Everything You Need to Know about Mosque Interior Design
The mosque is the center of the Muslim culture – a sacred place where people offer their obligatory five-times-a-day prayers. But that’s not the only thing it is used for. It is, in fact, a religious center where funeral prayers, sermons, and non-obligatory prayers are also held. It’s also a place for rest and reflection. These social, political, and judicial functions remain ever-present in a typical mosque interior design of the contemporary era.
It is important to note that the actual development of mosques did not start just to provide a place for worship, but came into being as a place for communities. With the passage of time, educational and social aspects were intertwined with the religious ones, and as a result, the mosque interior design of today is a wholesome combination of cultural, architectural, and economical representation of the Muslim community. It contains multiple functions in one space. This includes educational, communal, and religious activities.
So, while the function of a mosque is many-fold, its designing has become more elaborate over the years. Today, there are a number of mosques that you can find all over the world; grand, simple, medium, fashionable, etc. However, the core of a good mosque interior design is always in how it spiritually connects the people praying to God.
Types of contemporary mosques
Times have changed and so have the needs of the people. However, the worship of Allah is an obligatory part of the Islamic religion, which is why a mosque can be found in the following types:
- Residential mosque: This is a medium-sized mosque that is located in the middle of a neighborhood and accommodates the five daily prayers easily. In the Middle East and South Asia subcontinent, there are usually courtyard provisions for the Friday prayers in this mosque interior design.
- Business mosque: This type of mosque inside a commercial, governmental or medical business area. It usually comprises of a small, medium, or large-sized room depending on the scale of the building.
- Educational mosque: This type of a mosque is located in an educational institution. If the size of the institution is on an urban level, then the mosque is a separate entity of its own. It usually also has a large outdoor space where the Friday prayers are held.
- Masjid al Safar: This is a mosque attached to one of the restrooms or stations of travel routes between cities.
5 famous mosques and their characteristics
Mosque architecture and interior design spans centuries and has seen so much evolution over this timespan. The differences in culture have led to the changes in different mosque interiors. Mughal era mosques of Pakistan and India have a very specific vibe that leans more towards the courtyard style and features beautiful miniature paintings as décor. The Turkish Ottoman-era mosques are the ones that set the trend for multiple domes. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic mosques from around the world:
– Masjd al Haram, Saudi Arabia:
One cannot talk about the most iconic mosques around the world and not include Masjid al Haram. It is believed to be one of the most ancient mosques in the Islamic world. It was first built by Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and his son Prophet Isma’il (AS) – a prototype of the mosque interior design of today.
This mosque surrounds the Kaa’ba in Mecca, so its architecture is extremely unique. Furthermore, over the years, it has seen a lot of expansions so its layout is very organic and not structured in any typical layout. In some of these extensions, more minarets were added, the ceiling was refinished, and the floors were redefined in modern materials. In later extensions the prayer area was expanded and utilities such as escalators, air conditioning and drainage were added. It is one of the greatest mosques in the world and holds a very special place in the Muslim world.
– The Blue Mosque, Turkey:
While the Ottoman and Seljuk eras have a lot of prominent mosques (i.e. the Holy Mosque in Busra, the Sehzade Mosque in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, and more) the Blue Mosque has become the most iconic of them all. Also known by the name of Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this one is renowned for its famous blue domes and sleek minarets. It features hand-painted tiles in the interior as well, consists of 5 main and 8 secondary domes along with 6 minarets. Known for its overwhelming size and splendor, it’s a major tourist attraction to this day.
This mosque interior design features hand-painted tiles with fifty different tulip designs, fruits, and cypresses – all made under the supervision of an Iznik master. There are gorgeous stained glass windows (more than 200) and Quranic inscriptions on the walls, but the most attractive and stupendous feature is the mihrab. It has been carved out of marble and is surrounded by many windows. It’s a mosque known for its majesty and creative allure.
– The Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain:
The history of the Great Mosque of Cordoba is quite interesting. The mosque was built by the exiled Umayyed prince on the site of a Christian church that he purchased after conquering the area. Before that, it was pagan temple. It is famous for its 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. This mosque interior design features so many gorgeous and intricate details. Its layout emulates one of the earliest planning concepts. Today, it consists of a rectangular prayer hall that is perpendicular to the qibla, consists of 11 aisles and 12 bays.
