Еssay on Decoration in Islamic Mosques in the 7th and 8th Centuries

Decoration is one of key distinguishing features of Islamic design and architecture. Decoration and mosques distinguishes this art from the other arts of the world. Mosque help to recognize Islamic buildings despite the country they are built. Mosque is an Islamic place for worship. The first mosques appeared after the foundation of Islamic religion in the 7th century. The mosques had a very important meaning as they became the carrier of ideas of new religion. Their shape, form and design were created in order to fulfill the main purpose of Islam ”“ to bring people to Islamic religion and create for them a place where they would be able to pray and communicate with God.

In the 7th and 8th centuries these places had much more important meaning than a religious building. Despite they were not so luxuriously decorated as the ones, which established later, they are important because they created the very style and established traditions for all later mosques ever built. Mosques became objects of art and became a manifestation of Arab philosophical and cultural ideas. Despite originally the mosque was designed as a place where people came to pray together nowadays mosques are also famous as perfect examples of architecture and design.

Mosques became the first buildings, which were erected in the Islamic world. The earliest mosques often were build on the basement of Christian or Zoroastrian churches, which were rebuilt after Arabic invention to the lands where they were built. The followers of Islam did not require any special place to pray. They turned in the direction of Mecca while praying and could pray and perform their rites in any places. The complication of praying practices and development of Islam resulted in the necessity to found special places, where people would be able to gather together and pray. The first mosque was founded by the Muhammad himself. He founded it in his own yard in Medina. The wall, which faced the direction of holy of Mecca, was supplemented with roof. The other three walls were lined with arcades. This way there was founded the first place where people could come together for prayer. This scheme of the first mosque was used for all other mosques built later. Three main elements of each mosque include the courtyard, the qubla wall (the wall which faces the direction of the holy city of Mecca) and prayer hall. Mihrab, or niche for prayers is a part of the qibla wall. Basilica-like mosques borrowed some techniques from early Christina architecture, which, in its turn, borrowed from the pagan basilicas. The Great Mosque built in Damascus in the 8th century became an example of integration of Arabian and Christian style in design and architecture. In the mosques build in basilica style the prayer hall is generally larger than in other mosques. The prayer hall in basilica-like mosques was expanded to big and flat-rooted nave with two parallel aisled. The columns, used to support the root in this type of mosque are placed row by row and repeat the form of round orbed arches. Such a pattern can be found in the Mosque of Cordoba in Spain.

The Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Nabawi are the most famous mosques, which are saved since the seventh century.

They are designed as an open air space, where people can gather together. The Quba Mosque was founded by Muhammad in the beginning of the 7th century. The Quba became the first mosque built after the migration from Mecca. In Quba Mosque the prayer hall is situated around the central courtyard. It consists of six big domes, which are supported by clustered columns. Two-bayed portico are situated on the east and west, one-bayed portico is situated on the north. It separates men’s and women’s prayer areas.  The domes are white and ribbed. The exterior is comparatively modest in comparison to mosques, which were built later. The style reflects Medina architectural style, which is simple and reserved. Black, white and red colors are used for the decoration of courtyard.

Another Mosque built approximately at the same time is Al-Aqsa Mosque build on the Temple Mount. In the Masjid al-Nabawi temple there is a big courtyard. This big courtyard became a common feature of all mosques, which were built since then. In this mosque a three-step pulpit was build. It was used by Muhammad to give his sermons. This pulpit was later called minbar and also became a common feature for all mosques since then. The Masjid al-Nabawi mosque was founded only several days after the Quba one. The Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, the Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina and Al Aqsa in Jerusalem are three the holiest places in Islam.

Muslim art ahs very strong traditions. At the same time Muslim Arabs, who conquered the part of Asia, North Africa and Europe in the late 7th and 8th centuries borrowed some ideas from art and design from the countries they conquered. This way the elements of Byzantine, Persian and Coptic art enter Islamic art. This mixture of arts greatly contributed to the Arabian art. It gave birth to the Arabian distinctive decorative art style based on calligraphy. The main purpose of Arab art was to bring an idea about wisdom, power and glory of God to all people. Islamic doctrine had major impact on all spheres of life and it controlled art and culture.

Islamic empire grew in size and became mighty and its art and architecture became expressed in the religions buildings. In contrast to the first mosques, which were built in the form of simple square, later building included complicated architectural elements and design patterns.

In the region of Mediterranean sea the mosques follow so called “open plan” architectural pattern. This means that there is a courtyard situated in the centre of each mosque. Most of the mosques also include roofed arcades. Some time after the foundation of first mosque first minarets appeared. These towers had a practical meaning ”“ they were used to call people for prayers. The great Mosque of Kairouan built ain the 7th century and the Great Mosques of Madascus built early in the 8th century are built in this open plan pattern.

In Central Asian and Iran Sassanid architecture had an influence on the design and architecture of mosques built there. In these mosques four hallways led from the courtyards. In the mosques of this type minaret is often build from the ground, but not as part of the main building.

Traditions and rites had a great influence on the architectural patterns and decorative art of Islam. The term Hajj or pilgrimage to Makkah is literary translated like a travel. The word travel here used in two meanings. First of all it means physical travel to the sacred places but it also means a spiritual journey towards God. Hajj is an obligation of every adult Muslim man or woman. They all must come to Makkah at least one time during their lives. The metaphorical sense of the journey is an attempt to annihilate ago and join God. People, who don’t have money for travel, can be freed from it but usually religious people spend several years saving the money for this travel to Kabah, the House of God.  Description given in Quran depicts Kabah as a real monument to Allah and all those, who believe in him. “The Qur’an (3:96) does not exaggerate [it] when it says that this is the oldest House in the World dedicated by mankind to God and to the cult of monotheism.” (Hamidullah, 185) Not only the beauty of the edifice makes people stunned. Great history and legends, which stand behind it, make people charmed by its greatness. “ If one were to think only of Abraham – who according to the Islamic tradition, was but the restorer of the edifice erected originally by Adam – it would still be older than the temple of Jerusalem, constructed by Solomon. No other place of worship older than the Ka’bah of Mecca, is known to be still functioning.” (Hamidullah, 185)

Very soon Mosque became not only religious, but also social and political center of the place where it was situated.

The mosque became an arena for public actions and cultural center for many people.

Arabic art is usually regarded as non-figurative art. It rarely represents people. Art in Islam is regarded as an act of devotion and each work of art helps both- an artists and spectators to approach God. Geometric design is one of the main pattern used in Islamic art. Repetitions and complex design structures are used in order to pass an idea of infinity. Geometric figures, which create an effect of constant repetition are aimed to pass an idea about the infinity of God. Geometric design is a peculiar characteristic of all Islamic art but it became especially widespread in religions design. These elements can be often met in the decoration of the mosques of the 7th 8th centuries. The star is another popular element of Islamic design. The star has a regular geometric shape. This symbol is used is order to underline the shining of radiation, which is spread in all directions. Stars can have different number of points but all of them are created by the division of circle into equal parts.

Decoration of the mosques became a combination of different techniques. Craftsmen used carving, inlay, tile and painting for decoration of the walls and the floor.

Textiles of Arabian mosques include silk brocades, carpets and weavings. They are used for wall and floor coverings. Rugs for prayer became separate objects of art. All pictures created on these rugs have a deep spiritual message and combine beautiful forms with rich symbolism. This combination is a peculiar feature of all Arabic art. The most common picture on the rugs is a combination of marks, which shows the way to the holy city of Mecca. This must serve as a reminder not only about the necessary pilgrimage but also about inner transformation and ways to God, which must become a true sense of life of each religions person.

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