The Islamic religious architecture constitutes of a variety of both religious and secular elements that can be traced from the time when Islam was founded to the present day. These elements greatly influenced the construction and design of various structures and buildings within the Islamic culture setup (Creswell 1990).
The Islamic religious architecture is composed of four major architectural types. These include the mosque, the tomb, the palace and the fort. The architectural elements from these four major types have been incorporated in structures of lesser significance for instance fountains, public baths and even in domestic architecture. Islam religious architecture seems to have greatly borrowed most of its elements from other traditions that it came into contact with for instance Persian and Moorish cultures (Creswell 1990).
This paper explains various architectural elements that were borrowed from other traditions and incorporated into Islam architecture. It clearly explains the impact that various cultures and architecture had in redefining Islam religious architecture in different places. Also explained in the paper are architectural elements that were originally Islam and the meanings of the elements that are commonly used in Islam religious architecture.
One of the earliest Islamic architecture can be traced back to 160 C.E when the city of Mecca re-conquered by the army of Prophet Mohammed from the tribe of Banu Quraish during which the Ka'ba sanctuary was reconstructed and re-dedicated to Islam religion. This reconstruction was executed by Abyssinian carpenter in his indigenous fashion. Later Islam doctrines originating from Hadith that dates back from 8th century prohibited the use of animals and human beings in architectural plans. This was in accordance with God’s commandment that forbids one from making an image or idol of God (Creswell 1990).
Other architectural work can be found during the seventh century when the Muslim armies subjugated an immense stretch of land. After taking control of the region, putting up a place of worship (a mosque) was their first desire. The fundamental design of the mosque was composed of various elements that later found way into the design of all mosques. Also the early Muslims embraced this by putting up buildings that borrowed greatly from the design of the prophet’s house. They converted the churches and other building they had captured into mosques. They retained most architectural elements of these buildings, something that greatly defined how later mosques and other Islam religious structures were to look like (Richard1987).
The Islam architectural elements seem to have borrowed greatly from other traditions for instance the Roman, Persian and Egyptian models. An example of this can be seen in the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhrah) that was built in Jerusalem in 631 AD. The interior design of this building was characterized by a circular dome, arched spaces and the use of stylish repetitive decorating patterns also known as arabesque (Richard1987).
The Islamic architecture is also said to have been greatly influenced by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. After the Ottomans had taken control of the city form the Byzantine they transformed the basilica to a mosque. Various Byzantine architectural features for instance the use of modified domes were incorporated into the design of the mosque. This design was used as a model for mosques that were put up in Ottoman for instance the Suleiman and Shehzade mosques (Richard1987).
The Persian culture seems to have greatly influenced the Islam architectural designs. During its birth, Islam came into intimate contact with the Persian cultural. This meant that the early Islamic architects greatly borrowed and embraced the traditions and culture of the fallen Persian Empire. Most elements in today’s Islam architectural designs are traced back to the Persian architecture. Some scholars have even referred the Islam architecture as a progression and expansion of the Persian culture. The Persian architectural elements even found their way in the design of most Islam cities. For instance, Baghdad was based on Firouzabad model that was borrowed from Persia. Various Persian architectural designs also found their way into the design of mosques. These mosques had big arcades, tapering brick pillars, and arches that were supported by several pillars (Robert2004).
In North Africa and in peninsula of Iberian, the Islamic architecture was highly influenced by the Moorish architecture that was developed from the Arab culture and tradition. For instance the great mosque that was put up at Cordoba was characterized by outstanding interior arches, greatly borrowed from the Moorish architecture. Also during the construction of the fortress/palace of Granada (Alhambra), its interior design was greatly characterized by the Moorish architecture. For instance the interior spaces were open and breezy and were decorated in blue, gold and red. Also its walls were adorned in elegant foliage decorations, and were enclosed with glazed tiles. These walls also had Arab writings and Arabesque designs (Robert2004).
In central Asia, the Islam architecture was shaped by the Timurid or Turkistan architecture. For instance the sanctuary of Ahmed Yasawi which is presently known as Kazakhstan and also timur’s mausoleum Gur-e Amir in Samarkand greatly borrowed from the Turkistan architecture. In this architecture structures were characterized by an axial symmetry notably the mosque of Gowhar Shad. This architecture was also characterized by use of double domes when building mosques and painting the outside with bright colors (Attilio 2002).
