The Khulafa Central Mosque was architect Mohamed Makiya’s first major public works project. In 1960 the Iraqi Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) commissioned him to build a mosque on the same site the Abbasid caliph Muqtafi had built one in the early 10th century, and to incorporate into it the only structure still standing on the site, the 13th century Suq Al Ghazl Minaret.
An even more significant challenge came from the dimensions and location of the site itself, in an urban section of Baghdad, in the midst of tall commercial buildings. According to his son Kanan, Mohamed Makiya fought with the Ministry of Awqaf for two years, in an unsuccessful effort to get the parcel enlarged so he could build a structure proportional to the importance of the minaret. For Dr. Makiya it was a building a new mosque that incorporated such an important monument in such a modern environment challenged him to express traditional character in a new architectural ambience.”1 Ultimately he says, “I had to build a cathedral in an area suitable for a chapel.”2 The project was completed in 1964.
Kanan Makiya describes the mosque as a collection of discreet elements, the focal point being the refurbished minaret. The other elements, a domed prayer hall and three riwaqs (porticos), are “placed and sized with reference to it."3
The minaret is set in a small sunken court in the southeast corner of the sahn (courtyard). The minaret had just been refurbished in 1960 when Mohamed Makiya was charged with building a mosque to incorporate it. The minaret is constructed in brick and mortar and rises from a twelve-sided foundation. Both the base and balcony feature layers of muqarnas. The brickwork on the shaft forms a complex geometric pattern, and it is decorated with Kufic calligraphy. Makiya sought continuity between these decorative elements and his design for the new mosque.
The prayer hall is octagonal, and 14 meters high with a dome rising an additional 7 meters. Columns and a cantilevered ring beam support the dome. At its base is an arched gallery and a black and white ceramic frieze band. The frieze features highly geometric, interlaced, Kufic calligraphy, intended to harmonize with the more traditional styles of Kufic calligraphy on the minaret. The exterior of the dome is covered in geometric yellow brickwork that matches the brickwork on the minaret. The exterior walls of the prayer hall are also covered in varying shades of yellow bricks, arranged in geometric patterns. The interior walls are decorated with precast concrete, arranged in two bands: geometric patterns above pointed arches.
The riwaqs and walls - According to a proposal submitted for the expansion of the Khulafa Mosque in 1981, the riwaqs and boundary walls, each approximately 12 meters in height, are designed to protect the minaret “from the overpowering domination of the numerous surrounding tall buildings which sadly conflict in scale and massing with the minaret."4
The largest riwaq runs along the northwest edge and provides an entrance to the mosque from Khulafa Street, a major divided artery running alongside the southwest façade. Bent steel rails that form Islamic calligraphy and organic patterns decorate the arches. The riwaq terminates in the courtyard, but the northern boundary wall continues to the northern corner of the mosque.
A second riwaq enters the courtyard from a small road that delineates the southern boundary of the mosque, but does not run parallel to the perimeter. Rather the entrance of the riwaq intersects the perimeter at a right angle, and extends into the courtyard, ending in front of the prayer hall. Glazed arches line the passageway connecting the riwaq to the prayer hall.
A false riwaq composed of two stacked arcades runs along the northeast perimeter to the prayer hall. The bottom layer is essentially a dense wall separating the courtyard from the street. It is decorated with embedded arches made from yellow carved brick. It supports a ledge, decorated with a frieze of yellow brick that forms Kufic calligraphy. Narrow columns on the ledge support a canopy of pointed arches formed in concrete. The rear wall of the upper arcade is open to the sky creating a sense of scale beyond the actual dimensions of the wall.
Some of the material used in construction was salvaged from the site. The principle building material is locally produced clay bricks, stone and wood, with steel and concrete also being used in the ceilings and the dome. The floors are stone.
Even after construction was completed, Mohamed Makiya continued to want to develop the site. In 1981 Makiya Associates, in association with consulting architects and engineers Archicentre, presented the Mayor of Baghdad with proposals arguing for the building of a new mosque built on a “more grand and suitable scale reflecting and regenerating the historical importance of the site."5
The proposal also argues for significant expansion of the site to include living quarters, a larger prayer hall, library, dining facilities, and a larger courtyard. The new plan proposed a new, much larger mosque, and presented several options for use of the existing structure. These included conversion into a library, or a proposal that existing mosque serve as a weekday mosque when fewer people would be praying, with the larger mosque to be used on Fridays and holy days. No action was ever taken on the proposal.6
--Michael A. Toler, AKDC@MIT, June 2014
Notes: 1. Aga Khan Award for Architecture Nomination Form, Project Summary. 1980, 2. Kanan Makiya, Post-Islamic Classicism, 43. 3. Kanan Makiya, Post-Islamic Classicism, 45. 4. Khulafa Mosque and Environs Proposals, 2.2 5. Khulafa Mosque and Environs Proposals, 2.3 6. Khulafa Mosque and Environs Proposals, 2.3
Sources: Khalil, Jabir and Strika, Vincenzo. The Islamic Architecture of Baghdad; the Results of a Joint Italian -Iraqi Survey. Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1987.
Khulafa Central Mosque. Aga Khan Award for Architecture Nomination Form. Geneva, Switzerland: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, September 15, 1979.
Kultermann, Udo. Contemporary Architecture in the Arab States: Renaissance of a Region. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999.
Makiya Associates and Archicentre. Khulafa Mosque and Environs Development Proposal. Baghdad, 1981.
Makiya, Kanan. Post-Islamic Classicism: a Visual Essay on the Architecture of Mohamed Makiya. London: Saqi Books, 1990.
Makiya, Kanan. The Monument: Art, Vulgarity, and Responsibility in Iraq. London: Andre Deutsch, 1991.