The Mosque and Its Importance to Muslims
A mosque is symbolically very important to Muslims, and is a humble
way for man to recreate pure divine presence on earth. Mosques are not
built according to divine patterns - they are divinely guided. Nor are
there very clear rules to what a mosque
should look like, except on
some few points. Mandatory elements are a structure that clearly
indicates the direction of Mecca (this direction is called Qibla). The
indication is in most mosques a mihrab, a niche in the wall. A mosque
must have a roofed area in front of the mihrab. There can be no doors
in the wall where the mihrab is placed - for the other walls, there
can be as many doors as the builders want.
[IMAGE]There are 2 types of mosques: the main mosque is called jamaa,
and is the one where the Friday prayer is performed. The jamaas are
often richly adorned.
[IMAGE]The other type of mosque is called Masjid, and are local and
smaller mosques. While these can be richly adorned, the can seldom be
compared to the jamaas.
[IMAGE]Masjid is a word meaning 'place for prostration' and was used
by the early Muslims
for houses of worship, even for other religions
Today the Arabic 'Masjid', and the English 'mosque' are used
exclusively for religious houses in Islam.
History and Development
[IMAGE]The first mosque is the one in Mecca, defined as the area that
surrounded the Ka'ba, the most holy shrine to Islam. But the model of
early mosques was the courtyard of Muhammad's house in Medina, which
was constructed in 622 CE. This was organized with a Qibla, which at
first faced the direction of Jerusalem. To the left of this Qibla,
houses for Muhammad's wives were erected. There were three entrances
to the courtyard. An area of the courtyard was roofed, and here prayer
was performed. After 1.5 years the direction of the Qibla was changed,
to face Mecca.
[IMAGE]This Medina mosque had social, political, and judicial
functions, in addition to housing Muhammad's family. The religious
functions were mixed with other functions. Rules on prayers seem to
have not been shaped at the first period, much because this was the
period in which the Koran was revealed to Muhammad: the rules had not
been given. Apart from the mosques of Mecca and Medina, we find in the
sources indications to other contemporary mosques in other towns.
[IMAGE]Mosques soon grew into becoming more complex and uniform in
their shape. A minbar, the pulpit, from where the Friday prayer is
held, was placed next to the mihrab. Within few years after the death
of Muhammad, mosques became such important symbols, that when Muslim
conquerors established themselves somewhere, a mosque was put up
first, and then the military camp was built around it. This building
process was inspired by the Madina example. But in the cases where the
Muslims conquered principal cities, they constructed their mosque in
the place that was the centre of former religions.
[IMAGE]In the beginning of Islam, tribes and sects in Islam often
marked their independence or their purity by putting up mosques of
their own or by defining a certain part of the mosque as their part.
These patterns have changed up through history, but the situation
today is not as tolerant as it might appear. Muslims of all creeds are
in theory free to enter all mosques, but a Muslim of one orientation
will in reality find mosques used by Muslims of other orientations
inappropriate. A travelling Muslim will try to find a mosque which is
used by people belonging to his own creed (Sunnis, Shi'is, and
Kharijis are the main division points. Other mosques are defined as
inappropriate because they are under control of the government or
dominated by Islamists). But most major mosques, the jamaa are seen
upon as neutral, and are used by Muslims of all creeds.
Conversion from churches
Many mosques of the first centuries were originally churches. When
churches were converted into mosques, this was naturally against the
will of the Christians, but this wasn't always a big problem. In many
regions, Christianity lost its position, and churches turned into
mosques over time. Muslims could actually use the churches since they
were religious buildings and since Christianity was considered as a
kin religion to Islam. This also happened in full respect of
Christianity and of the Christians. Over time, the Christians
gradually converted to Islam, and one day there were no longer anyone
using the church as a church, only as a mosque.
[IMAGE]Most mosques today are closed to non-Muslims, but this was a
regulation that was developed through the first century of Islam.
There was an increase in the emphasis on the sanctity of the mosque,
more and more elements of the mosque was regarded as sacred, and any
mosque was commonly regarded as bayt Allah, 'House of God'.
80 years of development
The design of the mosques developed in short time from being very
simple to becoming complex structures. In the first mosques in Hijaz
there was minimal attention paid to the form of the mosques. The time
of development of the mosque into the pattern that still applies,
lasted for a period of only 80 years. The shapes of mosques came often
as a mix between architectural shapes of the conquered territories and
of the original patterns.
Introduction of the minaret
The first minaret (the tower from which the prayer callings were made)
came probably in 703, in Kairouan, Tunisia, almost 100 years after the
Madina mosque. But there are written material suggesting that minarets
were erected as early as 665 CE.
