Islam was practiced throughout Arabia and was soon adapted into the cultures of the Middle East and beyond. Islamic architecture was comprised of mausoleums and mosques. At first, Islam had no architectural tradition of their own, so they borrowed extensively from the styles, forms, and methods that already existed in order to create their own architectural traditions that followed strict beliefs and values of Islam. The assimilation of Islam gave way to a beautiful mixture of beliefs and cultures that was reflected in the architecture.
The Islamic religion is a monotheistic religion where God is called “Allah”, and was first practiced in Mecca, Arabia around the year of 610. People who practiced this religion were called Muslims. Muslims believed that their faith was the “final revelation of God’s truth- the first and second manifestations being Judaism and Christianity” (text pg. 256). Muhammad was the most prolific Islamic prophet that received his calling to “recite” the word of God at the age of forty.
He continued to recite the word of Allah for the next twenty years, traveling from Mecca and ending in Medina. He repeated the messages he received from Allah to scribes so that they could be written down. The Quran is composed of those messages, and are the religious scriptures of Islam.
Allah’s greatest creation was mankind, who has the capability to live with God in the afterlife if their lives on earth followed the Islamic teachings. These teachings state that a Muslim must follow the five pillars of Islam.
The five pillars of Islam include: belief in Allah as the only supreme being, repeating the Islamic creed at least once in a lifetime with conviction, reciting the daily prayer five times a day, helping the needy through charity, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime is required for all able bodied adult Muslims.
From the Mosque of Sultan Sulayman located in Istanbul, Turkey to the Taj Mahal mausoleum in Agra, India the impact of the Islamic religion shines through in the architecture. However similar, these two structures also display apparent differences reflective of the local cultures that existed during the time of construction.
In general, mosques were always oriented towards Mecca and consisted of covered walkways, columns and arches, a small niche or mihrab that faced Mecca, and a fountain placed in an open courtyard, that the Muslims used for purification. Islamic architecture also had minarets built beside the structure, which were large towers, typically used for muezzins to call to other Muslims when it was time to pray.
In Istanbul, the most prominent mosque is the Mosque of Sultan Sulayman. It was built between the years of 1550 and 1557 and its sheer size reflects the importance Islam had on this culture. The Mosque of Sultan Sulayman was consciously modeled after the great Byzantine church, Hagia Sophia, which was built approximately one thousand years earlier. However similar, the Muslim mosque was larger and positively magnificent, even the courtyard was sheltered with the same elaborate roofing system displayed on the mosque. The focal point of the structure is a large central dome with smaller domes and half domes encircling it. People visiting Istanbul would sense that it served a powerful religion from how it overshadows the surrounding scenery, a symbol of the strength of the Islamic religion. Its massive stone exterior is offset by the playfulness of the domes. Light and shadows accentuate the rolling hills of the rooftop. The domes exude a mystical sense of the clouds in heaven and standing by are the minarets, stretching upward towards the skies. Beauty and goodness is equivalent to Allah, and the Muslims portrayed this feeling into the architecture of the Mosque of Sultan Sulayman.
In India, one of the most famous buildings is the Taj Mahal. It was built between the years of 1630 and 1648. Islam was introduced to India, which mainly believed in the Hindu religion, in the eighth century and slowly made a larger impact as the years progressed. The human equality of Islam appealed to the Hindus, which lead to the conversion of many natives. The Taj Mahal was constructed after the Islamic faith had taken a hold of the Indian culture. This driving force created one of the most spectacular buildings that still survive today.
A stunning display of architecture, the same Islamic principle of beauty and goodness is equivalent to Allah, is evident. The white exterior resembles the purity of Allah. The large central dome is a striking focal point and the entire mausoleum rises up from the earth like a lone mountain. Images of the enchanted setting are mirrored in the water’s reflection. Water was used for purification at a mosque yet here it added another layer of texture to the overall appearance. The emphasis on height and the use of vertical lines is reminiscent of the Hindu temples, while the use of arches, minarets and domes speaks true to the Islamic influence. The Taj Mahal was built in honor of and in memory for Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of Muslim Shah Jahan, whereas the mosque was strictly built in honor of Allah. Overall, the Taj Mahal was constructed in a serene environment that blended both nature and architecture seamlessly, an expression of love that inspired a fine specimen of building art.
Since Islam did not encourage different art forms, the Mosque of Sultan Sulayman and the Taj Mahal are expressions of art. The mixture of beliefs and culture, and the complexity and careful planning of the layouts personify Islamic architecture.