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Islamic place of worship. The Arabic word masjid, literally, a place of worship, is derived from the verb sajada, to prostrate one's self; the term is to be compared with Nabataean msgd ', a votive stele, and with Ethiopic mesgad, a church or temple. In Islam the mosque is also called muallā, a place where one prays (allā ) and more commonly, jāmi (pl. jāwāmi ), a gathering place.

Plan of the Mosque. The normal mosque consists fundamentally of a large open, quadrangular court (an ) surrounded by a colonnaded portico (muġaā ) supported by several (often many) rows of columns, the passages between which are called riwāq (pl. arwiqa ). In the center of the court stands a large basin (mīaa ) tain for making ablutions (wuū ). The covered hall on the side facing mecca is generally much deeper, and in the wall on this side is a large ornamented niche called the mirāb, which indicates the qibla or direction in which one is oriented during prayer; in front of this the imĀm stands while leading the prayer. In larger mosques there may be several mirābs used by different "rites" (madhāhib ; see islamic law). Near the mirāb stands the minbar, an elevated seat from which the Friday sermon (khuba ) is preached; this was originally a kind of throne from which the ruler or governor might address the people and was therefore reserved, in the earliest period, for only the chief mosques. Attached to the outside wall of the building, often on the corners, stands one or more towers or minarets (manāra, madhana, midhana ), from which the call to prayer is first sounded by the muezzin (Arabic, muadhdhin ), within some larger mosques there is also a raised platform (dakka ), near the minbar. From here he repeats the call at two specified points during the Friday service. There is also a seat (kursī ) with a desk for the recitation of the qurĀn by the qāri (or qā ). Within the riwāq along the qibla side there is in some principal mosques an enclosure (maqūra ) near the mirāb, reserved for the ruler, where he may pray free from any danger of attack. In larger mosques there are a number of apartments (called also riwāq, or zāwiya ), built within the extended riwāq or in subsidiary buildings, set aside for various purposes. These serve for study and teaching, or as living quarters for Qurān readers and other personnel of the mosque, or frequently for students and those making a retreat (itikāf ), whether simply during the last ten days of ramaĀn or on a more or less permanent basis.

Early Mosques. The most important shrine in Islam is the Holy Mosque (al-masjid al-arām ) of mecca that contains in its enclosure the Kaaba, a rectangular building 40 feet by 35 feet and some 50 feet high, oriented at its corners toward the cardinal points of the compass and containing in its eastern corner the Black Stone, which has been an object of particular cult from ancient times. Around the Kaaba is a paved area (maāf ) where the awāf (see hajj) is made. The Kaaba was destroyed during a siege in 64/684 (i.e., a.h. 64=a.d. 684), at which time it was already a reconstructed edifice, dating from 608, of alternating courses of stone and wood; the replacement, entirely of stone, was built by Abdallāh ibn al-Zubayr.

The earliest mosques of Islam were little more than open quadrangles. The house of the Prophet in medina, where his followers gathered for prayer, consisted of an open court surrounded by mud-brick walls; against the north wall was a roofed portico (ulla ) supported by palm stems; along the east wall there were built, over a period of time, nine little huts for muammad's wives. Where preexisting buildings were not simply taken over, as was the case in Damascus, Homs, and elsewhere, the first mosques were no more than quadrangles marked off next to the governor's or commander's residence (dār al-imāra ) to which walls were later added, as in Barā(founded 14/635) and Kūfa (founded 17/638). In fusā, the original mosque was built (21/642) by Amr ibn al'As as a simple walled quadrangle with some kind of roof, possibly a ulla. (On the development of the mosque, see islamic art.)