[IMAGE]The minaret was absent in the early mosques, and its addition
was inspired by religious buildings of other religions. The main
influence came probably from the churches of Syria.
[IMAGE]The implementation of minarets was both for embellishment of
the mosques, and for the functionality. When the muezzin called for
prayer (the calling for prayer is adhan) from the ground level, but it
could be heard more than a few blocks away from the mosque.
[IMAGE]But even for some time after the introduction of the minaret,
the adhan was still performed with the muezzin walking through the
streets while inviting for prayer.
[IMAGE]The addition of adornments to the mosques was strongly
discussed, and many Muslims opposed this process, and thought of it as
a way of jeopardizing the purity of Islam, and they disliked letting
Christian elements in, as well as using converted churches.
Extensions of the use of the mosque
Over time, many rooms was added to the mosque, rooms used by people of
different social classes, people performing their professions in the
mosque, travellers, sick, and old. Devout and ascetics lived often in
the mosque, and even in the minaret.
[IMAGE]Other elements inside a mosque are:
· Dakka, a platform, from where the muezzin calls for prayer, after he
has done this from the minaret.
· Kursi a desk and a seat, for the Koran and for the reader.
· Reliquaries, where bodies, parts of bodies, or belongings of
religious personalities are kept.
· Carpets covering the floor of mosques
· Lights, both candles and lamps, used for illumination, but not
· Incense, especially together with festivals
· Water in the courtyard, both for ablutions, and for drinking
The mosques have often been built by rulers, and the administration of
the mosques has been financed by waqfs, endowments bringing in
[IMAGE]These waqfs were normally agricultural land, often administered
by the donator, or members of his family, and could in some cases have
a location far away from the mosque it financed. There could be more
than one waqf to each mosque. Mosques with economical problems were
often out looking for new donators.
[IMAGE]While mosques officially have been under the rulers, direct
control have been difficult, much because of the economical
independence (through waqfs), as well as the mosque's in popular
opinion. The main donator, and his family, was in many cases legally
considered the owner of the mosque. In other cases it was the qadi,
the judge of Sharia, who acted as the main administrator, nazir, of
the mosque. The power of the nazir was considerable, and the position
of nazir has often given room for intense conflicts between
individuals and groups.
[IMAGE]The factual leader of salat in the mosques was the ruler, who
held the title imam. Local rulers had a parallel position, under the
title ala salat. The position of khatib, is a result of the imam being
unable to perform the salat of Fridays, the khutba. The khatib could
be a qadi, and in larger mosques, several khatibs could be appointed.
Mosques are centres of cities, or of neighbourhoods in cities. This
function does not always have to be structured, but can be connected
to mentality, and the construction of a new mosque makes a centre
emerge. Very few mosques lie in open areas, and very few mosques does
not have shops and commercial activities in the streets around it.
People's houses are often lying in a second "circle" outside the
mosque and the shops. Other social functions have often been connected
to mosques, schools, law courts, hospitals, and lodging for
travellers. This pattern is based upon the Medina mosque, but is of
less importance today, as city planning now often use Western models.
[IMAGE]When entering the mosque, a person should take off his shoes or
sandals. Entering the mosque shall be done with the right foot first,
while one utters blessings to Muhammad and his family. Once inside the
mosque, two rak'as (part of the salat) shall be performed. A person
inside the mosque shall talk softly, not loudly, so that he or she
does not disturb people praying. For the Friday prayer, nice clothes
and perfumes are recommended.
[IMAGE]Women are not prevented by neither the Koran nor the Sunna to
enter mosques, but there are regulations on how a woman in a mosque
shall behave. Mosques can be segregated, either in time, or in space.
But through most of Muslim history, women entering mosques have not
been welcomed by men. Mosques have in many cases been closed to women,
either regulated by local rules or by habit. Women have therefore
resorted to pray in their homes.
[IMAGE]While the salat can be performed anywhere, it is considered
more meritorious when performed in the mosque, i.e. together with
other people. The Sunna states that salat in the mosque is 20 or 25
times more valuable than the one performed in the home.
[IMAGE]The Friday prayer or sermon, khutba, is considered to be
compulsory for all male Muslims. The regulations for the khutba
developed over a long period, approximately 2 centuries. With the
strong increase in jamacas (main mosques) from the 9th century, the
term 'masjid' was more and more used for small and insignificant
Etiquettes to be observed in the Mosque
Throughout the history of Islam, mosques have always played an
important social role. It has been a place of prayer, a centre of
political and social activities, an educational institution, and the
focal point of communal life. In Muslim countries, the mosque serves
various functions depending on the political and social environment.
