Masjid al-Mustarah (مسجد المستراح) in Madinah

By Spahic Omer

(The contents: From the masjid of Banu Harithah to masjid al-Mustarah; One of the earliest mosques in Madinah with a remarkable history; The mosque’s precarious architectural past; Abd al-Wahid al-Wakil as the mosque’s architect; analysing the current architecture of the mosque; The mosque as a tranquil and soothing environment, as the place to be)

From the masjid of Banu Harithah to masjid al-Mustarah

Masjid al-Mustarah is yet another mosque associated with the episode of the Uhud battle. Just like masjid al-Dir’ (or masjid al-shaykhayn), this mosque too is located virtually halfway between the Prophet’s mosque and the battlefield of Uhud. However, since it is a few hundred meters further north from masjid al-Dir’, masjid al-Mustarah is somewhat closer to Uhud than the Prophet’s mosque. 

The mosque’s relationship with the battle of Uhud is two-fold. First, the mosque belonged to the Banu Harithah tribe, which lived in the area. While on the eve of the battle the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) stayed in masjid al-Dir’ and its neighbourhood for about half a day, in order to parade his army and finalize the preparations for the battle, the tribe of Banu Harithah, living nearby, featured prominently in the proceedings.

Their getting in on the act was so consequential that even the Qur’an and its narrative of the Uhud affairs highlighted it. Banu Harithah were one of the two parties on the verge of losing courage and falling away – following in the footsteps of the mutinous hypocrites and thus leaving the Prophet and Muslims in dire straits – but they backtracked, adopting obedience and valour in lieu of disobedience and cowardice. Their exemplary triumph over negative thoughts and the persistent insinuations of Satan prompted Almighty Allah to reveal that He, in fact, was Banu Harithah’s protecting Friend and Helper. The Qur’an declares about this: “When two parties among you were about to lose courage, but Allah was their ally; and upon Allah the believers should rely” (Alu ‘Imran, 122). 

In this manner, Banu Harithah went from zero to hero. Their behavioural pattern served as a lesson to posterity. Ahead of the battle of Uhud, there were three parties on the Muslim side: steadfast believers, faithless and irresolute hypocrites, and those in-between. Banu Harithah belonged to the last category. Despite everything, though, they in the end demonstrated the power of an amalgamation of unyielding faith and positive attitude in the face of adversity. 

Banu Harithah taught the world that if they could change and prevail during those critical moments when the odds were stacked against them, everyone, come rain or shine, can aspire to change and prevail. All roads lead to righteousness and goodness, and Allah is open to being each deserving person’s Friend and Ally. 

Indeed, since by its very definition the mosque institution in Islam is a community centre, where the religious and worldly affairs of a community are discussed and settled upon, the mosque of Banu Harithah must have played a significant role in the people’s turning from losers to winners. The mosque with its intrinsic heavenly message and its dynamic earthly function should furthermore have loomed large over the developments.

If the first aspect of the Banu Harithah mosque’s connection with the Uhud battle was in relation to the plans and last preparations, the second aspect pertained to the battle’s aftermath. Defeated and devastated, in the company of his battered army the Prophet was returning from Uhud in the north to Madinah proper in the south, which was a distance of about five kilometres. The Prophet was using the same route as the one he used for arrival. That route is called today the Sayyid al-Shuhada’ Street and is a major street in the city loaded with the meaning and profundity of history.

Historians disclose the reason why this route had been chosen, submitting that the pick was rather a military expediency. As stated by Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, “the camp of idolaters was situated in such a place that the many roads leading to Uhud were almost blocked by them. So the Messenger of Allah said to his men: ‘Which man of you can lead us to where the people (i.e. the idolaters) are, along a short track that does not pass by them?’ Abu Khaithama said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, I am the man you need.’ Then he chose a short track that led to Uhud passing by Harrah (the settlement of) Banu Harithah and their farms, leaving the idolaters’ army westwards.”

Having arrived at the Banu Harithah quarters and their mosque in such a dejected state, the Prophet decided to rest. He did so briefly, as a result of which the mosque, apart from being known as the mosque of Banu Harithah, soon came to be known as the mosque of al-Mustarah (masjid al-Mustarah) as well. The word al-Mustarah means “a place of rest”, “a rest house” and “a rest stop.” 

