The Minaret

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By: Eng. Mazen Tayara

The rapid spread of Islam in the neighboring Arab countries to  the Arabian peninsula has created new challenges for the caliphs and governors. One of these challenges was how to inform the people to prayer.  This is because calling for prayer was done by the ascendance of the muezzin to the foot of the mountain next to the city, or by boarding the roof of the mosque. Besides, the houses were not very high in a way that impedes the voice of the muezzin.


When Islam was first introduced to the Levant, Iraq and Egypt, Muslims needed due to the lack of high places to the construct minarets. Minarets in this case were built next to mosques where the muezzin ascends to inform people for prayer.

Who invented the minaret?
Although there is a disagreement on the construction of the first minaret, historians agreed on its reference to the Umayyad period. Al-Balazeri mentioned in his book "Fattouh Al-Buldan" that the first minaret was built at the time  of "Ziad bin Abeh" representative of "Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan" in the city of Basra in 45 AH (665 AD). On the other hand, "Maqrizi" notedthat the four silos of the Mosque of Amr ibn al-Aas that were built by the governor of Egypt, "Muslim bin Mukhled" in the time of the Umayyad Caliphate in 53 AH (672 AD) was the first in the minarets of Islam.

Some architects and archaeologists stated that the first minarets, appeared in the mosque of Damascus in 705 AD during the reign of the Umayyad caliph Walid I. The most ancient ruins indicating the presence of a building with such a description were found in the city of "Busra" south of Damascus. Around a basalt rock, archaeologists discovered an  Arabic script that read "In the name of God the Merciful. Servant of God Yazid, commander of the faithful, ordered the construction of this mosque and the establishment of this minaret. Built by al-Harith in 102 AD, was written by al-Harith."

They added that since 724 AD, the Umayyad caliph, Yazid al-Thani ordered that a tower that surpasses the hight of the mosque is  to be added to it. Then, between 724 AD and 727 AD,  the Umayyad caliph, "Hisham bin Abdul Malik," gave the order to build the famous minaret which is located in the city of Kairouan - currently Tunisia. Other archaeologists state that the first minaret date  back to the ninth century AD in the reign of the Caliph "Zyada Allah I".

The Minaret's Architecture:

architecturally speaking, the minaret is composed of  the entrance which is inside a courtyard, and an ascending spiral staircase which often revolves around the axis of the minaret so that the muezzin rotates calling for prayer in all directions. The minaret also contains a part called "Jawsaq" topped by the dome of the minaret which ends with a crescent that its opening tends toward Mecca.

The heights, the sizes and the architectural design of minarets varied over time, there has been square minarets, cylindrical and polygonal ones. The oldest of these designs are the  four  minarets that Damascus was famed for. Later, it was  brought to Europe by those who survived after the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate in Andalusia (Spain now). The four square minarets include several floors with rooms surrounded by overlapping windows. One of  the most prominent mosques which its minaret has this square design is Koutoubia mosque in Marrakesh, which was built back in the 12th century.

The cylindrical minarets appeared in the 11th century by the Seljuks in Iran and Turkistan then moved to India, and was known in Anatolia. Among the most prominent of these cylindrical minarets are the 6 minarets of the blue mosque in Istanbul.
Some of  the cylindrical minarets takes the shape of a polygon, others are topped by high conical roofs. This architectural design of minarets was known in Iran, Afghanistan, "Samarkand" Uzbekistan, and in Cairo. The most famous minaret was Qutb Manar in Delhi.

Historical developments of the forms of minarets:
Muslim historians agree on that the early mosques that were built in the Arabian Peninsula and other cities to which Islam entered were without minarets. and that the  first to add a minaret to a mosque in Islam was  probably Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, in the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus-Sham. After that the minarets was distinguished in the era of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus as well as other Muslim countries.

The minarets were towers which their horizontal projection was square. The former picture shows what is being said as the first minaret in Islam which is the Minaret of the Bride at the Umayyad Mosque or Minaret of Jesus.
Abbasid: minarets became rounded and new forms had emerged such as the Mallwieh Minaret in  Samarra.
the Mallwieh Minaret in  Samrra
Some minarets were constructed several layers each of which differ in design from the others. The  most famous examples of such a minaret is the one in  Ibn Tulun mosque in Cairo, which consists of the first of three layers;  square (the base), cylindrical and and a hexagon.
Fatimid: Minarets are high and end in onion-shaped dome such as Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo.
Mamluk: high minarets do not have a distinct base, but set on the balconies such as the ones in the Mosque of Sultan Hassan.
Mongol: minarets are towering with large diameter that decrease gradually. The picture shows a mosque in Asfaham
Mongols in India: and minarets were large and high. They also characterized by  more than one story and floral designs such as Qu'at al-Islam mosque in Delhi and, in advanced stages, Zaartaj Mahal with its high white minaret that is slightly slanted to the outside
Ottomans: graceful minarets with a high pointed-end as in the Souleimanieh mosque in Damascus.
Almoravids and Almohads: one tower-like minaret which prevailed in the Islamic Maghreb.  In the image is how the minaret of the Great Mosque of Algeria will look like when it opens in 2014. The minaret if king Hassan II Mosque will become the tallest minaret in the Islamic world.

The tallest minaret is the one of  Al-Hassan II Mosque in Morocco (210 m), followed by the minaret of al-Fateh mosque in Cairo (130 m). Next is the minaret of the second expansion of the mosque of Prophet Mohammad in Medina (105 m), followed by the minarets of the holy Grand Mosque in Mecca 92 m. the mosque with the greatest nmber of minarets is the Prophet's Mosque with ten minarets. Next, is the holy Grand Mosque in Mecca, which has nine, followed by the Blue Mosque in Istanbul with six minarets.
Cairo was famous for its number of minarets and was known as the city of thousand minarets.

Other Functions of the Minarets
the function of the minaret was not only for calling for prayers, but also for broadcasting the  orders to the rulers and for announcing death. The coastal minarets were also used as beacons to guide ships. Moreover, the construction of the minaret requires and the parallel of its sides with the four directions to refer to the Qiblah. Historians reported that a light was issued in the Bride minaret in the Umayyad Mosque at the time for prayer so that the other  muezzins know the time of prayer.

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