Islamic Architecture
Designing a modern mosque
Dear all,

If we want to build a mosque, will we preserve its traditional elements such as the minaret, decorations, writings? And, if we leave them, will they stay just as symbols or can we give them other functions?

We know for example that the minaret has lost its initial function as an element of call to prayer. But I wonder that will become of a mosque without minaret...

Please, help me to solve this enigma.

Thank you,
Ali Assoul
Designing a modern mosque
You can't eliminate elements but you can replace their function with modern service facility.
Elias Ahmed
Designing a modern mosque
Hello Ali,

I think it's a new thing to think in new function for elements which lost its use...

Minaret could be a gallery with a ramp rotating until it reaches the top, to see a general view for the city (of course for a multi-use mosque).

The mihrab is going to lose its function due to microphones... but its basic function is to orient the prayers towards Mecca...

About your idea (mosque without minaret). Nowadays, the minarets are used as an identification and for orientantion to lead people to the location of the mosque...
Ibrahim Karsou
Designing a modern mosque
Hi Ali,

Designing a mosque today is not a simple task despite the sheer simplisity of mosque design.

In my view, the most important aspect that must be respected in contemporary mosques is sacredness. The sacred space is the most important element in mosque design. There should be of course a mihrab, a minbar, and some other elements which could enhance that sacred space. Abstract surfaces can also produce powerful sacred space. The works of Tado Ando are -- in my opinion- are of this kind.

Minarets are dwarfed today by high rise buildings, therefore, it may not be seen from a distance if the mosque is built in a crowded area. But, if the mosque is built in an open space the minaret then would be an interesting element of design. However, this topic is a serious challenge for contemporary architects.
Hani Alqahtani
Designing a modern mosque
modern temples
P Das
Designing a modern mosque
Let me smash the prescribed "functionalism first", imposed by the philosophical mode, generally known as rationalism.

If the minaret's height is hundreds of feet, try sometime to climb up there to scream. See if anybody can hear you?

Don't fall into the architecture reduced to functionalism and rationalism. Read "Symbol and self Identity", third symposium of the AKAA.
Irfan Sonawala
Designing a modern mosque
You are from Algeria. You have given some good philosophers to this world. Read your Algerian fellow, Muhammad Arkoun and go beyond what one shall and shall not do. Think in terms of what a mosque wants. Think as a mosque. See if you can work like a mosque. Do the poetry. Look for the root of moralities and not the societal allowance.

Yes.. minaret can be taken off. As many a times before. Yes, dome can be taken off, as many a times before. But the poetry cannot be eliminated.
Irfan Sonawala
Designing a modern mosque
A mosque should always have a minaret. Because some of the people will have difficulty finding the mosque without a minaret. A mosque looks like a mosque only because of a minaret, otherwise the mosque looks incomplete.
Ali Abbas
Designing a modern mosque
Dear Abbas,

I again will emphasise the articles in Architecture as Symbol and Self-Identity. It is the proceedings of the third seminar of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. They have done the statistics of how many great mosques do not have the minarets, however are considered the great mosques.

The origination of minaret happened, I guess, sometime in the 8th century. Islam was practiced before for around 200 years in mosques without minarets. The evolution of minarets is interesting within mosque architecture, but more is its current indispensability in the common image of the mosque.

Think of mosques in Canada, where you are. Islam can never be imposed upon the other beliefs there. Visit the city requirements. They won't allow the minaret. Do you think one shall not make the mosque there, even if it is needed?

Let's use the words "should" and "shouldn't" very, very, very cautiously.
Irfan Sonawala
Designing a modern mosque
Dear friends,

Yes, it is possible to design mosque in contemporary times without using symbolic elements like minarets, domes or arches. Islam preaches utmost simplicity, which could be used a guiding principle to evolve sublime architecture with highest artistic, architectural and spiritual values.

With best wishes,
Akhtar Chauhan
Designing a modern mosque
Dear friends,

It would be great if we can have a few examples of contemporary mosques with / without symbolic elements. It may help the discussion on this thread.

with best wishes,
Akhtar Chauhan
Designing a modern mosque
Dear Ali,

I am not a Muslim, so I cannot perceive in full force the sacredness of such elements to a common Muslim. I think talking to some maulvis and commoners rather than profesionals shall be more useful to you. Architects' opinions are coloured by various criteria other than symbolism. The minaret was purpose based which is now replaced by loudspeakers and microphones. If the function is fulfilled by other means and the majority of the sect attached to the mosque religiously feels that removal of minaret does not hinder the religious processes then it should be OK. And I think this opinion shall vary from one place to another depending upon the rigidity/flexibility of beliefs of a community group. Maybe you need to carry out such survey everywhere you design a mosque.

Anyway, some curious mosques in Delhi of Tughlaq period (14th century), like Begampuri Mosque, Khirki Mosque and Jami Masjid (Ferozabad) do not have minarets. Also some modern attempts in Delhi do not have minarets but they are too non-descript to be mentioned. All the three Tughlaq mosques are simple and sombre without any elaborate ornamentation. Of these, Khirki is believed to have failed as a mosque soon after its construction. The other two are still used during Id festivals.

