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Islamic Mosque Architecture

Parts of a Mosque

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A mosque (masjid in Arabic) is a place for worship in Islam. Although prayers can be done privately, either indoors or outdoors, nearly every community of Muslims dedicates a space or building for congregational prayer.

Looking through photographs of mosques around the world, one sees a lot of variation. Building materials and design depend on the culture, heritage, and resources of each local Muslim community. Yet, there are some features that nearly all mosques have in common. The parts of a mosque are practical, and provide both continuity and a sense of tradition among Muslims worldwide.

Minaret

The Prophet's Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, has several minarets.
Muhannad Fala'ah / Getty Images
A minaret is a slim tower rising from a mosque. They vary in height, style, and number. Minarets may be square, round, or octagonal and are usually covered with a pointed roof. Originally used as a high point from which to make the call to prayer (adhan), minarets remain a traditionally decorative feature of most mosques.

Prayer Hall

Men pray inside a mosque prayer hall in Maryland.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The central area for prayer is called a musalla (literally, "place for prayer").  It is deliberately quite bare. No furniture is needed, as worshippers sit, kneel, and bow directly on the floor. There may be a few chairs or benches to assist elderly or disabled worshippers who have difficulty with mobility. Along the walls and pillars of the prayer hall, there are usually bookshelves to hold copies of the Qur'an, wooden book stands (rihal), other religious reading material, and individual prayer rugs. Beyond this, the prayer hall is otherwise a large, open space.

Prayer Rugs

Islamic Prayer Rug 2
During Islamic prayers, worshippers bow, kneel, and prostrate on the ground in humility before God. The only requirement in Islam is that prayers be performed in an area that is clean. Rugs and carpets have become a traditional way to ensure the cleanliness of the place of prayer, and to provide some cushioning on the floor. In mosques, the prayer area is often covered with large prayer carpets. Smaller prayer rugs may be stacked on a nearby shelf for individual use.

Mihrab

Men line up for prayers in front of the mihrab (prayer niche).
David Silverman / Getty Images
The mihrab is an ornamental indentation in the wall of a mosque, which marks the direction of the qiblah. Mihrabs vary in size and color, but are usually shaped like a doorway and decorated with tiles and calligraphy to make the space stand out.

Minbar

Islamic worshippers listen to the Imam preach from the Minbar in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
The minbar is a raised platform in the front area of a mosque, from which sermons or speeches are given. The minbar is usually made of carved wood, stone, or brick. It includes a short staircase leading to the top platform, which is sometimes covered by a small dome.

Dome

Dome of the Rock
David Silverman/Getty Images
Many mosques are decorated with a dome rooftop, particularly in the Middle East. This architectural element holds no spiritual or symbolic significance, and is purely aesthetic. The interior of a dome is usually highly decorated with floral, geometric and other patterns.

Shoe Shelf

A shoe shelf overflows at a mosque in Virginia during Ramadan.
Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images
Rather uninspiring and purely practical, the shoe shelf is nevertheless a feature of many mosques worldwide. Muslims remove their shoes before entering a mosque, to preserve the cleanliness of the prayer space. Rather than dumping piles of shoes near the door, shelves are strategically placed near mosque entrances so that visitors can neatly organize, and later find, their shoes.
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