The Mosque Between the Past, Present, and its Function Beyond a Religious Space
The mosque; the Islamic holy place of prayer, carries a distinct structural characteristic and identity. It is a serene and spiritual architecture that brings individuals closer to their faith and divine entity. Prophet Muhammad’s original house in Medina (in present-day Saudi Arabia) is believed to be the first place of prayer, and served as a model for early mosque architecture; a mud-brick structure with living quarters on one side of an enclosed rectangular courtyard. Soon after, the allocation of open spaces in the center of towns where Muslims could gather and pray became more frequent, resulting in several spaces of worship with a universal spatial characteristic: their orientation towards Mecca.
The design process of the mosque started with a single enclosed geometric form, reinforcing the idea of spirituality and seclusion. Soon after, this simple spatial prototype evolved into the first formal hypostyle mosque, known for its vast prayer hall and series or arcades. Variations of this model saw the first mosque in Medina, known as the Quba Mosque (622 CE), the Kairouan Mosque in Tunis (670 CE), and the Umayyad mosque in Damascus (715 CE), some of which incorporated column details from ancient Greek and Roman architecture. However, the role of mosques evolved throughout the years from just a place of worship to an architecture that helps in re-establishing the values of Islam and offers contributions to society, including educational, civic, and ceremonial.