The Mosque and Worship. The mosque was, at the beginning, the center of all aspects of the community life of Islam; thus the first mosques of Medina, Bara, Kūfa, Damascus, and Fusā were built immediately adjacent to the dār al-imāra and the dīwān or government offices. The caliph or provincial governor received his investiture in the mosque and there acted as imām and khaīb, his khuba, or discourse, often consisting in orders for battle, etc., while the faithful were exhorted by the preaching of the qā (pl. quâ ). Outside the capital prayers were recited in the mosque for the Caliph or ruler as a kind of oath of loyalty; often it was in the mosque that revolutions were begun, the first open sign thereof being the substitution of another name for that of the ruler. Al-khut

though it was from the outset a place in which people gathered for many purposes, the mosque rapidly took on the character of a sanctuary and came to be called, as in the most ancient Semitic usage regarding sacred shrines, the House of God (bayt Allāh ), a name originally applied in Islam only to the Kaaba. A particular holiness was, of course, attached to the Mosque of Medina, where the Prophet was buried; also to that of Qubā, just outside Medina, where he stopped and prayed immediately before entering the city in September 622 (see hijra). Prayer in the mosque and the recitation there of the Qurān, especially in the mosque of Medina or those associated with some renowned saint, is considered particularly meritorious. A special holiness too is associated by some with the mirāb and the minbar, and visitors or pilgrims will often touch them hoping to receive a blessing (baraka ).

The Friday or congregational mosque (al-masjid al-jāmi ) is specifically designated within a community for the common Friday service that every male Muslim who has reached the age of reason is obliged to attend. Originally it was a community function in which the ruler led the prayer and preached the khuba; for this reason the number of congregational mosques (early called dhât manābir, i.e., having a minbar ) was restricted. According to some authorities there should be no more than one in a particular town; in fact, according to others there should be no congregational mosque save in the chief cities. With the great increase in the number of Muslims, however, and the universal need that was felt for the weekly community service, there came to be Friday mosques even in the villages; the larger centers may have several, often of considerable size. From the beginning there were many mosques besides the congregational mosques. Numerous local and tribal mosques formed the center of both the religious and political activities of particular groups.

Again, following the ancient Arabian custom of honoring the graves of ancestors and important chiefs and the Christian veneration of the saints, a great number of mosques were built as sanctuaries over the tombs of various saints and heroes of Islam, distinguished for their piety, learning, etc., even though the association of a place of prayer with a tomb was frowned upon by many authorities. Numerous mosques were built in Hijaz in association with events in the life of the Prophet; there and elsewhere other mosques arose in particular commemoration of alĪ and his descendants. The site of the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock now stands, is linked both by Muslim tradition and by the name given its congregational mosque, al-Masjid al-Aqā (the Furthermost Mosque), with a reference in the Qurān and with the life of Muammad.

While originally the building of mosques and their maintenance were taken as responsibilities of the government, later many were built and endowed by private individuals as pious works. As a result, the number of mosques reported to have existed at certain times in various major cities, even allowing for considerable exaggeration on the part of the sources, is truly astounding.

The Mosque and Education. Teaching in Islam has always been associated with the mosque, as the primary sciences (ulūm ) of Islam are concerned with the Qurān, the adīth [see islamic traditions (hadith)] and the law (fiqh ). From early times mention is made of the majlis or alqa (circle) of those who came to hear and receive the instruction of learned men and ascetics who taught and preached there. Teaching was done in all the important mosques, several of which had extensive libraries, and in many of the smaller ones, so that finally the term jāmi became the equivalent of madrasa (school) and riwāq came to mean a student's living quarters. The Azhar Mosque was built in Cairo in 361/972, and in 378/988 the Fatimid Caliph, alAzīz, endowed 35 chairs of learning; the lecturers not only received ample salaries, but also were housed in rooms adjacent to the mosque. Scholars were attached likewise to the mosques of Amr and Ibn ûlûn, also in Cairo, and to most of the important mosques throughout Islam. In many of these, stipends (some quite high) were available for students who were given lodging in or near the mosque.

Bibliography: j. pedersen, Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. b. lewis et al. (2d ed. Leiden 1954 ) 3:362428. For further bibliog., see islamic art.

[r. m. frank/eds.]

