Shah Faisal Mosque: A contemporary and influential Islamic architecture

Located on the foothills and adjacent to ‘Nekka Phullai’ in Margalla Hills in Islamabad, the Faisal Mosque features a contemporary octagonal design inspired by a Bedouin tent surrounded by four 260 feet (79 m) tall minarets. It is a major tourist attraction, and is referred as a contemporary and influential feature of Islamic architecture.

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Construction began in 1976 after a $120 million grant from HE Saudi King Faisal, whose name the mosque bears. The unconventional design was selected after an international competition. The design features eight-sided shell shaped sloping roofs forming a triangular worship hall which can hold 10,000 worshippers, while the surrounding porticoes and the courtyard up-to 200,000 more.

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The mosque dominates the landscape of Islamabad with it combined area of 54,000 square feet. It is situated at the north end of Faisal Avenue, putting it at the northernmost end of the city and at the foot of Margalla Hills, the westernmost foothills of the Himalayas. It is located on an elevated area of land against a picturesque backdrop of the national park. The largest mosque in Pakistan, the Faisal Mosque was the largest mosque in the world from 1986 until 1993, when it was overtaken by mosques in Middle East and North Africa region. Faisal Mosque is now the fourth largest mosque in terms of capacity.

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Design

The Faisal Mosque is the work of Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay, who won the Agha Khan Award for Architecture for the project. The mosque’s architecture is modern and unique, lacking both the traditional domes and arches of most other mosques around the world.

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The mosque’s unusual design is a departure from the long history of South Asian Islamic architecture, fusing contemporary lines with the more traditional look of an Arab Bedouin’s tent, with its large triangular prayer hall and four minarets. However, unlike traditional design, it lacks a dome. The minarets borrow their design from Turkish tradition and are thin and pencil like.

The architect later explained his thinking to design school students:

I tried to capture the spirit, proportion and geometry of Kaaba in a purely abstract manner. Imagine the apex of each of the four minaret as a scaled explosion of four highest corners of Kaaba – thus an unseen Kaaba form is bounded by the minarets at the four corners in a proportion of height to base. Shah Faisal Mosque akin to Kaaba.

Now, if you join the apex of each minaret to the base of the minaret diagonally opposite to it correspondingly, a four-sided pyramid shall be bound by these lines at the base side within that invisible cube. That lower level pyramid is treated as a solid body while four minarets with their apex complete the imaginary cube of Kaaba.

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Entrance is from the east, where the prayer hall is fronted by a courtyard with porticoes. The International Islamic University was housed under the main courtyard, but recently relocated to a new campus. The mosque still houses a library, lecture hall, museum and cafe. The interior of the main tent-shaped hall is covered in white marble and decorated with mosaics and calligraphy by the famous Pakistani artist Sadequain, and a spectacular Turkish-style chandelier. The mosaic pattern adorns the west wall, and has the Kalimah written in early Kufic script, repeated in mirror image pattern.

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