The mosque combines religious and social activities that encourage
active faith and strong community life. Because Islam preaches unity
of the spiritual and the worldly aspects of life, community gatherings
and mosque-related activities include both social and spiritual
elements. Friday-noon prayer, at the mosque, is the most important
socio-religious activity of the community. Mosque attendance
contributes to a Muslim's sense of religious identity. Although each
member brings an entire lifetime of cultural experience into the
mosque, separate past experiences seem to fuse as individuals join
together on the basis of their common beliefs. Commitment to religious
beliefs is one of the strongest factors influencing the preservation
of Islamic Identity.
In spite of the spiritual and social aspects of the Mosque, the Mosque
still remains a place of sanctity. Cleanliness in all respects is
paramount; purity of mind, body, thoughts and actions. Muslims are
expected to be in a state of purity (body, mind, and soul), when he or
she visits the mosque. In particular, Muslims perform ablution
(washing of hands, face, arms, and feet) before performing prayer.
Muslims prostrate in their prayer, and thus the mosque must be clean.
Mosques in North America are carpeted and shoes are removed upon
entering. Shouting or raising one's voice unnecessarily, and using
improper or foul language are abhorred. Modesty in dress is expected
for both men and women. Visitors are welcome at mosques; however,
visitors who are not familiar with Muslim religious practices should
contact the administration of one of the local mosques for information
and to arrange visits.
The Ka'aba-Masjid al-Haraam
[IMAGE]The Mosque is primarily a place of remembrance of God.
According to Muslim tradition, the first mosque built on earth was
Masjid al-Haraam - located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Masjid al-Haraam is
recognizable world-wide through photographs of the Ka'aba during Hajj
- the pilgrimage to Mecca. It occupies a position of primacy in
relation to all other mosques. Next in importance are two other
mosques: Masjid an-Nabbi - the Prophet's mosque in a Medina, Saudi
Arabia and Masjid al-Aqsaa (Al-Aqsaa mosque is known as the second
house of worship on earth, and was the first direction of prayer
[Qibla] for Muslims before it was changed to Masjid al-Haraam) which
is next to the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem.
[IMAGE]As I mentioned before the word mosque comes from the Arabic
word, Masjid, which means a place where one prostrates oneself, or a
place of worship. The concept of the mosque originated during the life
of Prophet Muhammad, who built the first mosque during his Prophethood
in Medina. In the early Islamic period, the Masjid served many
purposes. Not only was it a place if worship, learning and prayer, but
it also functioned as a community's political and social centre. It
was where believers assembled for prayers, where the Prophet delivered
his addresses to deal with issues surrounding the social life of the
community, where he educated his followers, where he explained
revelations, where he met emissaries and discussed the merits of his
message, where he dealt with internal and external political
[IMAGE]From the very advent of Islam, the mosque was the centre of
worship and other activities of the Muslim community. It is the mosque
or masjid more than any other institution that helps new Muslims in
Ottawa adapt to their surroundings. The mosque facilitates the
integration of new immigrants to their surroundings and new Muslims to
the Muslim community. The mosque contributes strongly toward the
institutional completeness of a community. The mosque functions as a
religious institution, a social organization and educational resource.
Dome of the Rock
[IMAGE]Throughout history of Islam, the mosque has always played an
important social role. It has been a place of prayer, a centre of
political activities, an educational institution, and a focal point of
communal life. Now that Muslim communities have established themselves
throughout Canada, the religion, and its primary institution, the
Mosque, have had to adapt too many of the norms of their host country.
Their success in doing so has created thriving Muslim communities,
each one distinct form the other because of the unique blend of
members and local traditions. Each mosque is designed to serve the
specialized needs, individual and communal, of it population. The
mosques in the Ottawa area are a reflection of the Muslim community's
identity as a distinct religious, cultural, and social group.
The Ottawa Mosque (OMA)
[IMAGE]East London Mosque
East London Mosque is one of the biggest mosques in UK. It is very
busy because it is near The City and is situated in Whitechapel.
Whitechapel is an area where there is lots of Muslims and so the
location of the mosque could not have been better.
As the picture shows, the mosque is huge. Over three thousand people
can worship in this mosque. The mosque has
· Two main prayer halls
· Three ablution areas
· Two large classrooms
· Meeting rooms
· Fully equipped kitchen
The special feature in the mosque includes of having separate
facilities for female worshippers. This facility is held by very few
mosques in UK. Another feature East London Mosque holds is the ability
to give the call of prayer (Adhan) via loud speakers from the minaret.