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Turkey is one of the countries with the largest and highest number of mosques. The designs of these mosques have been attributed to the influence of Persian, Syrian-Arab designs and Byzantine designs. The Turkish architects came up with their unique design of Cupola domes that soon found its way into most Islam architectural designs of mosques. For instance the design Suleiman Mosque in the mid 16th century was put up using these unique designs by Ottoman Turkish architecture. The Ottomans are said to have had a great impact in Islam religious architecture. For instance the came up with techniques of putting up mosques with huge inner space enclosed with massive and light domes. They also came up with techniques of realizing harmony between the outer and inner spaces and also light and shadow. It is through the Ottoman Turkish architecture that Islamic religious architecture transformed from simple structures with extensive decorations to complicated structures with complex domes, columns and semi-domes. It is also through ottomans that Mosques were transformed from dark and cramped chambers with walls covered with Arabesque into esthetic and technical balance sanctuaries characterized by superior stylishness and a hint of holy transcendence (Richard1987).
Another example where Islam religious architecture greatly borrowed from other traditions can be seen in the first Chinese great mosque of Xi'an that was put up during the 17th century. This mosque did not incorporate many elements that are frequently connected with traditional mosques. This mosque to a great extent adopted the Chinese architectural elements. Mosques in eastern china were more probable to look like Pagodas while those in the western part of china were more likely to include Islam architectural elements such as domes and minarets. The Chinese architecture put weight on symmetry which symbolizes a sense of grandeur. This element was applied to all structures from mosques to palaces (Creswell 1990).
Some of the element employed in Islamic architectural can be considered to be distinctively Islamic. For instance their architectural designs are characterized by radiating structures, ordered repetition, and metric and rhythmic patterns. This is known as arabesque and has been always been an element of Islam religious architecture For instance the use of fractal geometry in Islam architectural designs has been distinctively an Islamic design that has been employed in designs of palaces and mosques. Other architectural designs that are exclusively Islamic include the use of piers, columns and arches that are arranged and interwoven with alternating patterns of niches and colonnettes (Attilio 2002).
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Various discoveries have suggested that the use of quasicrystal patterns that is very common in Islam architecture were first used in girih tiles that were associated with the Medieval Islamic architecture that dates back to over five centuries. Also the use of domes has been an exclusively an Islam architectural element that dates back to many centuries. It is one of the most important architectural elements when putting up mosques. As already seen, it was first employed many centuries ago during the construction of the mosque of the Dome of the Rock. Also Islam architectural designs have always used foliage patterns for interior designs of mosques. The places of worship (mosques) have always had a large court yard combined with a central prayer hall this element has always been Islam. Also the use of towers or minarets has been an element of Islam religious architecture that has been employed when putting up mosques. Garden design has always been an Islamic architectural design. Gardens are used in the Quran to symbolize paradise (Attilio 2002).
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All elements that are employed in the Islam architecture had specific meanings. The repetitive designs that suggest infinity are often used to symbolize and evoke Allah’s infinite power. Most Islam architectural designs avoid using animal and human figures for decorative art because the work of Allah is considered to have no match. Foliage patterns are often employed but are characteristically simplified for the similar reason. Arabic inscriptions based on quotations from the Qur'an are employed to augment the interior design of the building. The Islamic architecture has often been referred to as “architecture of the veil” because of its emphasis on interior beauty which is usually not visible from the outside. Islamic religious architecture is characterized by the use of ostentatious structures such as huge domes, very tall minarets and huge courtyards which are used to covey the mighty nature of Allah (Robert 2004).
Islam religious architecture at different places of the world appear to have been greatly influenced and redefined by different traditions and cultures that it came into contact especially the Persian culture that Islam first came into contact after its birth, greatly transformed Islam architectural elements. Although many architectural elements from other traditions were incorporated into Islam religious architecture, some elements have always remained distinctively Islam for instance use of Arabesque, domes and use of foliage patterns. All architectural elements employed in Islam religious architecture had specific meanings as already seen.