Places of worship – Muslim

The following questions were asked by pupils. Click on each question to see the answer.

What is a Mosque and how is it used?

A mosque is a place where congregational prayer takes place. Muslims are by default allowed to pray on their own anywhere. However, in Islam it is highly recommended to pray together where an imam of the mosque leads the prayer. Whether there are 10 or 100 people it is just the leader of the prayer who recites the Qur’anic verses in the prayers.

What does the Islamic Mosque look like inside?

No representations of human or animal forms are permitted in the mosque; nothing is to be worshipped save God alone. Mosques tend to be plain in decoration so that nothing distracts from the worship of God. It is common to find verses of the Qur’an and the basic statement of faith: “There is no god save God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God,” in beautiful calligraphy around the inner walls of the mosque. Sometimes there might be geometrical pattern-work either painted or executed in ceramic tiles.

People sit on the floor except when they are engaged in salat so there will be no chairs, except perhaps for a few for those who have difficulty in sitting on the floor. Copies of the Qur’an are generally made available and stands for people to rest them on whilst reading. It is common to find some strings of beads (tasbih) for the use of those who wish to make repetitive prayers.
Washing facilities for men and women to perform wudu and toilets are located either within the mosque building itself or adjacent to it. Modern times have seen the introduction of access provision for disabled people and lifts to take them to the different floors. Facilities for babies and small children are to be found near the women’s quarters.

When a mosque is purpose-built, one wall will face directly towards the ka’ba; this is called the qibla wall. Mosques tend to be built rectangular in floorplan so that when people line up for prayer no space is wasted. The qibla was originally marked inside the mosque with a block of stone set into this wall. This developed into a niche built into the qibla wall, called the mihrab. From around the year 700 onwards, this started to become an architectural feature and in various cultures and styles it was richly figured and decorated. As it was right in front of the worshippers as they gathered for prayer, it became a focal point. The custom developed of the prayer leader standing in the mihrab to pray, which maximised the use of space behind him. A curved ceiling to the mihrab was often found as it acted like a sounding board to throw the voice backwards towards the congregation. In modern times, it is common to find a microphone in the mihrab to pick up and amplify the voice.

When the Prophet Muhammad stood to address the congregation, he would put his back to one of the palm trunks that supported the shelter in the qibla wall. In time, he came to use the stump of a palm tree to stand on and eventually a platform was made to raise him so that he could be seen and heard by all. This was called the minbar, which is derived from the root, “to be raised up.” This was placed near the qibla wall and from it Prophet Muhammad would teach, proclaim the latest revelations of Qur’anic verses and make announcements. Sometimes he would sit on the minbar and so it was thought to be akin to the throne of a ruler.

As time went on, in different cultures and architectural styles, and as building materials changed, minbars became quite a dominant feature of some mosques. If the mosque was large, they could comprise of ten or more steps with a platform at the top. Some had the addition of a sounding board to assist in the carry of the voice. They might be built of carved stone, metal or wood. At times there were more than one minbar as some were reserved for use only by the caliph or an outstanding scholar. With the advent of loudspeakers, such physical devices to make the speaker heard become less necessary. In a similar way, in exceptionally large mosques when people could not see or hear the leader during prayers, a raised platform was built at a strategic position on which someone would stand to perform the prayers and thus give the timing to those who could see him but not the prayer leader.

What does it say on the dome of the mosque?

Externally, mosques can be found in many architectural styles depending on local custom. Mosques in general including the dome are usually plain but sometimes they are decorated with calligraphy of Quranic verses. It is common to find a dome on a mosque but not obligatory. The dome could act to amplify the voice in the prayer hall, it provided an additional volume of air to refresh and cool worshippers and gave a sense of the wide expanse of creation. When Prophet Muhammad wanted to call the Muslims to prayer, he asked the Abyssinian Muslim, Bilal, who had a powerful voice, to climb to the roof of a nearby building and make the adhan. In time, this led to people calling the adhan from the roof of the mosque and an external set of stairs was sometimes built into one wall. This developed into the building of a tower from which the adhan was called. It was called a minaret from the Arabic manara, which is a lighthouse or tower containing a fire beacon. The minaret served three purposes: it provided an elevated position for the adhan, it acted as a sign of the presence of a mosque that could be seen from a distance to guide people, and, in difficult times, it could serve as a watchtower.

