Toward an Architecture in the Spirit of Islam
The revelations in the Koran, set forth through Prophet Muhammad, make an individual understand the supreme nature of God. Every individual Muslim must be upright, righteous and just on his own account, but humble and totally submissive to the will of God. The Muslim is reminded over and over again that while he is allowed to enjoy the normal and serene pleasures of life, excess and grandeur in any form is contrary to the will of Allah. In the pursuit of one's activities through life, it was therefore important to search for simplicity and humility and to avoid waste through the frivolous use of resources. Excessive expenditure on buildings was a frivolity.
It is in this spirit that the first true Islamic architecture took its shape in the first mosques ever to be built. In Basra in 635 A.D., a mosque was built by simply defining the boundary of a lot approximately square in shape and enclosing it with a fence of reeds. In Kufa in 638 A.D., the mosque had only an unenclosed covered colonnade. Since the purpose of the mosque is to provide a place for communal prayer, there was indeed no preordained form of architecture at all. The covered colonnade on the qibla side provided the first hint of any architectural form in the Mosque at Kufa. As the might of the Islamic rulers spread out from Arabia, churches as houses of worship had a definite influence in the first mosque architecture in terms of actual buildings. Frequently, materials for columns and beams were taken from other edifices of previous cultures; but the simplicity of the mosque form, generally a square overall plan with covered colonnades along the qibla wall, has remained the primary mosque-type to the present time. The function of the mosque is to let Muslims at prayer time stand shoulder to shoulder in rows facing the Ka'ba to perform the prayers. Columns supporting the roof structure, in fact, always blended into the mass of people standing shoulder to shoulder at prayer time. It was really important to create a sense of space evoking spirituality of the environment, a feeling of peace, harmony and the humbleness of the individual. Monumentality and embellishment were not predefined objectives in creating such spaces. It is only in later developments, with the contribution of creative artisans and builders, that we find a third dimension of spirituality created through patterns, colors and calligraphic designs based upon quotations from the Koran. Every pattern and graphic design was directed to creating a sense of peace and harmony and dedicated in praise to Allah. The resulting multitude of artistic creations today stands out as the hallmark of Islamic art in architecture, on the one hand, and the very essence of humility and submission to God on the other. It is through the understanding of this evolution of Islamic art and architecture in mosque constructions that one can begin to see its potential continuity and transformation in contemporary architecture. Mnay such mosque designs can be observed in countries all over the world including in the Middle East, Africam Far East, USA, Europe, China, and many other countries.
Other Resources on Islamic Architecture