Architecture Around the World

Islamic style/ Muslim style



Examples on Buffalo Architecture and History Website

Islamic Style Dictionary

History: Islamic/Muslim style

The architecture of the peoples of Islamic faith, also called Mohammedan, which from the 7th century onward expanded throughout the Mediterranean world and as far as India and China, producing a variety of great regional works and local decorative styles.

Moorish: Style of architecture used in Spain from the 13th to 16th century

Mudéjar: A fusion of Christian (Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance) and Islamic art created in the 12th to 16th centuries by the Muslims who remained in Christian territory after the gradual Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).

History: Islamic style

The architecture of the peoples of Islamic faith, also called Mohammedan, which from the 7th century onward expanded throughout the Mediterranean world and as far as India and China, producing a variety of great regional works and local decorative styles.

It is characterized by domes, horseshoe and round arches, tunnel vaults and rich ornaments, geometric because of the ban on human and animal representation.p. 306

A new building type was developed from the Christian basilica -  the multi-aisled, arcaded, columnar, or pillared mosque; a new type of domed mosque, tomb, or madrasah from the vaulted, centrally organized Byzantine and Sassanian structures.

Uses many variations of basic architectural elements:
pointed, horseshoe, "Persian," multifoil, and interlacing arches;

bulbous, ribbed, conical, and melon

tunnel, cross-rib, and stalactite vaults;

a wide variety of crenelations.

Surfaces are covered by abundant geometric, floral and calligraphic decorations executed in stone, brick, stucco, wood and glazed tile.
- "Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture," Ed. by Cyril M. Harris. Dover Pub. 1977, pages 306  and 367.

History: Islamic Architecture

What today is known as Islamic architecture owes its origin to similar structures already existing in Roman, Byzantine and Persian lands which the Muslims conquered in the 7th and 8th centuries.

The principal Islamic architectural types are: the Mosque, the Tomb, the Palace and the Fort.

Specifically recognizable Islamic architectural style emerged soon after Muhammad's time, inspired by the former Sassanid and Byzantine models.

The horseshoe arch became a popular feature in Islamic structures. Some suggest the Muslims acquired this from the Visigoths in Spain but they may have obtained it from Syria and Persia where the horseshoe arch had been in use by the Byzantines as early as the 5th century.

- Wikipedia (online August 2013)

Digitized by the Smithsonian Institute.

This is a book by the Cutting and Delaney firm of buffalo, a large and important influence in the Orientalism movement the late 19th century.

(Special thanks to Paul Tucker for the alert on this.)

- Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Tenth Edition, by Richard G. Tansey and Fred S. Kleiner. Harcourt Brace College Pub. 1996, p. 320.

Examples on Buffalo Architecture and History Website:

Islamic Style - Dictionary 

Striped layers of stone. This technique is a feature of Islamic architecture. The ablaq decorative technique is a derivative from the ancient Byzantine Empire, whose architecture used alternate sequential runs of light colored ashlar stone and darker colored orange brick.

Ablution/ Wudu/Wudhu
Before entering the mosque to pray, believers must recite prayers while washing the following, three times each, in order: hands, mouth, nose, face, arms. Wash the following only once, in order:  hair, feet and ankles.

Arcaded courtyard


Private houses.


  • Small windows covered with wooden screens
  • Large airy rooms
  • Shady arcades and fountains
  • Partitioned into separate male and female zones

Wood; carved with intricate geometric patterns and then painted in rich colors
Crescent moon

The crescent moon and star is an internationally-recognized symbol of the faith of Islam.

The city of Byzantium (later known as Constantinople and Istanbul) adopted the crescent moon as its symbol. According to some reports, they chose it in honor of the goddess Diana.

It wasn't until the Ottoman Empire that the crescent moon and star became affiliated with the Muslim world. When the Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, they adopted the city's existing flag and symbol.

For hundreds of years, the Ottoman Empire
ruled over the Muslim world. After centuries of battle with Christian Europe, it is understandable how the symbols of this empire became linked in people's minds with the faith of Islam as a whole.

Based on this history, many Muslims reject using the crescent moon as a symbol of Islam. The faith of Islam has historically had no symbol, and many refuse to accept what is essentially an ancient pagan icon. It is certainly not in uniform use among Muslims.

Hoever, it should be noted that the crescent was not a symbol used for Islam by Mohammed or any other early Muslim rulers, as the Islamic religion is, in fact, against appointing "Holy Symbols" so that during the early centuries of Islam, Muslim authorities simply didn't want any geometric symbol
s to be used to symbolize Islam. Despite this mixed history, many Islamic nations and charities use the crescent symbol on their flags or logos

Crescent-shaped finial - found on many Egyptian mosques


The pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim is required to make at least once in his life, provided he has enough money and the health to do so -  the fifth of the Pillars of Islam.

By tradition the pilgrimage is undertaken between the 7th and 12th days of the last month of the Islamic year. At Mecca, the pilgrims are obliged to perform several rituals, including walking seven times around the Ka'bah shrine. They must also visit holy places outside Mecca and sacrifice an animal in honor of Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac. In conclusion, they return to Mecca and perform a farewell circling of the shrine.
Horseshoe arch
1. the prayer leader of a mosque
2. a Muslim leader of the line of Ali held by Shiites to be the divinely appointed, sinless, infallible successors of Muhammad
3. any of various rulers that claim descent from Muhammad and exercise spiritual and temporal leadership over a Muslim region

"Head of the Muslim community. In Sunnite Islam the imam was identical with the caliph, designating the political successor of Muhammad. The Sunnites held the imam to be a man capable of error but deserving obedience provided he maintained the ordinances of Islam. In Shi'ite Islam the imam became a figure of absolute religious authority, possessed of unique insights into the Qur'an and divinely appointed and preserved from sin. With the historical disappearance of the last imam, there arose a belief in the hidden imam, who is identified with the mahdi.