Its dome is extremely unique – featuring a ribbed design that forms a star pattern. The courtyard used to be unpaved and lined with trees in the past. It is surrounded by arcades, minarets, and colorful mosaics. There are even stained glass windows. The most gorgeous detail in the Great Mosque of Cordoba is its mihrab. It is carved with stunning geometric patterns and flowing plant designs. There are Quranic inscriptions on the walls as well. The square minaret stands 111 feet tall and features a tiered square based layout.
– The Great Mosque of Kairouan, Tunisia:
One of the earliest mosques and part of the UNESCO heritage, the Great Mosque of Kairouan was constructed in 670 AD. It looks like a fortress from the outside, but its inside features the hypostyle style courtyard planning. The pillars of this mosque interior design are interconnected by horseshoe style arches and there is an intricately carved door in the prayer hall. With carved marble, a dome resting tall at the central nave, a three-story high tapered minaret, and an enclosed maqsura for the emperor near the minbar, this mosque has become one of the most well known in Tunisia.
– The Cologne Central Mosque, Germany:
Designed by Paul Bohm and completed in 2017, this contemporary mosque interior design shows a stark contrast between the past and the present. While its basic shape has been inspired by the dome and cascading aesthetics of a typical mosque, its concrete and glass finish has been crafted to inspire contemporary sensibilities. One of the largest modern mosques in Europe, its 48,000-square-foot span can hold up to 2000-4000 worshippers. Its 2 minarets span 55 meters. Its interior houses a Muslim library, lecture halls, event halls, stores, and even a restaurant. The use of glass enhances the openness on the inside while its concrete exterior has become a landmark over the years.
As you can see, different time periods have contributed to a whole new sort of functional and aesthetic evolution in mosques. Now let’s take a look at some of its essential components for a better understanding of the interior.
Essential components of a mosque interior design
Now that we know the basic history, it is time to look at some of the essential components that make up the mosque’s interior design. Many forms of masjids have seen different stylistic evolution around the world, but here are the few core elements that remain the same:
1. Iwan: The Iwan is a hall-type entrance marked by a pointed arched entrance and is typically how the entrance of a mosque is designed. It is vaulted on all sides and is embellished with tilework, absract carvings, paintings, mosaics, and more. It’s a pre-Islamic Persian design element, and was at one point a very prominent feature of the mosque interior design.
2. The entrance: There are typically three separate entrances for a mosque. One is for the Imam of the Masjid to enter separately, one is for the men, and the other is for the women.
3. The main lobby: The lobby is an important part of the mosque because worshippers take off their shoes as a sign of respect before entering the mosque. There are usually shoe racks designed at the periphery of the lobby area where people keep their shoes for the duration of the time that they enter the mosque. There’s usually a small guard station here as well.
4. Minaret and mu’addhin: Derived from the Arabic word ‘manara’ which means lighthouse, the minaret is said to be inspired from the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria. Although not a part of the typical mosque interior design, it is still an essential component of both old and contemporary mosques. Even the smallest of mosques have at least one minaret to accompany it. The cross-section of these minarets varied; some had square shafts while others had cylindrical ones. Many even had Corinthian make that was extremely decorative.
However, the purpose of the minaret is not only decorative. It’s actually where the mu’addhin (the person who calls the adhan [the call for prayer]). Larger mosques have a space built in for the mu’addhin in the minaret, but the smaller mosques just have a loudspeaker attached to the top of the minaret. Either way, it’s a staple for any mosque without which it would seem incomplete.
5. Ablution area: You cannot say your prayers without ablution in Islam. Therefore the ablution area is an absolute requisite in the mosque interior design. It is usually located next to the bathrooms and consists of a single slab erected in front of water taps where the ablution is performed. Many modern ablution areas have multiple slabs – one in front of each tap – to accommodate the person better. If a mosque has a female prayer area, then there are separate bathroom and ablution areas for men and women.
