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The world's most beautiful mosques
June 13, 2016, 10:51 am

For the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, the month of Ramadan is an annual event that represents a time to fast and devote a particular focus to payer, purification and charitable acts. To mark the world's biggest religious observance, here we have listed some of the world’s most beautiful mosques and what makes them so special.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Iran

This mosque in Isfahan, a city said to rival Athens and Rome, is explored by very few western tourists as it is in Iran.  Built in the early 17th century under Shah Abbas I, it does not have a courtyard or minaret, making it architecturally unusual. There are stories that the mosque was built for use by members of the Shah's harem, although they are not backed up by reliable sources.

Nasir al Molk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran

Lesser known still is the Nasir al Molk mosque in the university city of Shiraz in southern Iran. Adorned with stained glass windows – unusual in Islamic architecture – it makes for a spectacular sight in the early morning and late afternoon, when the sun's rays cause twirling light patterns across the embellished murquanas, a form of architectural ornamented vaulting.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Majestic, magnificent and utterly beguiling, the Blue Mosque has six needle-like minarets that form an essential part of Istanbul's skyline, and is an unmissable part of any break to the city.  It was built under the reign of the Ottoman ruler Ahmed I between 1609 and 1616, and is now open to non-worshippers every day outside of prayer times.

Aya Sofya, Turkey

Opposite the Blue Mosque in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, the squat, rosy Aya Sofya was built more than 1,000 years before its neighbor. The original Church of the Holy Wisdom dates to the 6th century, but the building on the site when the Ottoman Empire took the city was turned into a mosque. The Aya Sofya today is a mixture of Byzantine glittering mosaics and inscriptions from the Koran in Arabic. It is now a museum, and an utterly majestic one at that.

Blue Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

This mosque dates from the 14th century, reopened in Cairo in May 2015 following a 13-year closure to repair earthquake damage. The mosque is part of a funerary complex, containing the mausoleums of its founder Shams El-Din Aqsunqur and his sons. Its aesthetic reflects the Ottoman style, especially in the Iznik tiles depicting cypress trees and vases holding tulips.

Ibn Tulun Mosque, Egypt

Slightly more low-key but no less beautiful is the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in the Egyptian capital. It was commissioned during the Abbasid era, and although it is believed to be Cairo's oldest mosque, it has undergone several restorations.

Hassan II mosque, Morocco

This mosque proudly supports the world's tallest minaret, at 210 metres. The world's third largest mosque, it is the only such building in Morocco that non-Muslims can enter. It stands on the seafront in Casablanca, and the seabed is visible through the glass floor in the hall.

Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

The third holiest place in Islam is inside the al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, in the Unesco-listed Old City of Jerusalem. The Al-Aqsa mosque – destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt several times throughout history – was used as a palace by the medieval Crusaders, but subsequent Islamic caliphates carried out repairs and restored it as a place of worship.

Al-Masjid al-Haram, Saudi Arabia

The Sacred Mosque, or Great Mosque of Mecca, can accommodate up to four million people, and surrounds the Ka'aba – a cuboid building that is the holiest place in Islam. The mosque is also home to the Black Stone, set into the Ka'aba's wall by Muhammad before his first revelation, and the Maqām Ibrahim (Abraham's place of standing). Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca.

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, Medina, Saudi Arabia

Built by the Prophet Muhammad circa 622, this is the second holiest site in Islam after the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca. It now houses the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad, inside the Green Dome. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter some parts of the Medina.

Ubudiah Mosque, Malaysia

Built between 1913 and 1917, this place of worship in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, Peninsular Malaysia, is often touted as the country's most beautiful mosque. With four minarets and a golden dome, it was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, a British architect who was also behind the Kuala Lumpur railway station.

Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque, Malaysia

Malaysia's largest mosque can be found in Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia, and is built in modernist Malay style. It has inscriptions by an Egyptian calligrapher alongside blue-stained glass windows, and its aluminum dome is covered with steel panels engraved with verses from the Koran. It has the capacity to accommodate 24,000 worshippers.

Faisal Mosque, Pakistan

The world's fourth largest mosque stands against a backdrop of the Margalla Hills in Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad. Its contemporary design was conceived by Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay, and its eight-sided concrete shell is inspired by a Bedouin tent and the cubic Ka'aba in Mecca. The Faisal Mosque is described in the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. 

