Islamic architecture is world renowned for a number of reasons especially its skilful application of small, ornate details, and its consistency through the ages.
From exterior façades that consist of mashrabiya-style carvings, to Arabic calligraphy that meticulously marks the walls of a room, to luxurious materials like gold and marble merging together on the same palette, Islamic architecture doesn’t shy away from extravagant design.
And in the spirit of Ramadan, we’ve decided to round up the world’s most iconic mosques. Old and new, our selection doesn’t discriminate. It’s time to cherish these achievements in design one more time.
Grand Mosque, UAE
Envisioned by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque is an architectural and design triumph, as well as the emirate’s best known landmark. Carried through by the Sheikh’s sons following his passing, the mosque was put together by international professionals with luxurious materials brought in from around the world.
The Grand Mosque, which can house nearly 40,000 worshippers, includes 82 white marble domes inspired by Moroccan design, while 1,000 columns with inlaid marble panels are perfectly placed throughout the external areas. Additionally, 96 columns that are inlaid with the mother of pearl frame the mosque’s main prayer hall.
Throughout the interior, visitors can enjoy the floral designs arranged in colourful, semi-precious stones.
A number of memorable items are sprinkled throughout the mosque, including the world’s largest hand-knotted rug that sprawls across the floor of the main prayer room. The chandelier, which hangs just above passing visitors, boasts thousands of twinkling Swarovski crystals.
Putrajaya Mosque, Malaysia
Built by Areen Design between 1997 and 1999, the Putrajaya Mosque sits on the coast in the city of its namesake.
It is typically called the “Pink Mosque” for two reasons: women dress in pink abayas while attending, and its vibrant rose tinted tiles. The mosque incorporates cultural and Islamic architectural elements from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Morocco.
“I worked on the Putrajaya Mosque in 1997, and the brief was for the interiors. The main idea was to use the rich Islamic region’s architectural history for creating a new Malaysian aesthetic…We also used geometry for the spatial transitioning in this large scale mosque,” explained Zainab Othman, designer, Areen Design.
Aiming to combine Islamic architecture with modern Malaysian aesthetic, the design team opted for floral decoration, which was enhanced and modified to reflect the wealth of flora in the region’s forests and landscape.
Inspired by the Sheikh Oman Mosque in Baghdad, the minaret sits at 115m tall while the whole mosque can accommodate 10,000 people. The five tiers represent the five pillars of Islam, as well as the five calls to prayer.
“It was at the time, the world’s largest mosque and the dome span and height were very big. Another unique aspect was that the Malaysian government wanted a ‘silent’ and peaceful mosque. I remember their representative asked that if a pin should drop in this huge space, he did not want to hear any echo.
This was so that the scale of the mosque doesn’t create an ‘oppressive’ feeling to [worshippers] and it becomes a source of calm rather than turmoil or noise,” Othman said.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Oman
After winning a competition for a design proposal in 1993, Carillion Alawi went on to build one of the Gulf’s most spectacular mosques located in Oman’s capital, Muscat.
After being suggested by Sultan Qaboos, the Diwan of the Royal Court arranged for the mosque’s construction, which would ultimately require imported stone cladding, marble and other high quality finishing. In total, it employed 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone. The mosque includes a main prayer hall and minaret, inner and outer sahans, four riwaq towers, as well as northern and southern riwaq halls.
Its iconic features include the traditional dome and minaret, which reach an astonishing 45m and 92m, respectively. The dome which ascends above the main prayer hall glistens in the sun with a white and gold façade, while inside, the mosque is home to the world’s second largest hand-woven carpet and chandelier.
Produced by Iran Carpet Company, Oman’s Grand Mosque’s large prayer rug maintains 1.7bn knots and combines traditional Tabriz, Kashan and Isfahan design traditions. The grandiose chandelier was supplied by Faustig and measures at almost 14m long.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Turkey
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly referred to as “Blue Mosque”, is known around the world for its monumental architecture and role in Turkish history. Visited by millions each year, the mosque remains as iconic as ever, in spite of the ever-emerging trend of contemporary mosque design happening around the world.
Named after its infamously rich blue tiled walls, the mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. The structure contains a tomb of the founder, a madrasah (Arabic term meaning “school”), and a hospice. The design involves one main dome, six minarets and eight secondary domes.
The Blue Mosque, built by Sedefkâr Mehmed Aga, reflects Ottoman tastes, while also bearing elements of the Byzantine era and traditional Islamic architecture. One can find 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles traditionally styled located at every pier. Embellishing the tiles are nearly 50 different tulip designs.
Blue tiles cover the walls of the upper levels, where more than 200 stained glass windows can be found. Furthermore, in cooperation with cultural traditions, durable ostrich eggs are placed within the chandeliers in order to prevent spiders from constructing massive webs.
The mosque’s history continues through the written verses of the Qur’an, which are endlessly engraved on the mosque’s interior walls. The inscriptions were completed by Seyyid Kasim Gubari, once hailed as Turkey’s greatest calligrapher.
Among the most significant and iconic elements are the beautifully decorated lamps, which were once lavishly coated in gold and covered with gems, while the nearby glass bowls would typically contain more ostrich eggs and crystal balls. Today, such decorations have been removed and placed in museums, though the old spirit of extravagance maintains a strong presence on the museum’s interior atmosphere.
Abdulrahman Siddik Mosque, UAE
Located in the heart of Dubai, Abdulrahman Siddik Mosque, which is cleverly referred to as the “Spine Mosque” is the emirate’s first contemporary mosque. Designed by Jordan-based firm Yaghmour Architects, it’s most known for its clean-lined cubist forms.
MD Raed Yaghmour of Yaghmour Architects explained: “We were asked by Nakheel to develop an iconic mosque on Palm Jumeirah. It was the first mosque built by Nakheel. It is a different concept for mosques, as it is contemporary. We thought outside of the box.”
The Spine Mosque’s notable features include the large, traditional dome and the 49m-high minaret. The main entrance, located near a large paved area, is inviting with its warm sand-coloured palette that’s perfectly suitable for Dubai’s climate and landscape.
The mosque’s treatment of the facade that faces the Qiblah employs layers of rough stone and patterned glass, making an up-and-close examination a hypnatising experience.