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The Arabic word masjid means "the place where one prostrates oneself in worship." All that God requires is that a place of worship should be set aside (Qur'an sura IX, 107–108), that it should be a sanctuary (sura IX, 17–18, and sura LXX, 11, 17), and that the direction of prayer should be indicated in some way: "And now verily We shall make thee turn (in prayer) toward a qibla (direction of prayer) that is dear to thee. So turn thy face toward the masjid al-haram (Mecca) and ye (O Muslims), wheresoever ye may be, turn your faces (when ye pray) toward it" (sura II, 144). No mention is made of a building, but every Muslim—both female and male—who has attained majority is bound to observe the five daily salat prayers of dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset, and late evening. In addition, Friday is the weekly day of communal worship (at midday) and incumbent on all adult male Muslims. Finally, salats are performed on the two Eids annually, one at the end of Ramadan, the other after the Hajj.

The first mosque was the house of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. This was a simple rectangular enclosure containing rooms for the Prophet and his wives and a shaded area on the southern side of the courtyard that could be used for prayer in the direction of Mecca. This building became the model for subsequent mosques, which had the same basic courtyard layout with a prayer area against the qibla wall. An early development of this basic plan was the provision of shade on the other three sides of the courtyard. The roofs were supported by columns made of wood. Several features that were later to become standard features of mosques were introduced at an early stage. The first is the minbar (pulpit), which was used by Muhammad to give sermons; the second is a prayer niche called a mihrab, in the qibla wall. The minaret, a towerlike structure and the most conspicuous feature of mosques in many Muslim societies, has the least liturgical significance. Its purpose of calling the faithful to prayer is now redundant with the advent of electrical public address systems. Like the minaret, the domed mosque is also a later innovation. Thus the primary feature of a mosque is a qibla wall facing Mecca.

In the United States, unlike long-established Muslim societies, a majority of the mosques are housed in buildings originally constructed for other purposes. Thus we have abandoned churches, Masonic lodges, fire stations, funeral homes, theaters, private homes, and warehouses converted into mosques. A survey of 1997–1998 showed that of the nearly two thousand mosques, little more than a hundred were purpose-built. Initially, the poverty of both struggling immigrants and African-American Muslims prevented the believers from constructing mosques designed by architects. A number of crudely designed buildings emerged as mosques in Highland Park, Michigan (1919), Michigan City, Indiana (1924), Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1925), Ross, North Dakota (1926), Quincy, Massachusetts (1930), and Sacramento, California (1941). Many of these mosques were named "cultural centers" of the ethnonational population who built it, exemplified by the Albanian Cultural Center, the Arab Banner Society, the Indian/Pakistani Muslim Association, and the like. Many of these buildings had a hall for prayer but also served as ethnic clubs complete with a social hall for weddings, a ballroom dance floor, and even a basement for bingo!

Although historically the mosque experienced fourteen centuries of stylistic development, it is certainly an architectural novelty in the United States. The thematic and visual characteristics of mosque architecture in America must confront an alien environment, one that has its own deeply embedded historical and visual vocabulary. The response, then, of the architectural characteristics of the American mosque to its context is one of tension, resulting both from religious and cultural paradigms. While the building must respond to its own inner formal determinants (cultural and functional), it cannot ignore its regional setting. The stylistic features of mosques built since the late 1950s in America vary considerably. However, it is possible to identify three basic themes that prevail in the aesthetic content of the buildings. These are: traditional design transplanted from Islamic lands (e.g., the Islamic Cultural Center of Washington, D.C., designed by Abdur Rahman Rossi, an Italian convert to Islam and built in 1957); reinterpretation of historical prototypes (e.g., the Islamic Cultural Center of Manhattan, New York, designed by Michael McCarthy of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill and built in 1991); and finally, innovative, unprecedented mosques (e.g., the Islamic Society of North America mosque in Plainfield, Indiana, designed by Syed Gulzar Haidar and Muhammad Mukhtar Khalil and built in 1981, and the Albuquerque, New Mexico, mosque designed by Bart Prince and built in 1986).

