All that God requires is that a place of worship should be set aside, that it should be a sanctuary, and that the direction of prayer should be indicated in some way: "And now verily We shall make thee turn (in prayer) towards a qibla (direction of prayer) which is dear to thee. So turn they face toward the masjid al-haram (Mecca) and ye (O Muslims), wheresoever ye may be, turn your faces (when ye pray) toward it." (Sura II, 144)
It should be noted that no mention is made of a building, but every Muslim--both female and male--who has attained majority is bound to observe the five daily salat prayers: dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset, and late evening. In addition, Friday is the weekly day of communal worship (at midday) and incumbent on all adult male Muslims. Finally, salats are performed on the two Eids annually, one at the end of Ramadan, the other after the Haj.
The first mosque was the house of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. This was a simple rectangular enclosure containing rooms for the Prophet and his wives and a shaded area on the south side of the courtyard which could be used for prayer in the direction of Mecca.
This building became the model for subsequent mosques which had the same basic courtyard layout with a prayer area against the qibla wall. An early development of this basic plan was the provision of shade on other three sides of the courtyard. The roofs were supported by columns made of wood.
Several features which were later to become standard features of the mosques were introduced at an early stage. The first is the minbar, or pulpit, which was used by Prophet Muhammad to give sermons; second is a prayer niche called mihrab in the qibla wall. The minaret, a tower-like structure--the most conspicuous feature of a mosque in many Muslim societies--has the least liturgical significance. Its purpose of calling the faithful to prayer is now redundant with the advent of electrical public address systems. Like the minaret, the domed mosque is also a later innovation. Thus the primary feature of a mosque is a qibla wall facing Mecca.
In the United States, unlike long established Muslim societies, a majority of the mosques are housed in buildings originally constructed for other purposes. Thus we have abandoned churches, Masonic lodges, fire stations, funeral homes, theaters, and warehouses converted into mosques. My survey a couple years ago showed that of the nearly 2,000 mosques, little more than 100 were built as mosques to begin with.
Initially, the lack of funds prevented believers from constructing mosques designed by architects, due to the poverty of struggling immigrant and African-American Muslims. A number of crudely designed buildings emerged as mosques in Highland Park, MI(1919), Michigan City, IN (1924), Cedar Rapids, IA (1925), Ross, ND (1926), Quincy, MA, (1930), and Sacramento, CA (1941).
Many of these mosques were named "cultural centers" of the ethno-national population that built it, exemplified by Albanian Cultural Center, Arab Banner Society, Indian/Pakistani Muslim Association, and the like. Many of these buildings had a hall for prayer, but also served as ethnic clubs complete with a social hall for weddings, a ballroom dance floor, even a basement for bingo.
Although historically the mosque experienced 14 centuries of stylistic development, it is certainly an architectural novelty in the United States. The thematic and visual characteristics of mosque architecture in America must confront an alien environment, one that has its own deeply embedded historical and visual vocabulary. The response, then, of the architectural characteristics of the American mosques to its context is one of tension.
The stylistic features of mosques built since the late 1950s in America vary considerably. However, it is possible to identify three basic themes which prevail in the aesthetic content of the buildings.
· traditional design transplanted from Islamic lands, e.g. the Islamic Cultural Center of Washington, DC, designed by Abdur Rahman Rossi, an Italian convert to Islam and built in 1957;
· reinterpretation of historical prototypes, e.g. Islamic Cultural Center of Manhattan, NY designed by Michael McCarthy of Skidmore, Owing and Merrril and built in 1991; · and finally, the innovative, unprecedented mosques exemplified by the cases of Islamic Society of North America mosque in Plainfield, IN, designed by Syed Gulzar Haidar and Muhammad Mukhtar Khalil and built in 1981; and theAlbuquerque, NM mosque designed by Bart Prince and built in 1986.
Functionally, there are also some distinct characteristics. For example, most of the buildings do not operate strictly as places of worship alone, but rather as places of public gathering.Therefore, many are called Islamic >centers. Their programmatic organization logically contains such facilities that allow a variety of usage: Islamic school on the weekend, library, conference center, bookshop, kitchen and social function hall, recreation facilities, residential apartments, and sometimes even a funeral home.
Since the American Muslim family is usually nuclear, the entire family Turns out for worship, necessitating separate space for women, usually a mezzanine level. Although women have never been barred from a mosque, lack of separate space prevented most women from going to the mosques in Islamic societies. However, in the American context, more and more women are taking their rightful place in the mosque along with their brothers, sons, and husbands.