It has been reported that whilst the Prophet was on his way back from Uhud, matchless examples of love and devotion were publicized by the truthful believing women and all those believers who could not join the battle. The targets were the Prophet himself and his prophetic mission, the Muslim army, and generally the cause of the Islamic enterprise and that of the nascent Islamic society in the city-state of Madinah. In view of the fact that the Prophet had taken a break in the settlement of Banu Harithah, it is reasonable to presuppose that a similar emotional outpouring also issued from the settlement’s residents and that their mosque was a locus of the happenings. This way, not only physically did the Prophet have a rest, but also psychologically and emotionally. He needed both in equal measure.

One of the earliest mosques in Madinah with a remarkable history

Masjid al-Mustarah was one of the earliest mosques in Madinah. Certainly, it was reputed to be a mosque before the Uhud battle and was commonly referred to as the mosque of Banu Harithah. The historic battle of Uhud only put the extra spotlight on it. Apart from its affiliation with the events of Uhud and the Prophet’s brief repose in it, the mosque enjoyed three additional benefits. 

First, the Prophet is reported to have prayed in masjid al-Mustarah. This however has nothing to do with the occasion of the Uhud fight. The Prophet’s prayer in the mosque might have taken place either before or afterwards. That such is the case testify the accounts of early Madinah historians, such as Umar b. Shibbah al-Basri, Muhammad bin Zabalah and al-Samahudi. In the context of the mosque, the three historians just pointed out that the establishment was a place of the Prophet’s prayer, without saying anything whatsoever regarding the battle of Uhud. 

The best case in point is al-Samahudi, who merely quoted his predecessors: Umar b. Shibbah al-Basri and Muhammad bin Zabalah, agreeing with them. Strangely enough, neither did he draw any parallels between the mosque and Uhud, rendering his account of the mosque surprisingly succinct. As if a person wishing to be enlightened on masjid al-Mustarah by al-Samahudi and his opus “Wafa’ al-Wafa” is bound to be left disappointed a bit. Hence, if this proves something, it would be that the two: the Uhud battle and the Prophet’s prayer in masjid al-Mustarah, are not concurrent events.

Second, the quarters of Banu Harithah with their mosque as a nucleus represented the first line of defence for Madinah against the invading enemy forces during the battle of Khandaq (the Trench). There was in the area the starting point of the trench as a Muslim defensive system.

Third, masjid al-Mustarah is one of the three mosques in Madinah in which the worshipers performed a prayer facing two qiblahs, or two directions of prayer: masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and the Holy Mosque or the Ka’bah in Makkah. The other two mosques are: the mosque of Banu Salimah (called today the mosque of the two qiblahs, masjid al-Qiblatayn) and the Quba’ mosque. 

According to authentic accounts, one day the Prophet prayed the zuhr (midday) prayer in the mosque of Banu Salimah. During the prayer he received a revelation instructing him to stop facing the qiblah of Jerusalem and turn his face towards the qiblah of Makkah instead. He then performed the first half of the prayer facing Jerusalem and the second half facing Makkah. 

After the prayer, a person went to the mosque of Banu Harithah. He arrived when the people were in the middle of performing the ‘asr (afternoon) prayer. Without hesitation, the person informed them about the change of the qiblah, whereupon the congregation, having completed one half of the prayer facing Jerusalem, instantaneously turned towards Makkah, thus completing the other half of the prayer. 

The news reached the people of Quba’ the following morning while they were still performing the fajr (dawn) prayer. They too had the distinction of accomplishing the qiblah alteration while still in the state of prayer.

Of the three mosques, the mosque of Banu Salimah (the mosque of the two qiblahs, masjid al-Qiblatayn today) is most creditable because in it, it was the Prophet who had led the congregation in the qiblah shift. In the other two mosques, the process unfolded without the Prophet. Yet, when told concerning the dutiful reaction of the congregation in masjid al-Mustarah, following the arrival of the news of the qiblah alteration, the Prophet complimented the Banu Harithah tribe by saying: “They are the people who believed in the unseen.”

Al-Bukhari reported the following hadith (tradition) on the subject: “Allah’s Messenger prayed facing Baitul-Maqdis (Jerusalem) for sixteen or seventeen months but he loved to face the Ka’bah (at Makkah) so Allah revealed: ‘Verily, We have seen the turning of your face to the heaven!’ (2:144) So the Prophet faced the Ka`bah and the fools amongst the people namely ‘the Jews’ said: ‘What has turned them from their qiblah (Baitul-Maqdis) which they formerly observed?’ (Allah revealed): ‘Say: ‘To Allah belongs the East and the West. He guides whom he will to a straight path.’ (2:142) A man prayed with the Prophet (facing the Ka`bah) and went out. He saw some of the Ansar praying the ‘Asr prayer with their faces towards Baitul-Maqdis, he said: ‘I bear witness that I prayed with Allah’s Messenger facing the Ka`bah.’ So all the people turned their faces towards the Ka`bah.”

