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Meaning and Architecture in Islam Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 27th, 2021

Introduction

During the trip, it became evident that the architectural styles and general artistry reflected in the creation of churches and mosques, as seen in France, Italy, and Istanbul, are a direct reflection of how religious culture impacts the manner in which architecture and artistry are created. Before proceeding, it is important to note that studies such as those by Erzen (2011) present the notion that “artistic and architectural styles evident in the Christian and Muslim faiths are inherently influenced by the regional cultures from which they originated from” (p.125). For example, in the case of Barcelona, Spain we can saw examples of both mosques and churches which reflect both the Catholic heritage of the country as well as lingering influences from both Arab immigrants and remnants of Spain’s past when it was invaded in the past by Arabs. The architecture of the churches and mosques reflected the regional cultures from which they originated and were distinct from the architectural styles of Spanish buildings.

Examining Mosques

When examining the case of most mosques in Turkey, they generally have a large dome at the center with four seemingly ornamental towers being placed on either corner. While there are numerous iterations of such a design, namely in the form of multiple domes or tower structures, the same dome and tower motif continues to remain a prominent feature. However, such a motif is actually, as explained by Erzen “a manifestation of age old Arabic architectural design which was then incorporated into the creation of places of worship (i.e. mosques)” (Erzen, 125-131). The large dome, multiple open spaces, and large windows are an aspect of Islamic architecture that was originally meant to create a means of ventilation for structures as well as to dissipate heat. The same can be said for the towers that are seen in many of today’s mosques which originally acted as ventilation shafts bringing in cold air into the structure (Erzen, 125-131). While the conveniences of modern-day technology in the form of indoor air conditioners and electric fans have made such architectural features obsolete, they still continue to be a prominent aspect of mosque design.

Mahmood (2011) sheds some light on this apparent prominence for an obsolete design by explaining that “the design of mosques, despite the progress of technology, has come to be associated as a reflection of the Muslim faith” (p. 111). Despite their original purpose being for proper ventilation and heat dissipation prior to the 19th century, the tower design and subsequent increasing evolution of the domed structures became a focal point of present-day design and are considered as symbols of the Muslim faith in regards to proper places of worship (Mahmood, 110-122). However, it should be noted that the prominence of the domed structures and extensive use of minarets (i.e. the towers) was actually popularized after the 19th century. Prior to this period of time, places of worship for the Islamic faith often incorporated a variety of designs and structural elements with one of the most prominent being the use of large open spaces (Mahmood, 110-122). One of the most interesting aspects though of the mosques in regards to artistry was the general lack of extensive artwork found within the mosques themselves. As seen in many of today’s cathedrals and churches, most of the mosques seen during the trip had simple interiors with carpets for praying and relatively little in the way of artwork on the inside. Mahmood (2011) explains that this is actually “a reflection of the Islamic faith involving humbleness in front of Allah wherein being ostentatious is greatly frowned upon” (p. 120).

Examining Churches

On the opposite end of the spectrum, studies such as those by Agudo (2010) indicate that the architectural design of churches today are “both a reflection of the Catholic faith as well as a result of classic design elements” (p.11). First and foremost, when looking at the various churches that we visited while in Europe, while it was not immediately apparent to me, it turns out that the churches were designed and constructed into the rough shape of a cross. This in itself is a result of the veneration the Catholic faith has for Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for all of mankind which is thus reflected in the way in which his memory is honored in the places of worship for God (Agudo, 1-33).

It should also be noted that the buttresses and large front doors are seen in many of today’s churches are in fact holdovers from design elements from the Middle Ages wherein churches acted not only as places of worship but as sanctuaries from invasion as well. I have to admit that when visiting many of the various churches during the trip, I could feel that I was walking into a type of fortress given the large doors and a limited number of entrances. One of the main differences between mosques and churches can be seen in the sheer number of artistic representations within most churches in the form of stained glass windows, figures of saints as well as other forms of artistry (Crites, 391-413). One of the reasons behind this is due to differences in veneration wherein “the Muslim faith does not place as much importance on the veneration of minor religious figures while the Catholic faith states that praying to saints for help and guidance is perfectly acceptable” (Crites, 391-413).

Conclusion

Overall, what this paper has shown is that religion and culture at times impact the manner in which architecture is created and how artistry is manifested within such structures.

Works Cited

Agudo, María de Los Ángeles Utrero. “Late-Antique And Early Medieval Hispanic Churches And The Archaeology Of Architecture: Revisions And Reinterpretation Of Constructions, Chronologies And Contexts.” Medieval Archaeology 54.1 (2010): 1-33. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Crites, Danya. “Churches Made Fit For A King: Alfonso X And Meaning In The Religious Architecture Of Post-Conquest Seville.” Medieval Encounters 15.2-4 (2009): 391-413. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Erzen, Jale Nejdet. “Reading Mosques: Meaning And Architecture In Islam.” Journal Of Aesthetics & Art Criticism 69.1 (2011): 125-131. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Mahmood, Ashraf I. “The Effects Of Ottoman Mosques Architecture On The Mosul’s Mosques Architecture (An Analytical Study Of The Architectural Attributes And Elements). (English).” Al-Rafadain Engineering Journal 19.1 (2011): 110-122. Academic Search Premier. Web.

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