6. Mihrab: The mihrab is one of the most important parts of a mosque interior design. It actually indicates the direction of the qibla (towards Mecca). This is a holy place within the mosque and is mostly articulated in the form of a semi-circular niche. They can be made out of both wood and masonry. They’re also highly embellished – mostly with ornamental pillars.
7. Minbar: This is the pulpit or raised platform from which an Imam (leader of the prayer) addresses the congregation. It is designed with a flight of stairs usually with 3 to 5 steps and a seating area at the top where the imam delivers sermons.
8. Prayer hall: Some of the earliest mosques build under the Umayyad Dynasty had square or rectangular plans with enclosed courtyards and a prayer hall that was covered. Many of these mosques had flat roofs that needed many columns for support. This ‘hypostyle’ style layout featured many internal arcades that were actually structural supports. In-between these columns was where the prayer mats were splayed in the direction of the mihrab. Many conventional mosque interior design follow this layout even today.
9. The Quran rack: The Quran is the Holy Book in Islam and the merits of reading it are innumerable. Therefore, there is a separate rack dedicated to a number of these in the mosque so that people can use individual copies for recitation after their worship. It is usually located in the shelves at the sides or at the front of the prayer hall. Respect is given to the placing of the Quran in these shelves at high places as it is the sacred text of Allah.
10. Domes: The Dome of Rock in Jerusalem could be the original inspiration behind the domes used in later mosques. However, it was actually the Ottomans of the Turkish fame that introduced a central dome to mosque architecture in the fifteenth century. It was usually designed over the prayer hall, but asymmetrically placed domes also became common afterwards. They were designed over spaces where prayer wasn’t performed and were quite off-center. Today, domes have become a recognized part of mosque interior design.
They are used to imbue a sense of grandness and majesty within the exterior and the interior. Placement varies from design to design, but it is still an element that inspires awe when you stand underneath it. Many designers install decorative chandeliers or candelabras here to inspire ornateness. Other decorative elements used in the interior of a dome are abstract paintings of flowers, arabesques, and vines and beautiful mosaic work. There are, however, some unconventional mosques that forego the dome entirely.
11. Courtyard: The courtyard (also known as sahn) is also a permanent fixture in most conventional layouts and mosque interior design. It is open to the sky and usually surrounded by arcades or rooms. The function of the courtyard in mosque interior design is two-fold. One: to accommodate the extra crowd during Friday prayers. Two: to provide natural ventilation within the mosque. There is usually a small fountain or a narrow green area in its middle for the purpose of ornamentation.
12. Décor: It is best not to exaggerate the luxury inside the mosque so that the worshipers are not distracted when praying. The shapes used in the Islamic decoration include plants and geometric forms only. This is because live objects such as birds, animals, and human figures are totally prohibited in Islamic artwork. Architects alternately use large chandeliers and other statement light fixtures as part of the overall décor and ambiance of a mosque interior design. There are also often large calligraphic friezes or a cartouche with a prominent inscription designed above the mihrab. There is also a digital board at a prominent place that is inscribed with the beginning and end times of all prayers.
13. Administrative offices: Since the mosque of the contemporary era is an institution of sorts, it was inevitable that there be some administrative offices within the building. However, they are standardized rooms and are usually designed like small offices where all the admin work takes place.
14. Special considerations: Many contemporary mosques have a separate wing for women as well. Similarly, special considerations need to be made for the disabled and the elderly for the mosque to be truly wholesome and integrated.
15. Car parking area: Distances are becoming easily reachable and a life without a car is extremely hard to live. Therefore, having a car parking area in the mosque is essential. You can use the standard of 1 parking area per 30 worshippers in urban settings and 1 parking area per 15 worshippers in a rural setting.
Spatial components of a mosque interior design
The components of a mosque spatial planning can be divided into three parts based on the division of zones:
1. Fixed-feature components
The fixed-feature components of a mosque interior design are always permanent and cannot be changed. They include:
– The scale, size, and depth of a space
The scale, size, and depth of a mosque usually applies to the prayer area of a mosque. You will come across this dilemma during the planning phase. It is better to understand that you need to determine the proportions of this space according to the needs and daily occupancy of the mosque. You also need to leave some leeway for Friday prayers and special occasion prayers such as Eidal Fitr and Eid al Adha. In such cases, the actual prayer area can be extended beyond to the patio and courtyard as a multipurpose space.