Why did Khirki fail? Not known with certainty, although it is architecturally the most interesting of the three (in my opinion). One potential theory is that in trying to maintain the symmetry of design, pronouncement of the qibla wall to be more highlighted than the other sides was ignored, which confused the namazis as to where to face and offer their namaaz. The other two mosques have pronounced qiblas with lofty pishtaqs. I know this has nothing to do with minarets but I thought it was interesting enough to share :-)
Shubhru Gupta
Designing a modern mosque
Dear Ali

I may be joining a bit late but wish to contribute in this topic. I happen to have done an undergraduate thesis on the topic: 'Which Way Islamic Architecture: A study of Its Essential Character and its Place on the Contemporary Scene'. What I can tell you is, although largely the function of elements such as minaret has been overtaken by modern technology, over time they have also acquired other symbolic meaning of giving the mosque an identity especially from a distance. The minaret in this regard happens to be the most visible element of identity for the mosque. It may be ok for people living in the neighbourhood, or for musallahs esconced within multi purpose buildings, but if you put yourself in the shoes of a foreigner looking for a mosque in foreign land think of the disservice you can do by eliminating the minaret, especially on a free standing building.

I hope I have Helped.
Mohamed Mwacharo
Designing a modern mosque
Hi to all!

I believe that the Shah Faisal mosque is the best example of contemporary mosque design. Let's please not miss the discussion over this edifice.

P Das
Designing a modern mosque

I happen to find the Shah Faisal Mosque a horrendous specimen among contemporary mosques.

Some of the smaller scale modern mosques have done -- in my opinion -- a much better job at maintaining the spirituality of space and communal feeling while not falling into the problems of power display that larger mosques go for. (Remember, minarets do not have to be ten leagues tall with spear-heads to have symbolic value).

See, for example, Sherefudin's White Mosque in Visoko.

Modern mosques should also strive to achieve accessibility goals ignored by traditional designs; equal access to women, for example.
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Designing a modern mosque
Hi Ali,

Well, me too not a Muslim... But thanks for living in a liberal and secular country, and moreover, as a student of a true-blue "secular" course, I have the basic idea about mosque design principles...

And, as far as my little knowledge about holy Islam and mosques goes, I think that it talks of simplicity and rationality.

So, definitely the basis of any mosque design should be simplicity and accesibilty to all... A place where even a peasant feels free and a millionaire should humble towards God!!!

But, yes, over time the design has yielded to the temptations of the human being for displaying his best skills, and so there came in the ornamentation. With time this changed from calligraphy to manipulations and exploitations of modern materials like glass and steel. But that all has happened in the past ages where architecture was the slave of the style!!

But thankfully now as every other building mass tries to shout out through its different style and architecture. It's your wish (and yes in this case) of the society whom this is catering too. To decide about the aesthetics and nitty gritties can be solved later on.
Vidhu Saxena
Designing a modern mosque
Dear Ozgur,

Thanks for providing links to Sherefudin's White Mosque. I think it is a sensitively designed work of architecture. I would like to know more about it.

I don't see any reason why the minaret has become defunct for the modern mosque. Apart from the already mentioned reason about its cultural connotations, it is still used to give calls for prayer. In densely packed cities or in a high rise locality, a loud speaker placed at ground level will not be able to reach out to the whole city or locality. Isn't the TV/Radio tower a modern version of the minaret? In that case, isn't the minaret still a functional requirement of the mosque?

I think that the design of any place of worship needs some form of continuity with existing typology. I say this from the point of view of the person who comes to the place to worship. The primary requirement according to me is to maintain the sanctity of the place. In order to do so, one might have to resort to familiarity as a means of achieving this. I am not implying copying the forms or technology. Proportions, light quality, textures, spatial organization etc. are equally effective ways of relating to the past and yet being faithful to the present.

This is one of the reasons i liked the Sherefudin's White Mosque. Somehow it seems to feel like a place of worship (although it feels neutral enough to be a church as well!)
Vishwanath Kashikar
Designing a modern mosque
I am not a Muslim either, but from a Christian point of view. churches have now become just huge halls (sometimes even stadiums) with no traditional elements preserved but serving the major function of being a place of worship. I don't know much about the religious links of elements (like the minaret, minbar etc.) have as I understand them to be functional, but if the fundamental purpose of the mosque is not lost, then I don't see a problem with a mosque without those elements.

After all, it's not the minaret that makes the mosque, it's the Muslims (worshippers in this case).
Susan Araka
Designing a modern mosque
Dear all,

Adding or removing an element from an edifice means we need to shuffle history... If you remove sign of cross, it's no more a church, but it could be a mosque if it's a mudwall half of human height that is built up just for defining a space or creating shade to ease the activity of day time prayers...It's a mosque.