According to Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani and his commentary of al-Bukhari, “some of the Ansar” in the above hadith, who had been informed about the qiblah change and who had embraced the novelty right away, were Banu Harithah.

The mosque’s precarious architectural past 

Throughout the ages masjid al-Mustarah was a simple structure and was not always in the best physical shape. It might yet sometimes have been in ruins, which was often the fate of many Madinah “secondary” mosques if the city had to put up with prolonged upheavals and crises resulting in the deterioration of built environment. An evidence of this is the fact that the early historians merely mentioned the mosque’s existence, without venturing to say anything about its physical form or serviceability. It is safe to assume that they did so for the reason that neither the mosque’s day-to-day functionality, nor its form, was worthy of attention.

By way of illustration, as late as in 1885 Ali b. Musa al-Afandi observed that the mosque was on a piece of a lava field and was unroofed. The mosque must have been very small, for its description entails that it was built on a fragment of a volcanic and stony area. The word used is “qit’ah” (piece or fragment) and is an indication of smallness and inconsequentiality. 

Sixteen years later, in 1901, Ibrahim Rif’at Pasha likewise reported that there was “just another mosque” where people believed the Prophet had rested while returning from the Uhud battle. Next to the mosque, there was a sign alleging that its spot designated the location of the Prophet’s back while taking a break.

Moreover, about half a century later, al-Sayyid Ahmad Yasin al-Khayyari still recorded in his book “Tarikh Ma’alim al-Madinah al-Munawwarah Qadiman wa Hadithan” that the mosque was small, unroofed and only about half a meter high, and that it was an old and plastered structure. Around the same time, a similar description is given by Ibrahim al-‘Ayyashi as well, who nevertheless said that the mosque was one meter – instead of half a meter – high. The mosque in addition was subjected to some minor restoration programs undertaken by a Saudi department of awqaf (endowments).

According to al-Sayyid Ahmad Yasin al-Khayyari, that simple form of the mosque dated back to the Osmanli administrative presence. It was the outcome of an intervention by the Osmanli department of antiquities, after it had been ascertained that the mosque’s site was associable with the Prophet’s rest while on the way from Uhud to Madinah. 

This establishes that before the Osmanli interference, the mosque should have been yet a simpler structure not institutionally maintained, and should have been renowned more for other relatable historical occurrences than for the Prophet’s brief rest. However, following the Osmanli (re)construction and concurrent popularization of the mosque, the place became distinguished more due to the Prophet’s stopover and rest, than the other remarkable events.

After Ibrahim al-‘Ayyashi’s composition of his book “al-Madinah bayn al-Madi wa al-Hadir” in 1972 and before the extraordinary development undertakings by the Saudi king Fahd b. Abdulaziz (d. 2005) – whose reign commenced in 1982 – affecting masjid al-Mustarah as well, the mosque was reconstructed once more. Based on some old pictures provided by Muhammad Ilyas ‘Abd al-Ghani in his book “al-Masajid al-Athariyyah fi al-Madinah al-Nabawiyyah” and Yusuf Ragda al-‘Amili in his book “Ma’alim Makkah wa al-Madinah bayn al-Madi wa al-Hadir” the mosque was a simple structure about ten meters wide and a few meters long. It was either roofless or had a partial flat roof. Its mihrab was considerable because its semi-circular shape protruded from the qiblah wall. It also had a short and heavy minaret, whose shaft was square up to the balcony, but afterwards it turned octagonal.

Today, if people, including the locals, are asked about the mosque’s identity, most will reminisce about Uhud and the Prophet’s layover, rather than, for example, about the fact that the Prophet had prayed in the mosque, and that the mosque was a scene of the qiblah-change in the course of a congregational prayer. Similarly, most people will refer to the mosque as masjid al-Mustarah, rather than the masjid of Banu Harithah.

