What is a Minaret?
Minarets are a tall spire standing on or next to mosques and is usually taller. This is where the muezzin call out the Adhan – Call to Prayer. At the time of the Prophet Muḥammad, the call to prayer was made from the highest roof in the vicinity of the mosque. Today the muezzin has largely been replaced by loudspeakers mounted on a minaret connected to loudspeakers on a timer. Minarets are “landmarks of Islam” — to be visible from afar and to stamp an area with Islamic character.
Although minarets would appear as a simple religio-architectural symbol, they also have a political dimension. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now President of Turkey, stated 1998 that “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers”.
The Origin of the Minaret – Religious and Political Supremacy of Islam over Christianity
The two early mosques founded by Muhammad, one in Quba and in Medina, were simple structures until his death. There were no minarets there. Muhammed said that a mosque should be simple and modest, a booth, like the booth of Moses. For eight decades after Muhammad’s death, minarets were not a part of mosques.
The Umayyads first introduced the tradition of building gorgeous architectural and building structures in the process of conquest, including elegant mosques and introduce minarets to mosques, emulating the steeple, a bell-tower structure that was a feature of Christian churches. In the earliest surviving imperial mosque — the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus — in the beginning of the 8th century, the minarets were an appropriation of a Byzantine church’s bell towers former Greek watchtowers. So is the minaret originally a Christian religious symbol?
The Umayyads built gorgeous mosques, minarets and mausoleums all over the conquered lands to declare the religious and political supremacy of Islam over Christianity. Building mosques with minarets often became the first building initiative, which Islamic conquerors undertook in the newly conquered lands. Minarets were Colonial Imperial symbols. The first acts of Ottomans after conquering Constantinople in 1453 was the insertion of a minaret at one of the corners of the Byzantine church of Haghia Sophia. In fact, the Ottomans seemed to have used the minaret as one of the elements to visually appropriate conquered Byzantine churches and convert them to mosques.
Minarets also represent a declaration of the supremacy of the Islamic creed. Five times a day the muezzin in deafening noise pollution proclaims that Islam is in power and calls to the infidels to the submit to Islam. Minaret are now very much symbols of Islam, even if they technically are bid’a (innovation). Early wahhabism outlawed minarets, a regulation imposed for only very short time. The Mosque of the Prophet in Madina (in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia) has a record 10 minarets.
Within the Muslim diaspora, the construction of minarets tend to be an act of cultural affiliation and remembrance rather than of expressing dominance.
The Architectural Meaning of Minarets
The basic form of a minaret includes a base, shaft, and one or more galleries with a conical or onion-shaped crown. Internal or external stairs, probably deriving from the ancient Babylonian ziggurat, circle the shaft in a counter-clockwise fashion, providing necessary structural support to the highly elongated shaft. The gallery is a balcony that encircles the upper sections. Sometimes by an elevated passageway connects to minaret to the mosque.
The ground floor of minarets are always fitted into a square, while the higher parts of the minarets may be conical (tapering), square, cylindrical, or polygonal (faceted). There are 0-4 minarets per mosque and sometimes more. The upper parts of the minaret are usually richly decorated with carving.
Minarets are meant to dominate the landscape. Minarets originally served as illuminated watchtowers (hence the derivation of the word from the Arabic nur, meaning “light”. A minaret is a “lighthouse or beacon”. Today in Israel minarets are often decorated with green lights.
The oldest minaret in the world is in Kairouan, Tunisia. Built between 724 and 727. The tallest minaret in the world is that of the new Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco, which stands 210 meters tall.
The Psychology of Minarets
Minarets may be viewed as huge phallic symbols – just like obelisks and skyscrapers. An erect tubular structure, complete with an opening at the top and five emissions a day. In each mosque, you will also notice a dome, which is the feminine principal – the Lingam and the minaret, which is the male principal – the Yoni. (Google that if you don’t know what it means.)
Similarly it has been suggested that minarets are the architectural representation of Islamic pride in their founder Yishmael’s self-circumcision.
The Most Beautiful Minarets
Umayyad and Mameluke Minarets in Damascus, Syria
I am not sure that we will be able to visit these sites in the near future.
Muslim architects free their imagination to combine local folklore, Muslim tradition and modern architectural designs to create these beautiful minarets.
Swiss Ban on Minarets
Switzerland’s 2009 ban on construction of mosque minarets is based on the popular belief that immigration is a menace to European society. The fear of the oncoming “Eurabia” forsaw the struggle of EU nations to absorb the million Syrian refugees. The motion to ban minarets on mosque-tops in Switzerland was a proxy argument for future debates like the burqa, forced marriage and female circumcision.