Only an elevated platform is required, so that the call is reached to maximum people who wish to answer it. Minaret was a constructional solution for this activity, and removing it has no effect on prayer if the loud speaker is mounted on an electric pole and is audible to vicinity. Even a dome has no mosque activity significance, except for the fact that it covered a larger span without any vertical supports.

Try to read the history of real function of prayer and mosque. Adding decorations is just a status symbol to show the amount of expenditure in construction, and has no connection with the spirit of namaz in a mosque...
Sahar Mansoor
Designing a modern mosque
In response to the issue of "modern" Islamic mosque. I want to stress here that you do not have modern and old mosques in Islam. The function of the minaret has not lost its function .The function of a minaret is as a landmark of the mosque. Where the mosque can be easily located from a distance. The other function of "calling the Azan" is not usually applicable except in Muslim countries.The minaret is not the Mosque
and it was an addition to the Mosque.
It has no religious function.If you delete the minaret from the design of a
mosque, you will still have a mosque.
The Mosques that were built in Medina in the time of the Prophet (PBUH) had no minaret.Modern or Old.
Ibrahim Khadar
Designing a modern mosque
I want to ask , that i am designing a contemporary mosque.I want to introduce offsets in prayer hall in such a way that there is offset in side walls after every two praying mat.So it enhances capacity of people to be accommodated after every two praying mats.So there are almost 6 to 7 offsets in praying hall.The mosque is for 2000 people and hall is for 750 people.So I want to ask if it is a good approach or not..???
Muhammad Salman
Designing a modern mosque
Dear All, I am designing a mosque for 2000 people.Main hall is for 750 people.I want to use many offsets in side walls of hall.Mean after every 2 to 3 praying rugs there will be offset and width of hall will increase.Thus I want to accommodate more people in it.So I want to ask if it is a good approach in contemporary mosque or not....??? Regards...
Muhammad Salman
Designing a modern mosque
Hi every body,
First to Muhammad Salman, I think a simple square or rectangle in the plan is more appropriate. I don't mean not to use offests but the whole plan being pointed at a point in a triangular form is not appropriate because in Islam the communication of prayer and God is through the heart of the prayer and the one praying shouldn't be distracted to any actual point, even if it is the qibla.
Zakiyeh Tabatabaei
Designing a modern mosque
As a response to the main issue, I think what we today call symbols had actually a function in the time first used.
for example filling the walls with abstract decorations which add spirituality to the space without distracting the eye to a particular figure and giving the whole space a unity eases the prayer to talk to God through his heart. So the most important thing is to acquire the quality of space for a good prayer.
But it should be mentioned that identity of a mosque can itself be a function specially in a mixed context where muslims are in minority. Then we might use minarets or domes in the function of identity.
The point is that pure sacredness has never been a goal in Islam.But what we mean by function is different to it's modern meaning which only looks at some basic needs of man in his life on earth without looking at the life after..
Zakiyeh Tabatabaei
Designing a modern mosque
Dear Ali Assoul:
As far I understand the "traditional elements", I think you mean those established elements that developed over centuries to symbolize the mosque. I, as an architect, was taught that following the traditions contradicts with creativity... Is that right??!! And on the other hand, is it guaranteed to submit a creative design if I ignored the culturally established elements? I think the ball is in your court, you have to decide.
Moreover, do not forget that these "traditional" elements continued to respond to a complicated net of functionality and community approval, over a long period of time. You do not want to feel "creative" in this project and to struggle having the next client, I suppose.
Mr. Salman:
The same applies to you I guess; I support Zakieh in her recommendation. If you are not forced by the site's outline, then "Start Simple" and save energy to solve the complications in the details. I imagine that the unity of style (urban-exterior-interior-mihrab-minber-decorations-ornamentations-calligraphy-wooden details-carpet- etc) will put you in face with enough challenge than to go to a crow-step plan with all of the hidden corners and unclear volume. Hope both of you the best.
Zaid Al-Hamad
Designing a modern mosque
Dear all

This is indeed an interesting thread. Currently I'm looking into the design principles of a mosque and came across this discussion in my search! Some of my initial queries have been answered here so thanks!

Having looked into mosque design at various points both in my architectural studies and out of personal interest, I agree that the use of physical/non-physical symbolism is secondary to the concept of simplicity, equality and spirituality required for the mosque as a place of worship (as many here have already aforementioned) and Islamic education. One key element is the orientation towards the Ka'ba. We must also remember that this building was/is also used as a place for communal gatherings as with most places of worship. I think the Prophet's (SAW) mosque (the first in history) was simply an open courtyard outside his home, with an area for wudu (ablution). Practicality of shelter from the heat and sun would probably have been a consideration.

As with most designs, I think that the best forms of mosque architecture are timeless. They create a sense of inspiration and sense of belonging to anyone regardless of socio-economic background and appeal to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. As someone already mentioned it should have facilities that are of equal quality for both men and women. It indirectly reflects the quality of a mosque's management system.

Just my humble thoughts!

Take care!
Sadiqa Jabbar


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