At its simplest, a minaret (Ar. manar(a), mi˒dhana, sawma˓a) is a raised structure attached to a mosque from which a muezzin gives the call to prayer, known in Arabic as the adhan. Minarets give a distinctive "Islamic" look to the skylines of cities in the Muslim world and indicate from afar the presence of a mosque below. Minarets are commonly tall and slender towers—sometimes polygonal or square but most often cylindrical—supporting one or more balconies for the muezzin. In some parts of the Muslim world, notably Upper Egypt, East Africa, and Kashmir, minarets were either unknown or took a more modest form.
In most times and places minarets were built only with mosques, but occasionally they were attached to other structures, such as the Taj Mahal, a magnificent seventeenth-century tomb at Agra in India, which is surrounded by four towers. Muslim architects have built minarets out of brick or stone or even wood; they have left them plain or covered them with tiles and carving bearing geometric, arabesque, and epigraphic motifs. They have placed them either singly, or in pairs, to flank a doorway or a facade, or in groups of four or more to surround an important building, such as the sanctuary around the Ka˓ba in Mecca. The origins of the minaret have been sought in the monumental columns and lighthouses of the late antique Mediterranean lands, the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia, and the stupas and commemorative columns of India, but it seems most likely that the minaret was wholly an Islamic invention of the ninth century, meant to draw attention to the mosque as a center of religious life.
Bloom, Jonathan. Minaret: Symbol of Islam. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Sheila S. Blair Jonathan M. Bloom