Functionally there are also some distinct characteristics—for example, most of the buildings do not operate strictly as places of worship alone but rather as places of public gathering; therefore many are called Islamic centers. They have facilities for a variety of uses: Islamic school on the weekend, library, conference center, bookshop, kitchen and social function hall, recreation facilities, residential apartments, and sometimes even a funeral home.

Since the American Muslim family is usually nuclear, the entire family turns out for worship, necessitating separate space for women, usually at a mezzanine level. Although women have never been barred from a mosque, lack of separate space prevented most women from going to mosques in traditional Islamic societies. However, in the American context, more and more women are taking their rightful place in the mosque along with their brothers, sons, and husbands.

See alsoIslam; Mecca; Practice; Prayer; Qur'an.


Holod, Renata, and Hassan-Uddin Khan. The Contemporary Mosque: Clients, Architects, and Design Since the1950s. 1997.

Kahrea, Akel I., and Altif Abdul-Malik. "Designing the American Mosque." Islamic Horizon (October 1996):40–41.

Khalidi, Omar. "Approaches to Mosque Design in America." In Muslims on the Americanization Path?, edited by Yvonne Y. Haddad and John L. Esposito. 1998.

Omar Khalidi

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mosque (mŏsk), building for worship used by members of the Islamic faith. Muhammad's house in Medina (AD 622), with its surrounding courtyard and hall with columns, became the prototype for the mosque where the faithful gathered for prayer.


The basic elements of a mosque are a place large enough for the congregation to assemble, especially on Friday, the Muslim sabbath, and orientation so that the faithful may pray facing in the direction of the holy city of Mecca. The wall facing Mecca is called the qibla wall and is marked by a mihrab, which usually takes the form of a decorated niche. In later ages mihrabs became quite elaborate; they are decorated with wooden fretwork in Morocco, with carved and pierced marble in Syria and Iraq, and with lusterware tiles bearing quotations from the Qur'an in Iran.

A mosque usually includes a number of distinctive elements: a mimbar (or minbar), a pulpit that is entered by a flight of steps and stands next to the mihrab; a maqsura, an enclosed space around the mihrab, generally set apart by trellis screens, in which the caliph, sultan, or governor prays; a minaret, a tower, usually built at one or more corners of the mosque, from which the call to prayer is sounded; a sahn, a courtyard, surrounded by riwaqs, colonnaded or arcaded porticoes with wells or fountains for the necessary ablutions before prayer; and space for a madrasa, a school that often includes libraries and living quarters for teachers and pupils.

All the great mosques are resplendent with elaborate decorations, but the prohibition against imitating God's works by creating living forms is always obeyed. Decorations are abstract, and geometric plant forms are so distant from their originals as to be unrecognizable.

Representative Mosques

An early mosque, the Dome of the Rock (691–692) in Jerusalem, is a unique architectural monument. It follows an octagonal Byzantine plan, with a dome entirely of wood. Domed mosques, however, were not commonly built until some six centuries later. The mosque of 879 near Fustat was built by Ibn Tulun of stucco and brick and ornamented with floral reliefs in stucco.

In the 14th cent. a Persian innovation appeared, in which four iwans—monumental facades with pointed vaults—were arranged around a central courtyard. The arm toward Mecca, wider and deeper than the others, contains the mihrab. A fine example of the form is the Great Mosque (1356) of Sultan Hasan at Cairo. The structure at Córdoba, Spain, represents a departure from the four-iwan style. This hypostyle mosque was begun in 780 and enlarged in the 10th cent. until its prayer hall, with 16 rows of columns and arches, occupied an area greater than that of any Christian church. The Cathedral of Córdoba was built in 1238 right in the middle of the mosque area.