The new sentiment persisted until the rule of king Fahd b. Abdulaziz, who completely rebuilt and significantly enlarged the mosque. The mosque was thus immortalized as masjid al-Mustarah. The construction task was remarkable, proportional to the king’s other development programs in Makkah and Madinah. Thus rebuilt and enlarged, the mosque endures and is in full use both by visitors and the locals. Obviously, it was meant to function as much as a universal monument as a fully operational local mosque.

Abd al-Wahid al-Wakil as the mosque’s architect 

The status, together with the corporeal existence, of the mosque were intended to be preserved once and for all and to be placed on an equal footing with the rest of Madinah historical mosques – of course after the Prophet’s mosque and the mosque of Quba’ whose grades are unmatched. The man tasked with the aim of architecturally and aesthetically matching the new outlook was Abd al-Wahid al-Wakil, an Egyptian architect who in the latter part of the last century was commissioned to design more than a dozen mosques in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, mostly in Madinah and Jeddah. The move had the hallmarks of the Kingdom’s newly-found penchant for renewal and modernization. 

In passing, Abd al-Wahid al-Wakil is regarded by many as a leading authority in contemporary Islamic architecture. His philosophy revolves around the principles of reviving and readopting Islamic traditional styles, values and practices in architecture. For him, the beauty of architecture is not in total originality, innovation and style – in the modernist meanings of the terms – but in emulating, reviving and handling traditional solutions and forms for uses in new socio-economic, cultural and ecological contexts. Beauty is in that which is indigenous, ecological, proven, friendly, unpretentious and expedient, as opposed to that which is foreign, unsustainable, unfriendly, unknown, artificial and ostentatious. This philosophy puts a great emphasis on sustainability and friendly coexistence with the natural world as well, as a result of which its application nowadays is increasingly sanctioned and even looked-for. Abd al-Wahid al-Wakil, thus, could be perceived as a foremost proponent of a neo-traditional or new classical Islamic architecture. 

In Madinah, Abd al-Wahid al-Wakil also designed the Quba’ mosque, masjid al-Qiblatayn (the mosque of the two qiblahs), the Jumu’ah mosque and the Miqat mosque. With these uniquely designed buildings, pervading the heart of Madinah’s overall regeneration and in particular architectural reinvention, the city was given its refreshingly new spark. It is definitely a sign of a new approach towards recognizing the value of and dealing with the wealth of history. More and more history is not only preserved, but also brought to life, for which the constantly growing number of pilgrims and visitors feel ever-grateful.

On account of the present architectural celebration of a historical moment and its physical locus, masjid al-Mustarah confidently stands at the crossroads of the past, present and future. It likewise manoeuvres the challenges of the intersection of tradition and modernity, inspiring novel ways to navigate the complexities of the newest national development paradigm. The mosque does not just appreciate and cherish history, but as well looks ahead. Furthermore, it does not just teach history, but as well stimulates visions for the future.

Analysing the current architecture of the mosque

With regard to its latest architectural make-up, the mosque is a medium-sized structure. It employs a hybrid style, combining elements from diverse Islamic traditional architectural schools. The architect tried his best to make the mosque present itself as an architectural composition accentuated by an aesthetic unity and the strength of traditions and values, rather than by sheer structural and engineering performances. It was aspired that each part contribute to beauty, unity and strength in its own way, and that the whole be held together not like a meaningless mass, but like a living architectural neo-traditional organism.

The mosque has three main sections: the prayer hall, a place for ablution and restrooms. The restrooms and ablution area are located on the opposite (north) side of the qiblah. Because the mosque is a modern structure, its facilities are up-to-date, adequate and commodious. There are three entrances: on the east, west and north sides. At the rear of the prayer hall (its north side), there is also an upper level functioning as women’s prayer space.

The roof of the prayer hall is supported by six columns arranged in three pairs perpendicular to the qiblah side. The columns support a roof that has been divided into three categories. At the centre, there is a dome that surmounts the prayer hall’s central bay. Around it are eight identical bays surmounted by groined and barrel vaults, the latter vaults outnumbering the former by three to one. To be exact, there is one dome, two groined vaults, and six barrel vaults perpendicular to the qiblah. It seems as though in roofing, the barrel vaults were principal and the groined ones auxiliary.

Why that is the case is because of the needed mechanisms for absorbing the lateral thrust generated by barrel vaults against the walls. If there were only barrel vaults, the generated lateral thrust would have been greater and additional structural solutions would have been needed. 

