Book on Islam presents visually striking images of mosques around the world

Aftab Husain Kola

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From simple, open space surrounded walls of sunbaked brick of the bygone era to or recent ones that are architecturally stunning structure, the mosque primarily remains a place of prayer.

However, the visually striking volume, Mosques Splendors of Islam, by Leyla Uluhanli, transports the readers in an incredible journey from the ancient lands to modern world, where some of the amazing mosques exist. A Rizzoli New York publication, Prince Amyn Aga Khan has penned the foreword.

Divided into two main segments – Realm of the Mosque and Regional Expressions, the book is actually a compilation of articles penned by several writers. It was the author Leyla Uluhanli’s passion with Islamic architecture and Middle East culture that resulted in the production of the superbly illustrated book.

She writes in the preface of the book, “Exploring the mosque’s origin from the simple courtyard and hypostyle design to complex domes sheathed in azure tiles, this book looks at the structure, forms, and materials that define these sanctuaries.”

One blemish

This coffee-table series of essays on mosques across the world is packed with splendid visuals. The piece, Approaching the Mosque: Beginnings and Evolutions, by Renata Holod speaks about the essential characteristics of early mosques.

Fatima Quraishi and Mathew Saba’s essay on Elements of the Mosque: Form of Adornment explores the rudiments of mosque’s early architecture and plan. Writing about the mosque’s beginnings, the Arab world, Mohammed Hamdouni Alami credits the Mosque of the Prophet of Medina as a major inspiration for mosque architecture.

He elucidates his essay with examples of mosques in different eras and dynasties. However, he wrongly mentions (may be a typo) on page 53 that Muslims believe this is the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac for sacrifice where, in fact, it was Ismael and not Isaac. It is now brought to this reviewer that this fact will be corrected in the next edition, which is being prepared.

North Africa and Spain

The book then takes the readers into the rise of mosques in North Africa and Spain. Mention of Islam’s priceless heritage like the Great Mosque of Qayrawan and the Great Mosque of Cardoba built in the mid-Seventh century and late eighth century respectively is obvious.

A chapter on the great mosque of Djenne in central Mali by Heather Ecker makes for an interesting read. Heather writes, “The masons of Djenne built structures with heavy walls of mud brick along with chopped straw for added tensile strength that absorb during the day and radiate it at night.”

Walter Denny explores the Byzantine and Anatolian style of mosques while Susan Babaie focuses on Persian architecture-inspired mosques with emphasis on tile ornamentation and brilliant play of light. George Michel sheds light on the majestic mosques of India and Pakistan.

India’s biggest

Mentioning India’s biggest mosque, the Jami’ masjid in Delhi, he writes, “Jami’ masjid dominates a vast square courtyard surrounded by red stone colonnades and entered by three gateways reached by flights of steep steps.”

Angela Wheeler discussing about the mosques of Russia and Caucasus says, “The Seventh century conquest of Persia by Muslim Arabs first brought Islam to the Caucasus, setting the stage for both the region’s earliest mosques and prosperous trading hubs.” The accompanying pictures of the mosques in this segment are a visual treat.

In a chapter titled, Nine Contemporary mosques, Philip Jodidio portrays the extremely stunning Shaykh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque in Abu Dhabi with bewitching illustrations.

In this section, his list includes the Great Mosque of Naiono, Mali; Abu Al Qabib Mosque and Imam Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab mosque in Doha, Qatar; Chandgaon Mosque in Chittagong, Bangladesh; Saneaklar Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey; Sherefuddin’s white mosque in Visoko, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Ismaili Centre, Toronto, Canada; and Islamic Community center and Mosque in Copenhagen, Denmark.