Mosques of Persia inherited the Sassanian vaulting tradition and surface decoration with resplendent ceramics. They thus possess a distinctive character in their pointed onion-shaped domes, lofty pointed portals, and magnificent polychrome tiles. In the 15th and 16th cent. the colonnaded prayer halls were replaced by large, square, domed interiors, sometimes surrounded by lower vaulted side aisles, as in the Blue Mosque at Tabriz (1437–68). This structure, of essentially Byzantine plan, is sheathed with incomparable blue ceramics. The imperial mosque at Isfahan (1585–1612) had four impressive porticoes on the court, and its main prayer hall, crowned by an onion-shaped dome and with a porch having an enormous pointed arch flanked by slender minarets, represents the climax of Persian mosque design.

When the Turks took Constantinople (1453) they used the great Byzantine church Hagia Sophia as a mosque, and later employed it as a model for Islamic religious structures. To the great open plan of Hagia Sophia with its dominant dome they added smaller domes, half domes, buttresses, and minarets and used Persian tiles and rather garish painted decoration for interiors. Thus they achieved at Constantinople such superb monuments as the mosque (1550–57) of Sulayman I, the Magnificent, by the architect Sinan, and the huge Ahmediyeh mosque (1608–14) of Ahmed I.

Indian mosques betray their Persian origin in the prevalence of onion-shaped domes, round minarets, and great portals with pointed arches, although the traditional Persian tile sheathing is largely restricted to interiors. The use of stone and marble for exteriors, however, lends them a solid monumentality rarely seen in other Muslim styles, while colored stones inlaid against the white marble add touches of vivid beauty. During the Mughal dynasty, particularly under the brilliant reign of Shah Jahan (1627–58), mosques of surprising grandeur were erected. Among the finest Mughal examples are the huge mosque with its superb domes and entrance at Fatehpur Sikri (1556–1605); the three-domed Pearl Mosque at Agra (1646–53), famous for its simple plan and delicate inlays; and the Jama Masjid [great mosque] at Delhi, the largest in India.

For a further discussion of the architectural development of the mosque, see Islamic art and architecture; Mughal art and architecture; Moorish art and architecture; Persian art and architecture.

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Mosque or Masjid (Arab., masjid, from sajada, ‘he bowed down’, Egypt. dial., masgid > Fr., mosquée). The Muslim place of assembly (jumʿa) for ṣalāt. While a special place is not necessary for ṣalāt (Muḥammad built the first masjid in Madīna, not in Mecca), it is certainly desirable, and should be attended where possible. Masjids (masājid) are ‘houses which God has allowed to be built, that his name may be spoken in them’ (Qurʾān 24. 36). Masjids in general have a minaret from which the call to prayer (ādhān) can be made by the muezzin (muʾadhadhīn), a large hall or halls for the assembly, in which a niche (miḥrāb) is placed in a wall indicating the direction of Mecca (the qibla), and in which there is a pulpit (minbar). There may also be a platform (dakka) from which further calls to ṣalāt are made, and a stand (kursī) for the Qurʾān.

The masjid soon became associated with education (see MADRASA), and it also became the centre for administration and justice.

The Mosque of the Prophet (Masjīd al-Nabī) is a mosque in Madīna, the second most venerated in Islam (after Masjīd al-Ḥarām in Mecca). It contains the tomb of Muḥammad, as also of Abū Bakr and ʿUmar. The Mosque of the Two Qiblas (Masjīd al-Qiblatayn) is also in Madīna: it is the mosque where Muḥammad turned for the first time from facing Jerusalem for prayer, and faced Mecca instead.

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islamic place of worship.

Mosque is an anglicized French cognate for the Arabic word masjid, which literally means "place of prostration." In the most abstract sense, any private or public space properly prepared for the purposes of performing the five obligatory prayers of Islam (salat) constitutes a mosque. The term mosque, however, is most commonly used to refer to a space which has been permanently or semipermanently demarcated as a place of public Muslim worship.

