The Architectural Parts of a Mosque

Kul Sharif Mosque in Kazan Kremlin at sunset
Kul Sharif Mosque in Kazan Kremlin. Anton Petrus / Getty Images

A mosque (masjid in Arabic) is a place of worship in Islam. Although prayers can be done privately, either indoors or outdoors, nearly every community of Muslims dedicates a space or building for congregational prayer. The main architectural components of a mosque are practical in purpose and provide both continuity and a sense of tradition among Muslims worldwide.

Looking through photographs of mosques around the world, one sees a lot of variation. Building materials and design depend on the culture, heritage, and resources of each local Muslim community. Yet, there are some features that nearly all mosques have in common, as described here. 


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A minaret is a slim tower which is a distinctive traditional feature of a mosque, though they vary in height, style, and number. Minarets may be square, round, or octagonal,  and they are usually covered with a pointed roof. They were originally used as a high point from which to make the call to prayer (adhan).

The word derives from the Arabic word for "lighthouse." 


Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. David Silverman/Getty Images

Many mosques are decorated with a dome rooftop, particularly in the Middle East. This architectural element holds no spiritual or symbolic significance and is purely aesthetic. The interior of a dome is usually highly decorated with floral, geometric and other patterns.

The main dome of a mosque usually covers the main prayer hall of the structure, and some mosques may have secondary domes, as well. 

Prayer Hall

Men pray inside a mosque prayer hall in Maryland.
Men pray inside a mosque prayer hall in Maryland. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Inside, the central area for prayer is called a musalla (literally, "place for prayer").  It is deliberately left quite bare. No furniture is needed, as worshippers sit, kneel, and bow directly on the floor. There may be a few chairs or benches to assist elderly or disabled worshippers who have difficulty with mobility.

Along the walls and pillars of the prayer hall, there are usually bookshelves to hold copies of the Qur'an, wooden book stands (rihal), other religious reading material, and individual prayer rugs. Beyond this, the prayer hall is otherwise a large, open space.


Men line up for prayers in front of the mihrab (prayer niche).
Men line up for prayers in front of the mihrab (prayer niche). David Silverman / Getty Images

The mihrab is an ornamental, semi-circular indentation in the wall of the prayer room of a mosque that marks the direction of the qiblah--the direction facing Mecca which Muslims face during prayer. Mihrabs vary in size and color, but they are usually shaped like a doorway and decorated with mosaic tiles and calligraphy to make space stand out.


Islamic worshippers listen to the Imam preach from the Minbar in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Islamic worshippers listen to the Imam preach from the Minbar during Friday Muslim prayers in the Great Mosque in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The minbar is a raised platform in the front area of a mosque prayer hall, from which sermons or speeches are given. The minbar is usually made of carved wood, stone, or brick. It includes a short staircase leading to the top platform, which is sometimes covered by a small dome.

Ablution Area

Wudu Islamic Ablution Area
Islamic Wudu Ablution Area. Nico De Pasquale Photography

Ablutions (wudu) are part of the preparation for Muslim prayer. Sometimes a space for ablutions is set aside in a restroom or washroom. Other times, there is a fountain-like structure along a wall or in a courtyard. Running water is available, often with small stools or seats to make it easier to sit down to wash the feet.

Prayer Rugs

Islamic Prayer Rug 2
Islamic Prayer Rug 2.

During Islamic prayers, worshippers bow, kneel and prostrate on the ground in humility before God. The only requirement in Islam is that prayers be performed in an area that is clean. Rugs and carpets have become a traditional way to ensure the cleanliness of the place of prayer, and to provide some cushioning on the floor.

In mosques, the prayer area is often covered with large prayer carpets. Smaller prayer rugs may be stacked on a nearby shelf for individual use.

Shoe Shelf

A shoe shelf overflows at a mosque in Virginia during Ramadan.
A shoe shelf overflows at a mosque in Virginia during Ramadan. Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images

Rather uninspiring and purely practical, the shoe shelf is nevertheless a feature of many mosques worldwide. Muslims remove their shoes before entering a mosque, to preserve the cleanliness of the prayer space. Rather than dumping piles of shoes near the door, shelves are strategically placed near mosque entrances so that visitors can neatly organize, and later find their shoes.