This glossary aims to assist the reader when reading short and full articles on Muslim Architecture. It contains over 50 Technical Arabic terms which have been translated into English.
Arabesque: French word used for Muslim art style based on the use of interlacing plant motifs with leaves and tendrils.
Apse: A vaulted extension or projection of circular or polygonal shape, leading from a choir or chapel.
Arch: A curved structure spanning an opening or recess. It consists of a number of voussoirs which maintain the arch in place and transform the vertical pressure of the
structure above it into lateral pressure.
Arcade: A series of arches supported by columns or piers.
Barrel vault: Also called tunnel vault, it is the simplest form of vault, consisting of a continuous surface of semi-circular or pointed sections and has the form of a tunnel.
Battlement: A parapet with alternating openings and raised sections (merlons), used here on castle towers for defence purposes. Evidence suggests that it was first used by the Muslims before Europe adopted it after the Crusades.
Blind arch: An arch applied to a wall.
Caliph: Title used by the successors of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) exercising the position of the supreme leader or ruler of the Muslims.
Column: A cylindrical support used widely by the Greeks and Romans (often marble). In addition to its structural function, it is used as decorative means.
Corbel: A projection from a wall sometimes provides extra support to a structural member such as a shaft. It is also used for decorative purposes. The use of the corbel was a Muslim precedent and through them it reached Europe.
Crossing: In a Christian church this is the area of a church where the nave, choir, and transept intersect. In the mosque it is where the main nave and the aisle nearest to the Mihrab intersect.
Crusades: Campaigns launched by Christian Europe against the Muslims. They started in 1099 with the occupation of Jerusalem and ended in 1292. Salah al-Din liberated Jerusalem in 1187.
Damascene: of Damascus origin, in art it denotes the techniques used by the Syrians.
Diwan: A government office where the governor (ruler) holds receptions. It may also means the room where the ruler meets his council to discuss affairs of state. In poetry, it is used to mean a work (book) of collection of poems.
Drum: A cylindrical wall which supports a dome.
Flying buttress: A support element in Gothic church construction. It is a free-standing structure (support) attached to the main vessel (nave, choir, or transept wall) by an arch or half-arch. These arches transmit the thrust of the vault to the buttress attached to the outer wall of the aisle.
Gothic architecture: A European style of architecture, mainly religious, that appeared in the late 12th century and continued until the Renaissance (15th century). This period is one of the most important church building periods in Europe. Gothic churches are characterised by their enormous size and excessive ornamentation. There is credible evidence that the Gothic style was a Muslim inspiration through the introduction of the pointed arch and ribbed vaulting which were both Muslim inventions.
Groin vault: A vault produced by the intersection at right angles of two barrel (tunnel) vaults. Sometimes the arches of groin vaults may be pointed instead of round.
Hadith: The authentic sayings of the prophet (pbuh) as told by his companions.
Hammam: Bath house for public use, male at certain times and female at other times.
Hareem (harem): Women of the household.
Horseshoe arch: A distinctive Muslim arch shaped like a horseshoe. Some say it was inspired by the leaves of the palm tree.
Intersecting arches: Arches which cross over each other in an arcade as seen in Cordoba Great Mosque. It is used widely in Islamic architectural decoration.
Jami: A mosque where Friday prayer can be held, in addition to the five regular daily congregational prayers.
Keystone: The central stone at the top of an arch.
Kufi: A calligraphic style based on straight linear organisation of letters.
Kuttab: Quranic school for children.
Lintel: A flat beam over wall openings. It was largely used by the Greeks and the Romans before the appearance of the semi-circular arch.
Madrassa: A theological school consisting of a Mosque for regular prayers and study rooms.
Mahal: A Mogul Palace.
Maqsura: A curtain wall made of wood or bricks enveloping the minbar and giving the Khalifa and his entourage a permanent reserved place where they could pray
Mashhad: Persian, a memorial of a vision involving holy people mostly the Prophet (pubh) or members of his family. It also means a memorial of martyrs (Shaheed).
Mashrabiya: Wooden lattice work in the form of transparent screens placed on building openings such as windows and other apertures or enclosing balconies. It allows a considerable level of ventilation and provides greater privacy.
Masjid: A small mosque used locally for the five daily prayers.
Mausoleum: Structure accommodating a tomb of an important person.
Mihrab: A niche in the Qibla wall of a mosque indicating the direction of Makkah
Minbar: A pulpit (sometimes wooden steps) placed on the right of the mihrab used by the Imam to deliver his Jumu'ah lecture (khutba)
Minaret: A tower of the mosque used for the call to prayer.
Moresque: Of French origin, used for Moorish.
Morisco: Muslim who converted to Christianity in Spain.
Mozarab: Christians who lived in Islamic Spain (Andalusia)
Mudejar: The Muslims who remained in Spanish after the Christian conquest.
Multifoil arch: An arch with multi lobes or foils. It was a Muslim invention introduced firstly in Samarra and widely used in Spain. It has mainly ornamental and decorative functions.
Muqranna: Also called stalactite or honeycomb, a decorative pattern consisting of small niches arranged like honeycomb and made mostly from plaster; for the internal treatment of curved surface especially in transitional zones between domes and their supports.
Mussallah: Prayer enclosure where Eid prayer and other large ceremonial prayers are held.
Naskhi: Another type of calligraphy consisting of cursive script style.
Nave: In a mosque it is the main central aisle leading to the Mihrab. In a church it is the main longitudinal space of a basilican church. It is where the Christian congregation sit or stand in prayer and religious services.
Niche: The mihrab.
Pier: A structural support, usually square, rectangular, or composite. It was first used in Muslim architecture and became popular in European medieval (Gothic) architecture.
Pointed arch: An arch with a pointed apex invented by the Muslims that first appeared in Al-Aqsa Mosque (Jerusalem) then the Ibn Tulun Mosque (Egypt), before reaching Europe in the 11th century.
Ogee arch: A flattened pointed arch appearing first in Muslim Persia. It was widely used in India and later in Europe in the late Gothic.
Qibla: The direction of Makkah towards which Muslims should face in their prayers.
Quadripartite Rib vault: A rib vault which is divided into four sections by two diagonal ribs.
Rib: An arch of masonry projecting from under (usually) the surface of the vault providing support and forming part of the framework on which a vault rests.
Ribat: Monastic fortress.
Rib Vault: A masonry vault with a relatively thin web, set within a framework of ribs.
Squinch: An arch placed at the corners of a square base to act as the transition to a circular dome placed on the base.
Stucco: A plaster used for coating and making decorating casts.
Transverse Arch: An arch which runs across the vault from side to side, dividing the bays and providing support to the vault. Its projecting bands make what is known as the rib of the vault.
Voussoir: The wedge-shaped stones that form the arch.
Wali: North African word equivalent to Maqam or Mazar in the Middle East and Persia respectively, depicting the tomb of a saintly or pious man.
Zawiya: A retreat of famous scholar where he receives theology students.