"The term imam is also given to Muslims who lead prayers in mosques and has been used as an honorary title." - Concise Encyclopedia (online Dec. 2014)

Screens that allow women to look out without being seen



  • Crescent moon finial
  • Decorative lattice paneling
  • Pillars or stele
  • Columns
Mihrab (MEE rub)

A niche in the wall of a mosque or a room in the mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca.

A design in the shape of niche in a Muslim prayer rug; during worship the niche must be pointed toward Mecca


A tall slender tower attached to a mosque, having one or more projecting balconies from which a muezzin summons the people to prayer.

"A minaret (, meaning "lighthouse" in Arabic) is a distinctive architectural feature of mosques, generally a tall spire with an onion-shaped or conical crown, usually either free standing or taller than associated support structure. The basic form of a minaret includes a base, shaft, and gallery. The gallery is a balcony which encircles the upper sections from which the muezzin may give the call to prayer. It is covered by a roof-like canopy and adorned with ornamentation, such as decorative brick and tile work, cornices, arches and inscriptions.

"In addition to providing a visual cue to a Muslim community, the main function of the minaret is to provide a vantage point from which the call to prayer, or adhan, is made. The call to prayer is issued five times each day: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. In most modern mosques, the adhan is called from the musallah, or prayer hall, via microphone to a speaker system on the minaret. Minarets also function as air conditioning mechanisms: as the sun heats the dome, air is drawn in through open windows then up and out of the minaret, thereby providing ventilation." - Wikipedia: Minaret (online Dec. 2014)

"Minaret,  (Arabic: “beacon”), in Islāmic religious architecture, the tower from which the faithful are called to prayer five times each day by a muezzin, or crier. Such a tower is always connected with a mosque and has one or more balconies or open galleries. At the time of the Prophet Muḥammad, the call to prayer was made from the highest roof in the vicinity of the mosque. The earliest minarets were former Greek watchtowers and the towers of Christian churches." - Encyclopaedia Brttannica: Minaret (online Dec. 2014)

In Islam, the pulpit from which the sermon (khutbah) is delivered.

In its simplest form the minbar is a platform with three steps; often it is constructed as a domed box at the top of a staircase and is reached through a doorway that can be closed

"Mocárabe is a design utilizing series of complex prism shapes that resembles stalactites (below).  It is usually made of plaster and wood, since using stone and other materials are impractical, though not uncommon. They are also usually painted. It is applied to friezes, vaults, windows, arches, and columns. The finest example would be in Alhambra, Spain, where it is used extensively all throughout the complex.  ....   It is said that Mocárabes are a symbolic representation of  the cave where prophet Muhammad received his revelation, hence the cavernous look these feature represent. "  - Stars in Symmetry  (online August 2013)
Moors, Moorish

Moors: Muslim of the mixed Berber and Arab people inhabiting NW Africa; a member of this group that invaded Spain in the 8th century a.d. and occupied it until 1492.

Moorish: denoting the style of architecture used in Spain from the 13th to 16th century, characterized by the horseshoe arch


A Muslim place of worship, usually having one or more minarets and often decorated with elaborate tracery and texts from the Koran.

Many mosques have elaborate domes, minarets, and prayer halls.
Muezzin (moo EZ in)

The Muslim official of a mosque who summons the faithful to prayer from a minaret five times a day
Ottoman Empire

1299-1923 (It was succeeded by the Republic of Turkey.)

The Ottoman Empire was the last of a series of Turkish Muslim empires. It spread from Asia minor beginning about 1300, eventually encompassing most of the Middle East, most of North Africa, and parts of Europe, including modern Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Rumania and Yugoslavia.

In the Middle East, the Ottomans ruled Syria, Palestine, Egypt, parts of Arabia and Iraq. Only Persia (Iran) and the Eastern part of the Arabian peninsula remained free of Ottoman rule.

Constantinople (Istanbul) was its capital city.
Prayer hall
"The prayer hall, also known as the musallah, rarely has furniture; chairs and pews are generally absent from the prayer hall so as to allow as many worshipers as possible to line the room. Some mosques have Islamic calligraphy and Quranic verses on the walls to assist worshippers in focusing on the beauty of Islam and its holiest book, the Quran [Koran], as well as for decoration." - Wikipedia   (online Dec. 2014)

Reception room

Sumptuous centerpiece of wealthy merchants' houses
Rooftop wind catchers

Channel cool breezes into rooms below.

A deposit, usually of calcium carbonate, shaped like an icicle, hanging from the roof of a cave or the like, and formed by the dripping of percolating calcareous water.

Mocárabe, Honeycomb work, or stalactite

Arabic: "the overhang"

An ornamental design used in certain types of Islamic architecture that spread throughout the Islamic world in the 12th century. The design consists of a complex array of vertical prisms resembling stalactites.

Mocárabe was used on friezes, vaults, windows, arches, and columns. The Nasrid dynasty of Granada used mocárabe extensively in the Alhambra around the capitals of its columns thereby making a new order of column.

Mocárabe was constructed in a variety of materials including wood and plaster. Under the Nasrid, mocárabe was originally carved into its medium. Later on, moulds were made to cast the designs with clay or plaster.

Symbolism: The stalactite design may be a symbolic representation of the cave where Mohammed received the Koran. According to Muslim tradition the prophet Mohammad received his inspiration for the Koran directly from the Archangel Gabriel in the famous cave at Hira, where he had sought refuge while fleeing from his enemies. It has been an important place of pilgrimage for all Muslims on their journey to Mecca some 30 km away. In celebration of this event stalactites became an essential  element, imbued with religious connotations.

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