In masjid al-Mustarah, the lateral or sideways progression of the thrusts generated by the barrel vaults have been attended to by means of the following three “emblematic” mechanisms: first, having two or more barrel vaults parallel to each other whereby the forces of their outward thrusts negate each other; second, the creation of intermittent groined vaults – essentially an intersection of two barrel vaults at right angles – whose thrusts, instead of pressurising entire walls, are concentrated only at four points with four groins formed by the intersection of barrel vaults (hence six barrel and two groined vaults); and third, the presence of buttressing agents, which in the case of masjid al-Mustarah are double-tiered, or flying, arches, which in some measure even perform the task of (internal) buttressing arches, as will be seen later.

The base of the dome has only four windows, which are too few and too small to perform any environmental function, such as lighting and ventilation. They are there principally to meet some aesthetic requirements and, considering the depth of the windows’ frames, to also enhance the structural integrity of the dome. The dome is reminiscent of the domes of several historical mosques in Madinah, such as the Prophet’s mosque, the mosque of al-Ghamamah, the mosque of Abu Bakr and the mosque of Umar, except that the dome of masjid al-Mustarah is smaller and shallower, and is not ribbed. Needless to say that employing a different variety of this particular dome, and vaulting with red clay bricks, are Abd al-Wahid al-Wakil’s favourite roofing techniques. It is right there that his remarkable architectural flair – and imagination – step to the fore the most.

From the middle of four out of six columns upon which the mosque’s roof rests – in the south section of the prayer hall – originate arches that connect either to the neighbouring columns or the walls. Bearing in mind the roofing techniques of masjid al-Mustarah, this way the arches are partly of the double-tiered, or flying, arches type, and are partly intermediate arches above which lie horizontal supports for the vaults. As said earlier, this was one of the three “emblematic” mechanisms for managing the lateral thrusts generated by the two groined and six barrel vaults. There are ten such arches in masjid al-Mustarah. 

However, this method is rarely used nowadays, and when it is resorted to, it is mainly as a bit of a specific artistic manoeuvre, or in order to augment the traditional appearance quality of a building and so, its charm. The last and least important role performed by the double-tiered and flying arches – and by extension vaults – is a structural one. Without a doubt, the latest building materials and techniques rendered buildings lighter and more resourceful, minimizing weight and thrust problems. Perhaps the most illustrious example of double-tiered arches in Muslim history are the arches used in the great mosque of Cordoba from which masjid al-Mustarah might have drawn inspiration.

At the north-east corner of the part of the mosque that contains the prayer hall stands an elegant square minaret. The minaret is topped by a chhatri or a semi-open and dome-shaped pavilion the likes of which are found most commonly in Mughal architecture. At the point where the shaft of the minaret and the chhatri meet protrudes a balcony with a simple wooden fence to which several loudspeakers have been affixed. The balcony is supported by two-tiered horizontal ridges that extend gradually, one above the other, from the main body of the shaft. Aesthetically, as well as symmetrically, the borders of the balcony keep to the form and movement of the two ridges beneath, in which case the borders correspond to a third and furthermost ridge and hence, add to the regularity of the spatial connectivity of the minaret.

The minbar (pulpit) of the mosque is a simple device. It is merely an indentation, or recess, in the qiblah wall to which one climbs via two stairs. There is a small wooden railing, which walls off one half of the indentation, behind which the preacher (khatib, he who delivers sermons) stands. The similarity between this railing and the fence of the minaret’s balcony contributes to the structural, together with visual, equilibrium of the mosque. The simplicity of the minbar indicates that the mosque is medium-sized in terms of dimensions, and that it is local in terms of everyday function.

The mihrab (praying niche), standing next to the minbar on its left side, is of the same size as the indentation of the minbar, thus additionally contributing to the mosque’s symmetry. Both are recesses slightly less than one meter deep, with the difference that the recess of the minbar is plain and rectangular, and the one of the mihrab semi-circular and slightly ornamented. The mihrab is flanked by two engaged ribbed columns. Above it is a panel featuring the following excerpt from the Qur’an pertaining to the concept and institution of the mihrab: “Every time that (Prophet) Zakariyya entered (Maryam’s) mihrab or chamber to see her, He found her supplied with sustenance” (Alu ‘Imran, 37).

