Adonis Diaries

Most beautiful mosques in the Middle East and North Africa

Posted on: April 25, 2016

12 Most beautiful mosques in the Middle East and North Africa

And the stories behind these mosques

There is no doubt that the Middle East and North African regions have a lot of history, influences and Islamic heritage.

With a wide variety of architectural buildings inspired by a vast number of influences, both regions have mosques that have stood the test of time and remain to this day, beautifully designed houses of worship.

What are the stories behind these mosques though? StepFeed decided to find out – Let’s just say that the stories are as equally fascinating as the buildings they represent.|By Nina Awad

1.The Great Mosque of Mohammed Ali Pasha in Egypt

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The mosque is situated in the Citadel of Cairo, which is located in the heart of the capital. Mohammed Ali Pasha ordered the mosque to be constructed between 1830 and 1848 in memory of his son, Tusun Pasha, who died in 1816. However, the magnificent building was not complete until Said Pasha’s reign in 1857.

The mosque wasn’t properly constructed and by 1899, the building was full cracks and holes within the walls. Yet, incomplete and inadequate repairs took place. In 1931, King Farouk deemed the mosque too dangerous and ordered a complete scheme of restoration before such a historical monument was lost.

The mosque is currently a great tourist attraction, for both domestic and foreign travelers.

2. Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Turkey

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Known as the Blue Mosque due to its famous blue tiles that embellish its interior walls, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 in Turkey’s capital, Istanbul.

After the huge defeat in the war with Persia between 1604 -1618, Sultan Ahmet I was determined to reassert the Ottoman power and decided to build a big mosque in Istanbul. The famous mosque would mark the first imperial mosque to be built in more than 40 years. Unlike his predecessors who built mosques using funding they gained from their wars, Ahmet I had to reallocate money from the treasury to fund his project, angering many Muslim jurists in the process.

3. The Umayyad Mosque in Syria

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Located in Damascus, the Umayyed is one of largest and oldest mosques in the world and it is considered to be the fourth holiest place in Islam by some Muslims.

In the year 634 and after the Arab conquest on Damascus, the mosque was built on the site of a shrine dedicated to John the Baptist, who is a prophet in the eyes of Christians and Muslims alike. A legendary story from the era stipulates that the somewhere in the building, John the Baptist’s head remains. Furthermore, Muslims believe that the Umayyad Mosque is the place where Jesus Christ will return at the end of days.

The tomb of Saladin, the medieval Muslim Ayyubid Sultan Saladin, stands in a small garden in the north wall of the mosque.

4. The Quba Mosque in Saudi Arabia

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The Quba Mosque, which is the oldest mosque in the world and had its first bricks were placed by Prophet Mohammed, is located in the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. After leaving Mecca to head to Medina, Prophet Mohammed spent 2 weeks in the mosque in which he performed the “Hijra” prayers while waiting for his companion, Ali, to arrive from Mecca.

According to Islamic laws, completing two rakaāt of nafl prayers in the Quba Mosque is equal to performing one Umrah. A hadith told by Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, Al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, and Hakim Al- Nishaburi state the prophet used to go to the Quba Mosque every Saturday and did two rakaāt. Afterwards, the prophet called on other Muslims to do the same and said “whoever makes ablutions at home and then goes and prays in the Mosque of Quba, he will have a reward like that of an Umrah.”

5. Hagia Sophia in Turkey

Circa 1900 photograph

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Hagia Sophia was Christian church that was later turned into an imperial mosque. Now however, the remarkable building stands as museum in Istanbul.

From the date of its construction in the year 537 until 1453, the building was a Greek Orthodox cathedral except for a short period of time between 1204 and 1261 when it was converted to Roman Catholic during the Latin Empire. Then the building served as a mosque from 1453 until its secularization in 1931.

The church housed a large number of holy artifacts and stood witness to the excommunication of Patriarch Michael I Cerularius by Pope Leo IX in 1054. Also, during the conquering of Istanbul by the Ottoman Turks headed by Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered the church to transform to Islam and serve as a mosque, the Chrisitan cathedral had fallen into despair and had no choice but to oblige. The church sacrificed all holy monuments and removed mosaics depicting Jesus and Mary and they were replaced by Islamic artifacts such as mihrab and four minarets.

Islamic relics stayed in the mosque till it was closed to the public for four years until its reopening in 1935 as a museum. Hagia Sophia’s fine architectural detail served as an inspiration for other mosques such as the Blue Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.

