The development of Islamic architecture covers buildings in all the different areas Islam spread to. That area is extremely wide, causing Islamic architecture to vary according to cultural, traditional and local characteristics. But the Islamic style characteristics that are always recurring include calligraphy, Kufic inscriptions (an early Arabic script) and arabesque. Arabesque is a term denoting stylized geometric and decorative elements, mainly depicting plants and flowers. For Muslims, the endless pattern of arabesque is a symbol of the unity of God’s creation.
The first building Muslims built upon arrival in Medina after the Hijra (‘migration’ from Mecca to Medina) was the mosque. The first mosque (masjid in Arabic) was the home of the prophet Muhammad. This structure represents the single most important model for later buildings, since the main spatial layout was defined in it. This example would particularly influence so called Kufi mosques from the period of Ommayad and Abbasid dynasties.
Architectural features of the mosque are domes, minarets, portals, pointed arches and courtyards. Virtually every mosque has a small alcove, called the mihrab, which indicates the prayer direction (qibla), namely, to Mecca. In addition, the minbar (pulpit), the maksaru (fenced area for the caliph or his representative) and the basin for ritual ablutions belong to the layout of a mosque. The mosque spontaneously became the heart of a town, in which decisions were made, which was important for the survival of the first Muslim community in Medina.
Islamic architecture inherited its initial inspiration from the ancient Eastern structures which spread in the desert areas of Arabia, Iraq and Iran, and from traditions of the old Sumerian Empire and their architecture of fortifications. Islamic architecture also drew inspiration from Greek, Roman and Byzantine buildings, identified by the use of columns, domes and capitals.
The Songjiang Mosque
Redouan Tijani, one of our regular photographers, visited the oldest mosque in Shanghai, the Songjiang Mosque during his stay in China. The Songjiang Mosque, located in the Songjiang District, is the oldest mosque of Shanghai. It was first established during the Zhizheng era (1341-1368) of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Later, the mosque underwent many renovations. However, the mosque still retains some of the architectural styles of the Yuan and Ming dynasties.
The mosque used to be surrounded by a Muslim cemetery. It combines the Arabian columns and vault with the Chinese architectural style of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The main buildings include the main hall, the prayer niche, a corridor, two sermon halls, a minbar and a room for ablutions. The prayer niche and the minbar are the characteristic features of the mosque. Four styles from different dynasties are preserved in the mosque.
On August 26, 1908, the Shanghai municipality listed the Songjiang Mosque as a cultural heritage site under special protection. In 1985, the mosque was completely renovated, followed by its reopening to the public in 1989.
A photo report by Redouan Tijani:
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