A mosque is a place of worship for
followers of the Islamic faith. Muslims often refer to the mosque by its Arabic
name, masjid. The word "mosque" in English refers to all types of buildings
dedicated for Islamic worship, although there is a distinction in Arabic between
the smaller, privately owned mosque and the larger, "collective" mosque (masjid
jami) (Arabic: جامع), which has more community and social amenities.
The primary purpose of the mosque is to serve as a place where Muslims can come
together for prayer. Nevertheless, mosques are known around the world nowadays
for their general importance to the Muslim community as well as their
demonstration of Islamic architecture. They have developed significantly from
the open-air spaces that were the Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Nabawi in the
seventh century. Today, most mosques have elaborate domes, minarets, and prayer
halls. Mosques originated on the Arabian Peninsula, but now exist on all the
world's inhabited continents. They are not only places for worship and prayer,
but also places to learn about Islam and meet fellow believers.
The Arabic word masjid means place of worship and is a noun of place from the
verb sajada (root "s-j-d," meaning "to bow" or "to kneel") in reference to the
prostrations performed during Islamic prayers. Either the word masjid itself or
at least the verb from which it is derived was borrowed from Aramaic. The word
"m-s-g-d" is attested in Aramaic as early as the 5th century BCE, and the same
word is later found in Nabataean inscriptions with the meaning "place of
worship"; apparently, this Aramaic word originally meant "stele" or "sacred
The modern-day English word "mosque", just like its equivalents in many other
European languages, derives from the word masjid via Spanish mezquita. The
pre-cursors of the word "mosque" appeared during the 15th, 16th, and 17th
centuries and "Moseak", "muskey", "moschy", and "mos'keh" were just some of the
variations that came into use until it was decided that "mosquee", imitating
Middle French, Italian, and Old Spanish, would become the standard. In the early
18th century, the modern spelling became the most popular and standard spelling
of the word.
Grand entryways and tall towers, or minarets, have long been and continue to be
closely associated with mosques. However, the first three mosques were very
simple open spaces on the Arabian Peninsula. Mosques evolved significantly over
the next 1,000 years, acquiring their now-distinctive features and adapting to
cultures around the world.
The First Mosques
According to Islamic beliefs, the first mosque in the world was the Kaaba, which
was built by Abraham upon an order from God. The oldest Islamic-built mosque is
the Quba Mosque in Medina. When Muhammad lived in Makkah, he viewed Kaaba as his
first and principal mosque and performed prayers there together with his
followers. Even during times when the pagan Arabs performed their rituals inside
the Kaaba, Muhammad always held the Kaaba in very high esteem. The Makkahn tribe
of Quraish, which was responsible for guarding Kaaba, attempted to exclude
Muhammad's followers from the sanctuary, which became a subject of Muslim
complaints recorded in the Qur'an. When Muhammad conquered Makkah in 630, he
converted Kaaba to a mosque, which has since become known as the Masjid al-Haram,
or Sacred Mosque. The Masjid al-Haram was significantly expanded and improved in
the early centuries of Islam in order to accommodate the increasing number of
Muslims who either lived in the area or made the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage, to
Makkah, before it acquired its present shape in 1577 in the reign of the Ottoman
sultan Selim II.
The first thing Muhammad did upon arriving with his followers near Medina (then
named Yathrib) after the emigration from Makkah in 622 was build the Quba Mosque
in a village outside Medina. Muslims believe he stayed at the Quba Mosque for
three days before moving on to Medina.
Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on the Temple Mount, is the third holiest mosque in Islam.
The Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina as it exists todayJust days after beginning work
on the Quba Mosque, Muhammad went on to establish another mosque in Medina,
known today as the Masjid al-Nabawi, or the Prophet's Mosque. The location of
the mosque was declared as such after it hosted Muhammad's first Friday prayer.
Following its establishment, the Masjid al-Nabawi continued to introduce some of
the practices now considered common in today's mosques. For example, the adhan,
or call to prayer, was developed in the form still used in mosques today. The
Masjid al-Nabawi was built with a large courtyard, a motif common among mosques
built since then. Muhammad would stand up at one end of the arcade to preach.
Later on, he would develop a three-step pulpit as a platform from which he would
give sermons. The pulpit, now known as a minbar, is still a common feature of
Muhammad lived beside the mosque in Medina, which doubled as both a religious
and political center for the early Muslim community. Negotiations were
conducted, military actions planned, prisoners of war held, disputes settled,
religious information disseminated, gifts received and distributed among his
companions. His followers treated the wounded there and some people even lived
in the mosque permanently in tents and huts.
Today, the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah, the Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina and Al Aqsa
in Jerusalem are considered the three holiest sites in Islam.
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