Carol Hills: This week we've been bringing you stories about mosques here in the US, like the one in New Mexico that we mentioned yesterday built out of adobe. Which made us wonder - what should a mosque look like? Maryam Eskandari is an architect and founder of MIIM Designs. She's designed mosques here in the US and she gave me the basics on mosque architecture.
Maryam Eskandari: The foundation of the word, the root of the mosque, is masjid. Masjid ultimately comes from sajdah, which means to prostrate. So technically, the only criteria that a mosque should have - it should just be in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and that's where the grand mosque of all is. There's no architectural vocabulary that is essential for a mosque. There's actually a hadith â€” or a saying by the Prophet â€” in Islam that the whole Earth is a mosque. There's layers and layers of different meanings towards it but it means that anywhere, any place, any time, you are able to prostrate and do your prayers.
Hills: So it sounds like the only requirement is that when people pray, they are praying toward Mecca.
Hills: And what about the minaret and the dome? What's the idea behind them?
Eskandari: Often times right now we see that the definition of a mosque, the defining point is through Islamic architecture and often times people think that Islamic architecture means domes and minarets. Domes and minarets didn't essentially come from Islamic architecture, they're actually from different faiths. The dome is actually from the christian faith, so often times you see that in churches; churches were designed in dome-esque formation and the minaret actually comes from the root minar, which means in Arabic "A place of light or fire," which is from the Zoroastrian faith, so those two are actually borrowed architectural elements from different faiths.
Hills: What about the interior of mosques? What are some of the things that you commonly see?
Eskandari: It's kind of funny, I always refer this back to the worshipping space of the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia itself was a church, a mosque, a church, a mosque -
Hills: In Istanbul.
Eskandari: In Istanbul. It could be a church at one point and then a mosque at one point, how does it differentiate? Sometimes you don't really necessarily need a symbol or an icon or anything of that sort.
Hills: When I think of a mosque, I imagine tile and carpets. Is that fairly common in a mosque?
Eskandari: It varies from mosque to mosque. So you go to a mosque in the Middle East, often times in Turkey or Iran and you see tiles that often have floral ornaments on them. And carpets are the same thing; those are supposed to represent symbolism of a paradise. But let's say you go to a mosque in China or a mosque in Khartoum, Sudan, it's not going to have those elements.
Hills: Is there any difference between a Shia mosque and a Sunni mosque?
Eskandari: Oh my goodness, yes. So, often times in a Shia mosque, you'll walk in and you'll see that it has a lot of symbolism in it. So, again, the floral ornate that you - the tile work that you had mentioned earlier, that's one element. In Sunni mosques, usually they won't necessarily have that. They'll have Islamic calligraphy all around it. One of the biggest elements that differs between a Shia mosque and a Sunni mosque is that a Sunni mosque will have different entrances for men and women and a Sunni mosque will also have a different prayer space for men and women. Shia mosques have one entrance for everyone and one big prayer space for everyone.
Hills: What are the majority of mosque designs in the US, Shia or Sunni?
Hills: You're designing mosques in the US. How varied are the designs that you're doing?
Eskandari: Oh my gosh, they vary. For example, a mosque that we were consulting with in New Jersey varied compared to the one in Washington, D.C. I often encourage clients to step back, see what their community wants, see what their community needs. The most important basic element of a mosque is that it should be sustainable.
Hills: Do you mean in terms of materials used?
Eskandari: Materials used, having community gardens, recycling rainwater - those are the most important elements. Not the grand chandeliers and the Louis the Fourteenth gold leaves. Not those.
Hills: Maryam ESkandari is an architect and founder of MIIM Designs. Thanks for telling us about mosques and their architecture.
Eskandari: Thanks for having me, Carol.