Islamic Architecture
Why do we say "Islamic" architecture?
We call nearly all of buildings which were build in a "Muslim-ruled" country an Islamic architecture. I have a question about this term: What qualities make an architecture Islamic, or only the name of Islam creates such architecture?
Peiman Amini
Why do we say
This is main reason why I am concerned with this question.

In most of the answers and quotations, "Islamic" was presumed as an idealogy or thought that the architecture adheres to; in some other the Islam-icity was referred to some particular shapes and types. But I want to return to centuries ago, when for the first times this adjective was preceded "Architecture".

Categorizing and classifying is accepted to be owed to Aristotles. But after the dark age, Europe was totally ignorant of it. Greek philosophy was then transferred and mixed with Islamic thoughts in Abbassid era. The hands of destiny, this time, sent Genghis Khan to burn libraries. By that time (through the Crusador's Wars, Europe reconciled with science and philosophy ) Renaissance and then Enlightment dominated the Europe, through which a new wave of classifying spread there. By the very ancient tradition of "dual conflict" (like Greek and Barbarian, Iran and Aniran, ...) the foreign art and architecture was classified as "Islamic Architecture". It was not important that the subject was a vine garden or a mosque. The next significant factor had been the climatic characteristic : green and moderate Europe versus hot and dry Middle East and North Africa.

By the triumph of the Modern Movement this category was imported and accepted by Muslim universities. Of course, today we know that each region of the former Islamic empire had its own architecture. Today we know that except a few elements and type (like Madrasa, and Mahallah ), all other types, orders and shapes in what we call Islamic architecture was derived from pre-Islamic cultures, especially those of Sassanids and Byzantines, or their development didn't have much relation to Islam.

Mosque, for example, as a house for Allah, is an advanced composition of a house (palace) and a church (or a fire temple) according to its physical and locating aspects. Of course, several new values were prevailed in them. These values which could be called "Islamic" are reflected most in the way of behaviour of users, or in another word in building's function.

But in other types of buildings like houses, caravansarais, hammams and bazaars, the former traditions (or imported pre-Islamic traditions of other reigns) were continued. the only change was in the name (and some ornaments) of the worshipping corners.

By this question, I meant that with this term, we may enter some ideological and theorical discussions that they are even unreal. Can we ever mean to call architecture of Europe as Christian? And then we discuss about Christian aspects of Palace of Versailles or Capodoglio square?
Peiman Amini
Why do we say
For the reasons listed above, I like to use the term Islamicate. The term comes from Marshall Hodgson, historian, who defined Islamicate as something that "...would refer not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims, both among Muslims themselves and even when found among non-Muslims."(Venture of Islam, v. 1, p. 59)
Shiraz Allibhai
Why do we say
Thanks a lot!

Your responses were so helpful. I admit that by some views we don't have a choice but this term, especially when we consider that the similar Islamic characteristic of these countries was the most important reason for communication of different architects; and when Islamic border is almost similar to climatic and so architectural border.

The term "Islamicate" is also very useful because it doesn't associate Islam to architecture directly. But there is yet a problem : we couldn't use " Iraqi " or "Abbassid" architecture. That's right, because of that they do not include all aspects of the architecture, but we say Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Greek.

Of course you explain Mesopotamian is alternative, but it often refers the right place. Why? Because the most famous and powerful Mesopotamia was identified, as there is only one famous and powerful Greece or Egypt in the history.

Iraq, by this name, was never so powerful. Abbassid after a century were not more than puppets of Iranian, Turks or Egyptian rulers. If we study history thoroughly, surely we'll find some names which could help us to name their architecture. eg. Morroco was never lost its independence until 1910 for a thousand years.

Iran (the plateau, from Samarkand to Baghdad) however several times was invaded and occupied, but followed its pre-Islamic traditions until previous century, and Anatolia from Seljuk era (11th century) to Ataturk walked on a same path, ... . It's obvious if we use terms like "Iranian", "Moorish" or " Anatolian" , we couldn't gather all of them under one ceiling, but my question is:

" Why do we need to gather all under an umbrella?"

In Europe, we have both regional and periodic naming. These name are mostly upon their appearance which is blossomed out of their "spirit of time". In Europe we access to some theoretical and philosophical issues from Plato to Vitruvius to Alberti that facilitate finding such a "spirit". But what we have in Islamdom? It's hard to find such different appearance in a city or even a region as one may see in nearby Gothic and Baroque churches. My opinion is that when Islam entered a country which had had a rich art background like Iran or Byzanthe it did not affect so much on architecture (but great in urbanism), so we can call many of architecture traditions by their region or source; that's why we see "unity" in Islamic architecture. Of course it is only a simple raw idea and may be easily discomfirmed.
Peiman Amini
Why do we say "Islamic" architecture?
Peiman, I think you can define "Islamic Architecture" as two different typologies created by (a) an Islamic culture or by (b) Islamic religion.

The first typology tends to change and adapt to local vernacular conditions; whereas, the second typology is more recognisable in that mosques, medrassahs, vakifs and tombs (and to a lesser extent palaces); tend to follow traditional orthodox layouts.

This division of different typologies parallels "Christian Architecture" and any other tradition of architecture.
Frank John Snelling
Why do we say "Islamic" architecture?
salaam alaykum!

I hope 'Islamicate' doesn't become part of the vernacular; I think it has some of the same problems as 'orientalism,' in terms of language.

Certainly, understandng the difference between secular and liturgical architecture is specific enough?

Why is a 'Muslim-ruled' country's architecture be treated differently than a 'Christian,' 'Hindu,' or 'Buddhist' ruled countries' architecture? Certainly, if one is a Moslem and an architect, that person may choose to design space, incorporate motifs from where ever - in fact, the mastery of many styles would be well-respected. Is it not the sensitivity of the architect that matters most at the design stage?

True enough, some styles are specific to certain cultures and if one needs to be that specific, complete in categorization - okay! But really, since all major civilizations have overlapped, wouldn't it be better to make distinctions based on use, rather than philosophic affiliations (unless writing a doctoral thesis)?!!

ma salemah!
Anthony Stewart


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