Wazir Khan Mosque, Pakistan

Also in Pakistan, in the north-eastern city of Lahore, is the Wazir Khan mosque, built in the 17th century under the reign of Shahabuddin Muhammad Shah Jahan. On the "tentative" list for Unesco World Heritage Site status since 1993, it is built in cut and dressed bricks laid in kankar lime, with some red sandstone in the gate and the transept. It is adorned with fresco paintings and tiles, with the predominant colors lajvard (cobalt), firozi (cerulean blue), green, orange, yellow, and purple. 

Badshahi Mosque, Pakistan

Lahore is not short of beautiful mosques. The Badshahi Mosque, commissioned by the sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century, is built in red sandstone and marble. Repairs during the 20th and 21st centuries have seen the building restored to a much finer condition than during its time for military use. 

Taj-ul-Masajid - Bhopal, India

With a name that translates as ‘Crown among Mosques’, this place of worship in Bhopal has a pink façade, two 18-storey high octagonal minarets with marble domes, and a double-storeyed gateway. All of which mean it is not surprising that this is India's largest mosque. 

Jama Masjid, Delhi

This striking red sandstone and marble mosque, with three domes and two minarets, was built under the rule of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656. 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

This brilliant white place of worship in the UAE's capital is home to the world's largest hand-knotted carpet, crafted by 1,200 artisans, and a 12-tonne crystal chandelier. Combining Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles, it is described as a ‘landmark building’ that is worth visiting ‘for the architecture alone.’

Masjid Sultan Qaaboos, Oman

Its position next to a motorway in Muscat might not be conducive to calm, but once guests are inside the Sultan Qaaboos mosque's gardens, thoughts of the tarmac pummelled by white 4x4s outside will be gone.

With peaceful sahn (courtyards), elegant riwaqs (arcades) and mesmerising murqanas (vaulted panelling), this place of worship is one of the most impressive buildings in this Gulf country.

Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq

This unique 9th-century mosque near Baghdad in Iraq was built when Samarra was the capital of the Abbasid Empire, but was destroyed in 1278. Its idiosyncratic ‘Malwiya’ minaret remains, however, with its ascending spiral conical design, 52 meters high and 33 meters wide at the base. It was damaged by an explosion in 2005, and is currently on Unesco's list of endangered world heritage sites.

Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, North Cyprus

This building in Famagusta was St Nicholas's Cathedral before the Ottomans captured the city in 1571, at which point it became a mosque. It was renamed in 1954 after the commander of the 1570 Ottoman conquest. 

Umayyad Mosque, Syria

The Great Mosque of Damascus is easily one of the finest buildings in the Islamic world. The Shrine of Saint John the Baptist (Prophet Yahya) is believed to contain the man's head. The Foreign Office currently advises against all travel to Syria.

Great Mosque of Herat, Aghanistan

In lapis lazuli (a precious gem), brick and stone, this large congregational mosque in the north-western city of Herat is quite simply astonishing. With foundations laid by Sultan Ghayas-ud-Din Ghori in 1200, it was extended, amended and repaired throughout subsequent eras, and took its current form in the 15th century, although it was damaged in the Anglo-Afghan wars in the 19th century.

Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, Spain

One of the world's finest examples of Moorish architecture, this building was originally a Catholic Christian church started around the year 600. When the Islamic world spread to Spain in the early 8th century, it was divided into Muslim and Christian halves, although a later caliph destroyed it and rebuilt it as a mosque that was converted into a Roman Catholic church in the Reconquista, finally becoming a cathedral in the 16th century. The mosque within the complex is still present, although Muslims are not permitted to worship within it.

Koutoubia Mosque, Morocco

Familiar to any tourist who has been on a city break to Marrakesh, the Koutoubia Mosque stands near the Djema'a el-Fna square in the centre of the Red City. The mosque, with one of the most intricate and impressively decorated minarets in Sunni Islam, goes by various other names, including the Jami' al-Kutubiyah, Kotoubia Mosque, Kutubiya Mosque, Kutubiyyin Mosque, and Mosque of the Booksellers. Non-Muslims are not allowed inside, but the mosque is surrounded by tranquil gardens. 

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