Before the development of directional, external loudspeakers, it was not uncommon to find up to four minarets surrounding a mosque facing in the direction of local settlement. The adhan would be called simultaneously to increase its audibility. In Muslim cities, the adhan is often started at the central mosque, and then taken up in concentric circles until there is a wave of sound that spreads throughout the city. It is common now to find loudspeakers in use for the adhan and some mosques even play a beautiful recording. Other devices to alert people to the time for prayer have been developed such as a radio broadcast system to which people can tune at home or programmed watches or cellular telephone applications that sound an alarm.

Do you take off your shoes when you pray? If so, where do you put them?

Mosques are usually carpeted, and shoes removed to maintain their cleanliness. The shoes are kept in a shoe rack at the entrance of a mosque. In many cultures around the world, Muslims leave their shoes at the door of the house so that all the carpets can be kept clean for prayer.

What is it like to be in a mosque?

A mosque is a house of God where we meet fellow Muslims. There is no sense of rank in a mosque. Everyone is equal.
Worshippers assemble in rows, shoulder to shoulder, with each row being completed from the front before the next row is begun.

The Ka’ba in Makka is the earthly focus for all salat. Wherever Muslims are in the world, they turn towards it in prayer. This direction is called in Arabic qibla. In a purpose-built mosque, one wall always faces towards Makka and the worshippers face it as they pray [Q. 2:144)

  1. 2:144 We see the turning of your face to heaven. Now shall we turn you to a Qibla [direction] that will please you? Turn then your face towards the Sacred Mosque. Wherever you are, turn your faces towards it. And those to whom scripture was given know well that it is the truth from their Lord. Nor is God unmindful of what they do.

Women and men pray as one single congregation in the mosque, but in separate areas.

What days do you go to the mosque on?

I go to the mosque on special occasions, celebration events and mourning events. We try to go at least once a week. People are commanded to go every Friday. The Salat al-Jum’a or Friday Prayer is the principal congregational prayer of the week and is celebrated collectively, with everyone gathering at main mosques if at all possible. It replaces the normal prayer in the middle of the day, but the prayer is shortened so that an address or khutba can be given by a khatib or learned person. Friday is not a day of rest in Muslim societies and people go back to work after prayers.

I go every day in the month of Ramadan.

The month of Ramadan is entirely blessed with the blessings of God. It is a month of spiritual delight. In that month, we witness enhanced solidarity within the community: praying together, worshipping together, reciting and listening to Qur’an together and in fact eating together at the time of breaking the fast, which is iftar. The end of fasting is a cause for great celebrations and I go to the mosque. It’s the occasion of the Festival of Fast-breaking or ‘Id al-Fitr. Muslims take a day off work or school.


Why do only men go to mosque?

Both men and women can attend the Mosque – as illustrated in countries like Turkey which always have facilities and space for women. Sadly, in the diaspora this is less of a priority. In the UK, space is not provided for women, in the main, thus they are unable to attend. This is an issue for the Muslim community to address.

Do you enjoy going to the Mosque?

Yes, very much so. It is very spiritual and a sense of peace transcends.

It is an obligation for men to attend Friday Prayer if at all possible. Women are permitted and encouraged to attend but are not under the same obligation. In traditional societies, women have responsibility for the children, sick and elderly, therefore, to put them under the same obligation as men would be doubly to burden them. Islamic law does not approve of that. If women do not attend the mosque for Friday Prayer, they pray the usual middle-of-the-day prayer wherever they are. Some mosques are transmitting the khutba over a limited radio network so that those prevented from coming can tune in and not be isolated from what is happening.

How does everyone fit in the place of worship?

The prayer leader stands at the front in the middle of the men’s section, then the men line up in a straight rank behind him until the first row is completely full. Then the second row starts from the middle and fills to both side walls, and so on until all the men are accommodated. They stand touching shoulder to shoulder and in some schools of Islam, the sides of the feet touch also. To make it easier to keep the rows straight, mosque carpets often have a design woven into them with prominent straight lines running across the room. The women form their ranks in just the same way depending on the layout of the mosque. By tradition, there are no reserved places for political or religious leaders, although there were times in history when political leaders had their own protected areas. The tight rows of men and women at prayer, irrespective of social, economic, family or educational status is one of the signs of the equality of all human beings, which is a central tenet of Islam. Children old enough to control themselves can be seen joining in the ranks even if they have not yet mastered the precise prayer ritual.