Architecture of Early Islam (622-661)
The formative period of Islam is characterised by the foundation of Muslim Caliphate (state) and the establishment of the congregational mosque. This period witnessed the introduction of a number of design principles and rules. After the death of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh), the righteous Caliphs (the first four Caliphs after the death of Prorophet Muhammed (pbuh)) were preoccupied in securing the stability and defence of the Muslim community. These events hampered any substantial architectural production. Notwithstanding, there were some humble construction projects which are the focus of discussion in the full article. Below is a section extracted from the full article. For full details, end notes, references and bibliographt see the full article.
By the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation (FSTC)
Simplicity of Early Years
Architecture of the early years of Islam (between 622-661) was characterised by simplicity and humbleness. The newly born state, with poor resources, was preoccupied in defence against hostile surrounding tribes. Moreover, the devotion of the early faithful and their aspiration for the divine made them distant themselves from extravagant and luxurious life. Their efforts were totally consumed by their endeavour to secure the freedom of worship. Furthermore Islam's belief and worship is based on the concept of Al-Tawheed (monotheism). The belief in one God whom "vision comprehends Him not, and He comprehends (all) vision; and He is the Knower of subtleties, the Aware" (Quran, 6:103) had no equivalence in any previously common artistic or architectural representation. For example, Islam excluded cults of relics, saintly hierarchies and any inter-mediation of priests between the believer and God.
Consequently, there was no need for artistic presentation of these elements. A new approach fitting with the general guidelines of Islam emerged only after an amount of stability and wealth were achieved. Architectural sophistication came about later as intellectual and economic prosperity created a demand for elaborate, but acceptable forms and arts.
A cursory look at the Early Mosque
The first Muslim building erected was the Prophet's mosque in Medina (622). Despite its simplicity, it was the first version of the mosque plan. It comprised a sheltered space (portico), and a low wooden platform for the use of the Prophet (puh) during religious and judicial ceremonies. This structure remained the centre of social, cultural and political life of the Muslim community for over 30 years.
The transfer of the seat of government from Medina to Kufa by Ali Ibn Abi Talib (the 4th Caliph) in 657 brought substantial political, social and economic changes and resulted in unprecedented architectural and building activities. Medina lost its prestigious status becoming a provincial town, and its role slowly changed into predominantly religious one. Meanwhile, this transfer had set a precedent that was repeated throughout Muslim history. The change of capital every time a new Caliph came to power slowly led to the diffusion of luxurious and rich tastes and practices. This coincided with a progressive economic and social prosperity and the simple mosque soon became complex with the first modification appearing at the time of Saad ibn Al-Waqqas.
Descending from a Makkan aristocratic family, this Prophet's companion built the Kufa Mosque and backed his residence, known as Dar Al-Imara (638), to it toward Makah (Qibla). This structure was so elaborate that it was reported the Caliph Omar was unhappy with it and ordered it to be burnt down (Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol.4, pp.29-30).
The mosque itself was raised on marble columns imported from Persia, and enclosed by a trench. Later, Ziyad Ibn-Abih, who extended both Kufa and Basra mosques, removed his residence from the back of the mosque to the Qibla side to prevent the Imam from walking over the shoulders of people (Baladhuri, 868).
Historic sources established that the only furniture the mosque of this period had was the "Minbar" (pulpit) which was first introduced by the Prophet himself in the form of step ladder (in some sources it was a chair) which he used so that he could be seen and heard by the entire conregation of worshippers. The Minbar is mentioned in a number of the Prophet's sayings, e.g. Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said: "between my house and my pulpit there is a garden from amongst the gardens of Paradise". However, Briggs (1931, p.158) thought that it was first introduced by Amr Ibn-al-Aas in the Mosque he built in Egypt (figure 1). In another book, Briggs (1924, p.28) related its origins to the chair used by the judge in ancient Arabia.
The transfer of Muawiya, the founder of the Umayyad Dynasty, of the capital city from Kufa to Damascus in 661 was decisive as it marked the first break from previous austere architechtured style and the beginning of luxurious palaces and the construction of the all time masterpiece; the Dome of the Rock (built by Abdel-Malik between 691-692).
Concluding Remarks of the ful article
In conclusion, the focus of early years of Caliphate concentrated on the establishment of Islam with the focus on defence and economy issues. Architecture of that period aimed to fulfil that purpose leading to limited building activities centred on a few mosques scattered in various regions of the Muslim land. Such buildings were known as the mosques of Amsar, the distant zones.
These mosques served as bases for various religious, social and military activities of the community of soldiers as well as teaching the new converts. The main mosques in early Islam were; the Prophet's Mosque in Medina (622), Basra Mosque (635) and Kufa mosque (638) both in Iraq, and Amr Mosque in Fustat (641) in Egypt (figure 1).
The above is an incomplete intorduction. We need your exsistence in writing on the architecture of the Kaabah, Prophets Mosque in Medina, Mosque of the two Qiblas, Basra Mosque, extracts from sources, photos and plans will be welcomed.
by: FSTC Limited, Tue 15 January, 2002