The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Mosque
MOSQUE, mŏsk (Arabic mesjid, Italian moschea), a Mohammedan house of prayer. The form of the oldest mosque was that of the Christian basilica, which however became modified in the progress of Mohammedan architecture. Mohammedans borrowed or adapted their ideas of architecture from the nations on whom they imposed their faith; the famous mosques of Turkey resemble the Byzantine architecture of Constantinople, and certain of those in India the temples of the Jains. Domes and minarets in course of time became emblematic of the more characteristic and ornate examples of Moresque or Saracenic art; but these are non-essentials, for in poor communities a bare whitewashed room may suffice for the public worship of the faithful. The mosques of the Arabs often include, in a quadrangular area, an immense number of columns ranged in files, the multiplicity and extent of which impress the mind of the beholder with surprise and admiration. These columns are, in numerous instances, the rich spoils of antique monuments. Mosque architecture possesses no fixed rules, deeming lightness and elegance alone to be the fundamental laws of architecture. In these Mohammedan churches we find neither altars, nor paintings, nor images, but a great quantity of lamps of various kinds, which form the principal interior ornament, and some sentences from the Koran written on the white walls. The buildings are often quadrangular in plan, and have an open interior court, where are fountains for ablutions. In the southeast of the building there is a pulpit for the imám; in the direction in which Mecca lies (the Kibléh) there is a niche toward which the faithful look when they engage in prayer. Opposite the pulpit there is a platform surrounded by a parapet, with a desk on which is placed the Koran for the purpose of reading to the congregation. On Fridays the five daily prayers, obligatory on the faithful every day, are recited in the mosque by the whole congregation, together with additional prayers. It is not customary for women to enter the mosques, and when they do they are placed separately from the males. The chief officer of the mosque is the nadir, under whom are two imáms, muezzins who call the people to prayer, etc. These in addition to their religious vocation generally pursue secular callings. It is usual to cover the floor of the mosque with carpets, but there are no seats. On entering a mosque, the faithful remove their shoes. The building is never closed; and while nothing could exceed the devotion of the congregation gathered together in worship, at other times the mosques serve as convenient meeting-places, and in which wayfarers may accommodate themselves. They also serve as schools and seats of learning. Thousands of students are regularly in attendance at the most famous of these, the Azhar Mosque in Cairo. The mosques are maintained for the most part by endowments in land. The finest of the mosques of Constantinople and of the world is that of Saint Sophia, at one time a Christian church. In addition to schools, the imperial mosques have frequently hospitals and kitchens for cooking food for the poor.