variable as to why Mihrab goes through different types of design, material and
construction method. Different location and period where the mosque is located would want
to accentuate their own unique expertise in creating a cultural Mihrab because it was
considered an aesthetic key of Islamic architecture and worthy to be designed by the finest
Islamic architecture masters could offer. "Certainly Mihrab became a focus for architectural
decoration and was often embellished with the latest artistic techniques."(Peterson, 1996)
Whenever there is a new technology or technique at a certain location or period. It certainly
would be applied to the design of the Mihrab and it some are regarded as the world's most
unique and intricate art. Numerous Mihrab are known for their colourful tile work in varied
style-stamped, polychromatic and faience. An example would be the Mihrab Khiva mosque,
Uzbekistan. Ceramic would usually be cut and assembled by one of the finest to produce
multi-coloured mosaic decoration. While in countries like Oman produced an engraved
gypsum Mihrab that has an Arabic script wall decoration illustration at Al-Alyn mosque in AlBilad Manah. In designing a Mihrab, there is no particular architectural style appropriate but
rather any type of pan-Islamic aesthetic principles. Some styles would differ in quality in the
design of artistic technique and the local finest design techniques, materials and
construction would further make the design of Mihrab more unique in different mosque. The
design of Mihrab may differ for different mosque but the core of the purpose, meaning and
functionality is still the same as any other Mihrab.
Is it still relevant and used in contemporary mosque architecture in Malaysia?
The intention of the Mihrab was to create a simple Islamic architectural feature of a mosque that
stands out by its simplicity not by its ornaments and acts as a directional element, instead of
distracting their worshippers during their prayers. Orthodox Islamic teaching are against lavish
decorations inside the mosque as it can be distracting to the worshippers. But the decorations
are an essential characteristic of beauty in Islam being convey in an architectural form. The
ornamented Mihrab should be seen as a way to hold sacred and glorify our God. The Mihrab is
a strong Islamic religious architecture that in a mosque that has been studied in art history of
Islamic architecture. It retains a strong link to architecture due to its three dimensional character
of using different depths of relief and use of the arch. For every mosque the architectural
elements of the Mihrab emphasize the qiblah axis. As such they serve to unite space and focus
on the Mecca. As an architectural element the Mihrab contributes to qualifying mosque interior
space as sacred, even though the building itself is not necessarily considered as such. The
Mihrab defines its space for a particular religious purpose, therefore it has both religious and
symbolic architectural value. Unfortunately the most of the mosque in contemporary Malaysian
Mosque have lost some the beautiful essence of the Mihrab. Following the architecture of the
mosque as a whole, a Mihrab in a contemporary mosque would have a very simplistic design
that lacks ornamentation and depth. Slowly the Mihrab becomes an inessential component of
the mosque. Although the Mihrab is trying to achieve a simpler form, it should convey a strong
poetic core of Islam and the meaning behind a Mihrab. In result, the Muslims will pay no heed to
the beauty of Mihrab and it will slowly be forgotten and becomes less relevant and used in
Malaysian Contemporary Mosque Architecture.
Is it still culturally and religiously significant towards Muslim in Malaysia and should
it still be implied in contemporary designs?
The existance of Mihrab is not for the purpose of art but for the purpose of Islam. Its role of
art is to serve Islam and not the other way round. It conforms to Islam's theory of beauty and
conveys how magnificent and beautiful the religion of Islam. Mihrab contributes by playing a
role to diffuse Islam's Divine Word and to convey for the embodiment of those words in form
and space, and to temporalised expression of kalam Allah throught beautified speeches of
the Qur'an. The qur'anic recitation captures the texture of the sound qualified by God. The
Mihrab serves as hub for the soul of the believer towards an interior disposition of
submission to God which is the true end of all sacred art. During prayers, the Mihrab
enables the Imam's voice to resonate encompassing the mosque which exhibits God's word
as an absolute power. The foremost religion significance of a Mihrab is that it symbolises a
gateway to paradise, which is to Muslim's true and final homeland. Therefore the delights of
paradise are ornamented using abstract artistic decoration, floral, arabesque, and vegetal
motifs relating to al-Djanna-the heavenly garden. The archway of a Mihrab is indicates of
entering a spiritual dimension, a suggestive of heaven's promise of glory. Amplifying this
symbolism would be contour, the elements of interweaving of Arabic words from the Qur'an
fuse into a compelling whole. It is uncertain of how many Muslims acknowledge how
significant a Mihrab is to a mosque, what meaning it holds for the religion. By making the
Mihrab more interesting and carries a greater meaning, it will interest Muslims to understand
the underlying meaning that it holds.
