All About Turkey

Some elements of the mosque

Minaret - Minare

Yivli Minaret in AntalyaTower near to, or built into, the structures of a mosque, which is used by the muezzin to call out, adhan (ezan), for people to come to prayers in Islam.

The earliest mosques were built without minarets, and the action of adhan could be performed in many other locations. The hadiths tell us that the Muslim community of Madina called out to prayers from the roof of the house of Muhammad, a house that doubled as a house for prayers.

After around 80 years of post-Muhammadan Islam, did the first minarets we know of, appear, in places as far between as Kairouan, Tunisia and Damascus, Syria. It is good reason to believe that the Great Mosque of Damascus, built in 705, was inspired by the churches of the city, yet the Muslim minaret served its own functions, continuing the old traditions from the house of Muhammad.

Minarets are now very much symbols of Islam, but not theologically heavy symbols. Minarets are often adorned, high, and striving to be as slim and elegant as possible. Modern minarets are often giving even more room for artistic achievements than in earlier times. The ground floor of minarets are always fitted into a square, with the minaret being everything from square to round - many are octagonal. The top ends in the house where the muezzin either is or where the loudspeakers are, covered with a pointed roof.

Mihrab

Mihrab of a mosqueNiche in a mosque, indicating the qibla (kible), the direction in which a Muslim shall perform his salat. The mihrab is the position of the person leading the congregation in prayer, and is by most considered the most holy place in the mosque, even if a mihrab is never dedicated to God, but frequently to religious personalities. A mosque will normally have only one mihrab.

The mihrab is by both Muslim and Western scholars considered as an element taken from churches, an element added to the mosque of architectural reasons. The mihrab was probably introduced in the 3rd century of Islam, in the 9th century AD.

Mihrabs can be of wood, but is normally made out of masonry, and adorned with pillars. Mihrabs come very often highly ornamented.

Minbar - Minber

Pulpit in a mosque, placed next to the mihrab. The minbar is used with the khutba (hutbe), the Friday sermon, and the khatib ascends it. But he stops on one of the lower steps, the top of the minbar is restricted to the Prophet, only. The minbar soon got an important function for communications, through being the place where official proclamations were made. A minbar is considered as a good place for baraka, blessings, and for giving oaths.

There seems to have been some Christian influence on the shape of the minbar, in the beginning of the history of the mosques. The minbar appears to be from the time of the Prophet, and its introduction is probably an expression of the Prophets position in the society, where the minbar worked as a throne. The minbar of the Prophet had no more than two steps, and a seat. It was the caliph Mu'awiyya who in 670 AD (50 H) raised the minbar of Muhammad with 6 steps, and this became the pattern for all minbars ever after, even if Mu'awiyya's act was strongly opposed.

There was disagreement on whether a mosque should have a minbar when there were no ruler around to ascend it, but minbars were found in all province mosques already before 700 AD. And in some mosques, more than one minbar is found. Minbars soon came to be covered with a curtain, after pattern of Ka'ba.

Imam

A word used in several senses. In general use, it means the leader of congregational prayers; as such it implies no ordination or special spiritual powers beyond sufficient education to carry out this function. It is also used figuratively by many Sunni Muslims to mean the leader of the Islamic community. Among the Shia the word takes on many complex and controversial meanings; in general, however, and particularly when capitalized, it indicates that particular descendant of the House of Ali who is believed to have been God's designated repository of the spiritual authority inherent in that line. The identity of this individual and the means of ascertaining his identity have been the major issues causing divisions among the Shia.

Muezzin

Caller in Islam, the man calling out for people to come to the mosque, to perform salat. In most mosques the muezzin calls, using the adhan (ezan) from the minaret, but many mosques have put loudspeakers up in the minarets.

The institution of muezzin belongs to the customs of Muhammad's own time, and the first muezzin was Bilal. But what way of calling for prayer, and from where, was debated in early Islam. Trumpets, flags, lamps, were all elements doing the same as the muezzin, and which could have replaced him, if the debates had ended differently. The first muezzins were using the roof of the mosque, or the adjacent streets, to call for peoples attention. The muezzin, the public crier, was more of an institution living on from older Arab culture, than an innovation to Islam.

The activities of the muezzin did eventually develop into rituals by themselves. The mere uttering of the calling, heard all over cities, was a ritual, even if most people never did much more than listen. This is reflected in melodious chanting of the adhan (ezan).

Click here to listenListen to Ezan (.wav format, 1Mb)

All About Turkey © Burak Sansal 1996–2014, a certified professional tour guide in Turkey. Contact Burak at buraksan@superonline.com for all kinds of regular and/or private travel services throughout the country.