Mosques


The hope and expectation of a better, indeed, of a perfect eternal consciousness for those faithful and just Muslims whom at the Rasat Meydan -- Judgment Day -- Allah will redeem is a powerful animating idea in Islam.

    In places of religious devotion it is consequently of paramount symbolic importance for Muslims that the light of heaven -- where, after the Judgment Day, Allah and the revived Just will reside -- should stream down abundantly onto the assembled faithful, and achieving this visible "presence of heaven" under the rooves of mosques has correspondingly been a central ambition of their architects.

    The lofty, overarching space symbolic of the welkin in the greatest mosques has not therefore been achieved as in much of Christian church architecture with a single great dome, but rather with clusters of smaller semi-domes supporting a larger central one, all constructed as arches around innumberable windows to bear their combined weight outward onto the main walls of the structure without the buttresses so often resorted to in European Christian architecture. The elevation (above left) of the Sultan Ahmet Camii (the "Blue Mosque") in Istanbul and of the Yeni Camii ("New Mosque") on Istanbul's famous Golden Horn (below left) both well illustrate this architectural practice.

    To a Western eye, such façades may seem dourly unembellished, but to Muslim sensibilities it is the effect achieved inside such structures that is of foremost importance, and not their exteriors.

    Furthermore, where architects of Christian churches have tended to calculate and construct angles, Muslim architects of mosques have tended to calculate and construct curves, and the array of artful curvatures apparent in a great mosque is an embellishment highly valued in Muslim eyes.

    As if the bright light streaming in through its many tiers of windows were not enough, an enormous chandelier is also suspended over the floor of Istanbul's vast Sultan Ahmet Camii ("Blue Mosque," above) to keep it illuminated as brightly as possible at every hour of day and night. And everywhere within the mosque as well as out, straight lines beget curves, and curves cradle every straight line.

    (The mosque was built by the famous Ottoman architect Mehmed Aga during the years 1609-1616. Its size and elegance were deliberately designed to rival the nearby principal church of the previous Byzantine Empire, Hagia Sophia. The Ottoman Emperor Sultan Ahmet the First, who ordered the building of the enormous Blue Mosque with its associated school of theology and refuge for the poor, died the year after its completion and is memorially entombed in its northwest angle.)

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