Like most of the courtyard-less mosques of Abd al-Wahid al-Wakil, this mosque, too, is rather dark inside. Consequently, at no point of the day can the mosque be comfortably used without having recourse to artificial light, which, in spite of everything, is a disadvantage. As it is now, the mosque, to a certain degree, is redolent of the nuances of the secluded and inward-looking Sufi institutions, contrasted with the multidimensionality and the inward as well as outward-oriented disposition of mosques as community development hubs.

The mosque as a tranquil and soothing environment, as the place to be 

Masjid al-Mustarah has ten relatively small windows, five on the east and five on the west sides of the mosque’s prayer hall. The glass panels of the windows are yellowish. On the outside, those windows are screened by dense wooden lattice panels, which, though beautiful and suggestive of the traditional Hijazi mashrabiyyahs and rawashin, reduce daylight admission. On the inside, the window frames are flanked by two engaged ribbed columns and are capped by decorative boards that contain the Qur’anic declaration that “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth” (al-Nur, 35). The boards, in turn, are contained within the larger decorative frames that include intertwined floral motifs as well. Like so, the frames constitute a form of arabesque, and even can be said to symbolize an entablature, in its capacity as a superstructure of mouldings and bands which lies horizontally above columns or above proportioned alcoves.

At the points where the ends of the vaults conjoin with the external walls, semi-circular segments of the walls, resembling the filled up spans and rises of arches, are created. There are eight such segments: three on the south qiblah wall and three on the opposite northern wall. These (six in total) are due to the presence of the six barrel vaults. There are also two segments, one on each of the east and west walls. These are due to the presence of the two groined vaults, which are expectedly smaller than the segments of the barrel vaults owing to their different intersecting profiles. 

These semi-circular segments are utilized for further illuminating the mosque, enhancing the limited performance of the ten windows. The segments are turned into perforated frameworks that give the impression of concrete or cement jaalis (literally, nets) featuring an array of geometric shapes. The shapes are fitted with coloured (yellowish) glass, which is the same as the colour of the window panels. 

Moreover, above the east and west entrances there are as sizeable rectangular perforated segments of the wall. There are also six miniature perforated units, two on each of the qiblah, east and west walls. These small units are created at the strategic locations of the walls and feature but a few geometric patterns. For example, the two units on the qiblah wall flank the mihrab. Following the style of the windows and the perforated segments associated with the vaults, these additional segments and units are likewise fitted with the same yellowish glass. 

In this fashion, the interior of the mosque, though poorly lit from the outside by natural light, enjoys a unique atmosphere. The limited natural light admitted through the coloured windows and its latticework, and through the strategically placed patterned apertures, generates an exciting environment inside. The environment contributes to the enlivening of the place, the creation of positive moods, and to the enhancement of decorative manoeuvres and the performance of materials. 

This is further boosted and enriched by interplays of colours, ornamental themes, and of natural as well as artificial lights, making the mosque an exceptionally tranquil and soothing place. Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of modern life, masjid al-Mustarah – its few weaknesses notwithstanding – is a place to be. It lives up to its name, i.e. “al-Mustarah” which means “a place of rest”, “a rest house” and “a rest stop.”

Since there are only ten windows piercing the east and west walls at regular intervals, the rest of those two walls, plus the south qiblah wall, are concaved with recesses that look like the windows with regard to position and form. The purpose of those recesses is to supplement at once the beauty and symmetry of the interior, in addition to making the mosque appear like a more elegant and lighter structure. A subtle blend of windows and recesses provides a sense of continuity and architectural rhythmical flow. 

Given that the recesses are not windows, they have been inlaid with complex decorative designs made of ceramic tiles. The tiles are dominated by blue and white colours, in the vein of the legendary handmade Iznik ceramic tiles that for centuries occupied a prominent place in Osmanli art and architecture. If the windows are capped by decorative boards that contain the Qur’anic declaration that “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth” (al-Nur, 35), the recesses are capped by similar boards that nevertheless contain the quintessence of the Islamic faith: “There is no true God except Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” 

Lastly, in the manner of masjid al-Dir’ close by, the roof of masjid al-Mustarah also has two water-spouts (mizabs) projecting from the roof on the qiblah side, enabling rainwater to pour to the ground below. The mosque is really clean and well-maintained. It is fully operational. It is whitewashed, and in terms of its colour, inward-looking appearance, and overall intriguing yet vibrant configuration, it fits in nicely with its fast-changing surroundings. It belongs there. ***

(Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer is an academic in Department of History and Civilisation, AbdulHamid AbuSulayman Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday.)