While many mosques share such common features as a prayer niche (mihrab), pulpit (minbar), and area for performing ritual ablutions, the size, layout, and architecture of any given mosque is usually particular to its own specific historical, social, and cultural context. In many well-established Muslim communities, the largest and most centrally located mosque will often function as the masjid al-jami, or central mosque, where a large number of wor-shippers gather for the Friday noon congregational prayer (salat al-jumʿa) and sermon (khutba). Not unlike their counterparts in other religious traditions, mosques and larger mosque complexes often serve as a primary locus for a variety of communal gatherings and activities, ranging from social-service programs and political rallies to Qurʾan study groups and scholarly lectures.

see also islam; qurʾan.


Creswell, K. A. C. Early Muslim Architecture, revised edition. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969; New York: reprint, Hacker Art Books, 1979.

Hoag, John D. Islamic Architecture. New York: Abrams, 1977; reprint, New York: Rizzoli, 1987.

scott alexander

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mosque. Muslim house of prayer orientated towards Mecca. There are two distinct types: the masjid for daily prayers, and the Great or Friday mosque (masjid al-jámi') for communal worship and addresses given by the imam from a mimbar. Very large congregational mosques may be of the hypostyle type (i.e. with many columns, such as the C8 Great Mosque, Damascus); the four-iwan type, with one vaulted hall as the entrance leading to a large court in the centre of each side of which is an iwan (e.g. Friday Mosque, Isfahan, Iran (C11–C15); and domed mosques, culminating in the centrally-planned mosques with domes or half-domes covering large uncluttered spaces (e.g. the Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul, by Sinan (1550–7) ). From C8 mosques acquired at least one minaret, and most modern mosques usually have minarets and domes.


B&B (1994);
Frishman & and Khan (1994);
Hillenbrand (1994)

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mosqueBasque, Monégasque •ask, bask, cask, flask, Krasnoyarsk, mask, masque, task •facemask •arabesque, burlesque, Dantesque, desk, grotesque, humoresque, Junoesque, Kafkaesque, Moresque, picaresque, picturesque, plateresque, Pythonesque, Romanesque, sculpturesque, statuesque •bisque, brisk, disc, disk, fisc, frisk, risk, whisk •laserdisc • obelisk • basilisk •odalisque • tamarisk • asterisk •mosque, Tosk •kiosk • Nynorsk • brusque •busk, dusk, husk, musk, rusk, tusk •subfusc • Novosibirsk •mollusc (US mollusk) • damask •Vitebsk •Aleksandrovsk, Sverdlovsk •Khabarovsk • Komsomolsk •Omsk, Tomsk •Gdansk, Murmansk, Saransk •Smolensk •Chelyabinsk, MinskDonetsk, Novokuznetsk •Irkutsk, Yakutsk

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mosque Islamic place of worship. Mosques are usually decorated with abstract and geometric designs, because Islam prohibits the imitation of God's creation. The building's parts include a dome; a mihrab (prayer niche), which shows the direction of Mecca; a minaret, from which the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer; and a sahn (courtyard) often with a central fountain for ritual ablution. The complex often includes a madressa (school). See also Islamic art and architecture

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mosque a Muslim place of worship. Mosques consist of an area reserved for communal prayers, frequently in a domed building with a minaret, and with a niche (mihrab) or other structure indicating the direction of Mecca. There may also be a platform for preaching (minbar), and an adjacent courtyard in which water is provided for the obligatory ablutions before prayer. Since representations of the human form are forbidden, decoration is geometric or based on Arabic calligraphy.
Great Mosque at Mecca, the mosque established by Muhammad as a place of worship and later extended; it was given its final form in the years 1572–7 in the reign of Sultan Selim II.

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The mosque is a place of worship where Muslims gather to pray. The building is composed of a prayer hall where the mihrab and the minbar are located, very often including a closed court, in the middle of which is found a fountain for ablutions (mida). Mosques often have a minaret (from the Arabic manara), from which the call to prayer is made.

SEE ALSO Minbar.