– Direction of Qibla to align the building and the prayer space
– The classification and placement of spaces
The classification of a mosque interior design can be carried out in three zones:
a. Inner zone: The areas included in this zone are fixed-purpose spaces such as the mihrab, the main prayer hall, and the ablution area. Outsiders cannot come here before passing through the transitional rituals.
b. Transition zone: The spaces in this zone consist of the occasional arcades, the patio, and the courtyard; spaces that you need to walk through to get to the inner zone.
c. Outer zone: The outer zone consists of the periphery and includes the yard, the parking, and the path that make up the outside of the mosque.
d. Wet areas: Generally the ablution areas and bathrooms are situated away from the main prayer area and either in a separate part of the building or at the entrance to ensure dirty elements and odors are away from the spiritual and reflective main space.
2. Semi-fixed feature components
The semi-fixed features of a mosque consist of the atmosphere, basic ambiance, and the interpretation of the architectural elements. These are somewhat fixed but can easily be altered. Let’s elaborate on them a little:
– The openness, the boundaries, and spatial relationship
As discussed above, there are fixed spaces in a mosque interior design that are bound by the rules of prayer. These include the mihrab and the main prayer area. However, the rest of the spaces can be tweaked according to the design you are going for. The courtyard, bathrooms, arcades, and the ablution areas are all flexible and can be adapted according to the constraints and openness of the site boundaries.
– The atmospheric qualities
The ambiance of a mosque is also a very flexible aspect. It typically consists of lighting – both natural and artificial. This also effects the atmosphere for worship and educational activities. The inner zones is kept bright but is never dazzling because it distracts. This is achieved by using diffused light. Note that light is a very important aspect of a mosque as the Fajr (first prayer) and Maghrib (fourth prayer) occur before sunrise and sunset respectively.
Similarly, the quality of air circulation and acoustics in the main prayer room matter a lot. Cross ventilation derived from large windows, doors, and the courtyard makes the act of worship more comfortable. Thick prayer rugs help with the acoustics and transition towards a more peaceful ambiance. All of tangible and intangible qualities effect the overall mosque interior design.
3. Non fixed-feature components
The non-fixed features include the outer zone. Here are a few design considerations to remember in its design:
- The outer spaces must deliver a memorable journey that is receptive to the newcomers. This is because short-term users are heavily influenced by their initial perceptions of the mosque design.
- The design prayer room should be easily visible and accessible from the outside. It should also accommodate easy circulation.
- The design of the mosque should use markers (such as domes and minarets) that are easily recognizable by the community (both the locals and travellers alike)
All of these considerations indicate that the design of the mosque is quite flexible as long as the fixed elements are not altered in any way.
Sustainability in mosque interior design
These days, with the whole world suffering from the massive effects of global warming, it is extremely important to add some sustainable features in a mosque interior design. Here are a few that you can try:
- You can conserve water by installing smart water taps in the ablution area.
- Going for rainwater harvest systems and connecting them to the sanitation and plumbing can reduce mainstream water usage.
- Adding hydroponic gardens to the mosque exteriors can help introduce greenery in massively urban areas.
- The courtyard areas can feature softscaping instead of typical hardscaping so that water can reach the aquifers underneath the table level.
- Use the path of the sun to design windows and skylights so that the overall mosque interior design requires less artificial lighting, and uses less electricity.
- Smart LED lights can be installed in the interior to conserve electricity.
- The natural wind-direction of the location can be utilized to orient the courtyard, door, and windows to accommodate natural ventilation.
- Planting a tree has great rewards in the religion of Islam, so a tree-lined boundary not only contributes to the betterment of the environment, but also has religious merits. It will also minimize heat gain and keep the interior insulated.
So, this is how the mosque came into being, evolved, and is designed in the contemporary world. The religious aspects and main components remain the same, but the exterior is ever-changing. We, at CAS, are well-versed in the intricacies of a mosque interior design. We take pride in delivering spaces that uphold their spirituality while maintaining modernity.