Global places of prayer: 12 must-see mosques

Al Haram Mosque in Mecca, Al Nabawi Mosque in Medina, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad are oft-mentioned, must-see monuments on travel lists. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque had 3.3 million visitors in 2014, 2.3 million of whom were tourists from all over the world. […]

Al Haram Mosque in Mecca, Al Nabawi Mosque in Medina, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad are oft-mentioned, must-see monuments on travel lists. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque had 3.3 million visitors in 2014, 2.3 million of whom were tourists from all over the world. Thousands of worshippers are expected to visit the Abu Dhabi mosque during Eid Al Fitr, but for those travelling abroad during this time, some of the most outstanding mosques can be found in non-Muslim countries. Here’s Panna Munyal’s list of the 12 must-­visit mosques in non-Muslim countries around the world.


1. La Grande Mosquée de Paris

Paris, France

Timeline: The Hispano-­Moresque building was constructed between 1922 and 1926, in Paris’s Latin Quarter. It represented a token of gratitude to the Muslim soldiers who fought against Germany in the First World War. During the Second World War, it served as a refuge centre. The mosque was assigned to Algeria in 1957.

Trivia: Dominated by a 33-­metre-high minaret, the mosque is surrounded by sculpted arcades, a throw to the Alhambra in ­Granada, Spain. The property also houses a hammam, tea room and souq.



2. Sultan Mosque

Rochor, Singapore

Timeline: Built by Sultan ­Hussain Shah in 1826, the original structure was a simple brick building with a two-tier ­pyramidal roof. The mosque was torn down in 1924 and rebuilt featuring Saracenic-style architecture. It was gazetted as a national monument in 1975, and an annex building was added in 1993. Year-long restorations were started in August 2014, and Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled a plaque in the main building to mark its completion in ­January.

Trivia: The mosque serves the Malay-­Muslim community in Singapore. It’s dominated by golden domes, which were repainted last year, and also features two lifts to serve older worshippers.


3. Great Mosque of Xi’an

Xi’an, China

Timeline: According to a stone tablet within the building, this mosque was built in 742, when Arab merchants introduced ­Islam to the rulers of the Tang dynasty. It was renovated during the reign of Emperor Hongwu of the Ming dynasty in the late 14th century, and extended to its current 12,000 square metres during the Qing dynasty.

Trivia: The structure is best known for its hybrid design – a combination of graceful upwards-sloping roofs, multiple pavilions and carvings from the Ming and Qing dynasties, along with ornate Arabic art and calligraphy, and glazed tiles, which are more in keeping with Islamic architecture.


4. Jamia Mosque

Nairobi, Kenya

Timeline: This mosque was constructed between 1902 and 1906 by Syed Maulana Abdullah Shah, and has since been extended. Last year, 200 solar panels were installed on the roof.

Trivia: Situated in the heart of Nairobi’s Central Business ­District, the mosque stands out for its trio of silver domes and twin minarets. It’s constructed in classic Arabic architectural style, with extensive marble and Quranic inscriptions. A row of shops, including a clinic and pharmacy, contributes to its ­upkeep.


5. Schwetzingen Mosque

Schwetzingen, Germany

Timeline: Germany’s first mosque was built in 1780 by French architect Nicolas de ­Pigage for Charles Theodore, the prince-elector of Bavaria. Although it was not used for prayer when it first opened, the mosque is now restored and regularly hosts religious events and gatherings.

Trivia: Located in Schwetzingen Castle, the structure is the only 18th-century garden mosque still in existence in Europe. The mosque has two minarets, one dome and its own garden. Within, calligraphy is represented in both Arabic and German. The best time to visit is in March, when the cherry-blossom trees are in full bloom.


6. Baitun Nur Mosque

Calgary, Canada

Timeline: This 48,000-square-foot structure’s cornerstone was laid in 2005. Built by the Ahmadiyya ­Muslim Community in East Calgary, the mosque had its grand opening in 2008, which was attended by ­Canada’s then-prime minister Stephen ­Harper, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Calgary and Mirza ­Masroor ­Ahmad, the supreme head of the international ­Ahmadiyya ­Muslim Community.