6. The Shah Mosque in Iran

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The Shah Mosque is located in Isfaham, Iran, and has been renamed to Imam Mosque after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The initial construction of the building took part during the Safavids period and is among the best examples of Islamic architecture in the country. Often seen as the masterpiece of Persian architecture, it is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its seven colored mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions that date back to 1611.

7. The Süleymaniye Mosque in Turkey

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Yet another Ottoman imperial mosque that is located in Istanbul is the Süleymaniye Mosque. Built on the orders of Sultan Süleyman, the groundbreaking construction began in 1550 and was complete by 1558.

One of Turkey’s most famous tourist attractions, the mosque beautifully blends Islamic architecture with Byzantine architectural elements. The elegentally designed mosque was burned in fiery flames in 1660 and was restored by Sultan Mehmen IV. Another part of mosque collapsed during an earthquake in 1766. During WW1, the mosque’s courtyard served as storage for weapons. Unfortunately, however, ammunition caught on fire under bizarre circumstances which caused further damage to the building. It wasn’t until 1956 that the mosque went under full restoration.

8. Al Aksari Mosque in Iraq

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The Aksari mosque is one of Shia Muslims’ holiest shrines in the world and is located in the city of Samarra, Iraq. Built in 944, the shrine had the remains of the 10th and 11th Shia imams Ali Al Hadi and his son, Hasan Al Aksari. Also buried within the holy mosque are Hakimah Khatun, Ali Al Hadi’s sister, and Narjis Khatun, Mouhammed Al Mahdi’s mother.

Both imams, Ali Al Hadi and Hassan Al Aksari, were under house arrest in a military camp called Caliph Al Mu’tasim and therefore, they are known as the Askariyyain or “Dwellers in the Camp.” Following their death, they were both buried in their house on Abi Ahmed street near the mosque.

Nasir Ad Din Shah Qajar, the king of Persia from1848 to 1896, ordered the latest remodeling of the shrine in 1868. However, the golden dome on that topped the shrine was destroyed in 2006 by extremists. In June 2007, the remaining minarets were destroyed and in July of the same year, a separate bombing destroyed the remaining clock tower.

9. Nasir Ol Molk Mosque in Iran

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Widely referred to as the Pink Mosque, the Nasir Ol Molk Mosque is located in Shiraz, Iran. The mosque was constructed during the Qajar era and remains under the protection of the Endowment Foundation of Nasir Ol Molk. Construction on the marvelous building began in 1876 and was complete in 1888 on the order of Mirzā Hasan Ali, a Qajar ruler.

The mosque includes a large number of colored glass and brilliantly portrays the traditional elements on Shia Islam such as the five concaved designs.

10. The Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun in Egypt

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The mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun, which is situated in Cairo, is one of the oldest mosques in the city surviving in its original form and design.

Ordered to be built by Ahmad in Tulun, Abbassif governor of Egypt from 868 to 884, the construction of this historic mosque began in 876 and was completed in 879. The mosque has undergone several restorations with the first recorded attempt of repairs in 1177 under the orders of Fatimid Wazir Badr Al Jamali, who inscribed the Shia version of the Shehahda on mosque’s walls. Improvements to the mosque were also observed in 1296 and most recently in 2004 under the orders of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

11. The Khamis Mosque in Bahrain

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Widely believed to be the first mosque built in Bahrain during the Umayyad era under the rule of Caliph Umar II, the Islamic monument is believed to have been founded in 692. However, an inscription on the walls of the mosque says that the foundation happened sometime during the 11th century.

The ancient building went through a complete restoration in the 14th and 15th centuries. The current monument however is composed of two main parts. The first is a prayer hall with a flat roof that is backed by wooden columns that go back to the 14th century. The second part was in addition to the flat roof and is rested upon thick arches that date back to 1339.

12. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayad Mosque

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Initiated by the founder of the United Arab Emirates, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan,

the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the largest, most impressive mosques to be built in the last 100 years.

With room for more than 7,000 worshippers in its main hall, it serves as the grand mosque for the UAE. Like the UAE itself, the mosque is a mix of regional styles and designs, with Persian, Moghul and Moorish inspirations.

And of course, being in the UAE, the mosque has some notable “biggest” claims: It has what is reportedly the world’s largest carpet (5,627 m2), the third-largest chandelier in the world (15 m in height) and the largest marble mosaic in the world (17,000 m2).

Rarely is there a better representation of a country in its grand mosque than the Sheikh Zayad is for the UAE.


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