Saturday, February 09, 2008

Minarets - Arrows Pointing to Heaven

Masjid Sultan 2
Originally uploaded by LilMudPie
I have been thinking about minarets lately for some reason. It struck me at Masjid al-Istighfar at Pasir Ris there is a very tall minaret, which is purely decorative and does not serve any function. Ask most Muslims and they would surmise that the reason we still have minarets in mosques today is in order to identify them as such. That is why many people took issue with the minaretless design of some new mosques.

"Minaret" comes from the Arabic word for lighthouse. In some of the oldest mosques, such as the Great Mosque of Damascus, minarets originally served as watchtowers illuminated by torches (hence the derivation of the word from the Arabic nur, meaning "light").

To me, minarets serve the purpose of creating the visual impression of verticality, which is inherent in religious spirituality. When one approaches a building such the the Sultan Mosque (pictured) and sees all the "arrows" pointing up to the heavens, one cannot help but remember the Heavenly. Also, the large, imposing domes inside mosques serve the purpose of creating a focus on the ceiling of something large, spacious and encompassing above the small, cramped individual on the floor.

I had been reflecting quite a bit on buildings and spirituality for some time. When I went to London and Paris and went to the buildings built during the Christian era, I cannot help but be impressed by the spirituality that went into the design of these buildings. For example, even during the height of the Industrial Revolution, spritually inspired architects built gigantic monumental buildings that were the technological marvels of their day, but often deliberately left a row of unpolished and rough foundation stones so as to remind Man that the Almighty is the greatest builder and they are not out to compete with Him.

In Paris, my wife was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Church of the Sacred Heart and the Mosquee du Paris. She asked why dont we get buildings like this back at home?

Maybe our architects and engineers, so used to designing for function, have forgotten that religious building have a spiritual function besides the ritual function. Masjid al-Nahdah is a typical example of this. The mosque, I am sad to say, does not inspire me spiritually. There is something about Masjid Sultan which does. As does Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique.

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