Hagia Sophia was converted from
a Christian Church to an Islamic
Mosque shortly after the dismiss
of Constanople in 1453. Built by
Emperor Justinian in the 537
architecture, therefore originally
Hagia Sophia did not have any
Mihrab in it or much Islamic architecture characteristic. Soon after it was grasp by the Islamic
leaders, a Mihrab and all the figurative sculpture and paintings were transformed into Arabic
calligraphy writings. Richly decorated Mihrab of Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul. It was slightly
off centre on the Christian apse as the orientation of the mosque and direction of Mecca form
the mosque was Southeast but the orientation was a bit off thus the reason of the Mihrab's
placing. The Mihrab comprises of Qur'anic verses of beautifully written in stone, stucco, marble,
mosaic and painted to embellish and direct attention towards recitation of the Divine Word. It is
apparent that the decorated incorporate qur'anic verses into abstract patterning to provide
Muslims with a provided a visual expression of how beautiful meaning of the verse. The Mihrab
make full use of God's divine Words and transform them into intricate ornaments and decorative
art. The an acoustic device as its form enables the voice of the Imam to be bounce back and it
also magnifies their voice when the Imam leads the congregation of prayers and that exhibits
God's word as an absolute power in the Hagia Sophia.
Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque
Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque was completed in August 2009. It was named after Yang
di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin. It is also known as the Iron Mosque for short
because of the structure of the mosque
comprises 70 percent steel overall, which be
made of 6000 tons of steel.
percentage of the structure was made out of
concrete. The mosque was build with the
Islamic architecture. The Mihrab in the
mosque was made out of marble and surrounded by glass panels about 13 meters high. The
glass panels are carved with 2 lines of verse from Surah Al-Baqarah on the right and Surah
Ibrahim on the left using Thuluth calligraphy. The contemporary design of the mosque
minimizes the amount of ornaments and decoration in the mosque. The Mihrab was made up of
plain marble without any form of ornamentation or Arabic calligraphy writing extracted from the
Qur'an. The only function of the Mihrab is to only pin point the direction of Mecca from the
mosque. The designer did not take advantage of a traditional Mihrab to enable the voice of the
Imam to be bounce back into the mosque. This is an example where the Mihrab become an
inessential component of the mosque. The foremost religion significance of a Mihrab is that it
symbolises a gateway to paradise, which is to Muslim's true and final homeland, but the Mihrab
needed ornaments of abstract artistic decoration, floral, arabesque, and vegetal motifs relating
to al-Djanna-the heavenly garden and the delights of paradise. The interesting location and
period where the mosque is located could have accentuate their own unique expertise in
creating a cultural Mihrab because it was considered an aesthetic key of Islamic architecture
and worthy to be designed by the finest Islamic architecture masters could offer.
Ensuring Mihrab is being adapted well into Contemporary Mosque Architecture in
The art of Mihrab its beauty in a mosque is slowly dying by the incline number of Contemporary
Mosque Architecture. The main core of the function, purpose, and meaning in a Mihrab should
not be sacrifice in order to achieve a more aesthetically complimenting design with
contemporary architecture. There are ways for The Mihrab is significantly more than a functional
feature of mosque design. Not only does it mark the direction of Mecca thereby symbolizing
unity and universality in prayer, it also constitutes a masterpiece of Islamic sacred art; a hybrid
element of Islam’s decorative art, sculpture and architecture. At the Mihrab these categories
formally integrate to express a theological and aesthetic ideal.
Increasing religious significance of Mihrab towards Muslims
Islam’s most significant artistic and religious features this mosque module unities Islam’s
spirituality and beauty obscuring points of differentiating between the arts in Islam by
simultaneously filling specific space as if it were a sculpture while creating qualified space to
contour as if it were architecture. This is how the Mihrab contributes to Islam’s sense of sacred
unity—artistically and substantially. While exhibiting religious art’s essential characteristics, it
reveals the essence of the Muslims’ religion and understanding of God— Tauhid. Accordingly it
exemplifies a coherent theological aesthetic, offering a qualified art specifying religious space
and connecting every Muslim with the true meaning of God as The Unseen, and The
Boundless. In Islam no better example of the convergence between religion and art, or between
the spiritual dimension of religion and the concept of abstract art, exists than at the Mihrab. In
addition to its aesthetic value, the Mihrab has noteworthy spiritual appeal which serves to
augment its religious identity. As both a piece of theology and as a masterwork of Islam’s
sacred art, the Mihrab reservoir for the Islamic religion's physical and spiritual yearnings and this
is undoubtedly the Mihrab most authoritative status.
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