Trivia: The ­Baitun Nur Mosque (­Arabic for “House of Light”) conducts various events every year, including Canada Day celebrations, and talks and seminars. It’s the largest mosque in Canada, and stands 30 metres tall, with a steel-capped minaret and steel dome. The interior is dominated by a 400-kilogram chandelier. The 4,500-square-metre complex also includes classrooms, a children’s area and a community centre.


7. Tokyo Camii

Tokyo, Japan

Timeline: After the October ­Revolution of 1917 in Russia, numerous Kazan Turks and ­Bashkir and Tatar immigrants moved to Tokyo. The mosque was built in 1938, but had to be demolished in 1986 because of severe structural damage. It reopened in 2000, and is currently the largest mosque in Japan.

Trivia: The Turkish word “camii” is derived from Arabic jami, which refers to a congregational mosque, primarily used for the Friday prayer. The ornamentation of the modern structure is based on Ottoman architecture – complete with stained-glass windows, Arabic calligraphy, Turkish marble and mosaic elements.


8. St Petersburg Mosque

St Petersburg, Russia

Timeline: The Blue Mosque of Russia was built between 1910 and 1920. In 1924, the communist regime took over the land, and the mosque only reopened for prayer in 1956 during a visit from the Indonesian president. The structure was saved from demolition in the 1980s, and was refurbished in 2003.

Trivia: Known for its turquoise, azure and sky-blue mosaic tiles, the mosque is now a popular worship and tourist spot, located opposite the Peter and Paul Fortress in the city centre. It was built under the sanction of Tsar Nicholas II in honour of Abdul Ahad Khan, the Emir of Bukhara.


9. London Central Mosque

London, United Kingdom

Timeline: The cornerstone of the mosque was laid during the Second World War, when the Churchill war cabinet allocated £100,000 to the substantial ­Muslim population of the British Empire. While the culture centre that contains the mosque was opened in 1944 by King George VI, the prayer rooms were designed after an international competition in 1969, and completed in 1977.

Trivia: Sitting on a prime plot in Regent’s Park, the mosque was designed by English architect Frederick Gibberd. Its standout features include a large golden dome and stout, 43-metre-high minaret.


10. Seoul Central Mosque

Seoul, South Korea

Timeline: Sitting on 5,000 square metres of prime land between the Han River and Namsan Mountain in Seoul’s international neighbourhood, this mosque opened in 1976. A third storey was added in 1990.

Trivia: The mosque is popular among the many Muslim expats working in Seoul. An adjoining Islamic Centre features a school and research institute. It’s the only mosque in the Seoul ­Capital Area, and its Islamic architecture – overarching minarets and violet mosaic tiles – renders the building unique in the city.


11. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid

Cotabato City, Philippines

Timeline: The Sultan of ­Brunei funded the construction of this mosque in 2011 to encourage the emerging Muslim population in the southern Philippines. The structure is currently co-maintained by the area’s Muslim and Christian ­inhabitants.

Trivia: At 5,000 square metres, this is the largest mosque in the Philippines, and can accommodate 1,200 worshippers. The minarets of the white-and-gold structure, which is located a few minutes from Awang Airport, are topped with lights to make them visible to pilots.

• Search on Facebook for “Grand Mosque of Cotabato”


12. Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Timeline: Built in 1909 by designer H L Saibo Lebbe, the structure is better known as the Red Mosque, owing to its distinctive white-and-­candy-coloured brickwork. Apart from regular renovations, a new 50,000-square-foot wing has been under construction since 2007 to make room for 10,000 worshippers, many of whom end up praying on the narrow street outside.

Trivia: The shape and colour of the domes were reportedly meant to emulate the pomegranate fruit, and the facade features a unique striped, checkered, jagged and spiral pattern. The two-storey mosque is designed in the Indo-Saracenic style, a colonial-era combination of ­Indo-Islamic, Gothic and ­Victorian architecture.

• Search on Facebook for “Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque”

Source: art & life

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