Inspired By a Bedouin’s Tent: The Faisal Mosque in Islamabad Was Designed By a Turkish Architect

Islamic architecture has made a distinctive place in the world. Throughout history, mosques have been the focus of many architectural exhibitions in the Muslim world. Muslim societies have always been keen on building mosques. This is inspired from the Prophet Muhammad who built a mosque after the formation of first Muslim society in Yathrab, now known as Medina. It was a simple structure,with pillars from palm trunks and roof from palm leaves. The architecture of modern mosques has evolved  to be very elaborate now, but no matter how grand, a mosque always invites a visitor with simple open spaces, wide corridors and elegant well-lit halls. Marbled domes, wide arches, corridors and the minarets along with the crescent moon are the symbols of a mosque across  all the diverse Muslim cultures. There is one mosque, however, which was built without many of these traditional elements. Shah Faisal mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan is an exquisite architectural feat with a modern outlook.

The unique look of Faisal mosque is inspired by a Bedouin’s tent. Bedouins are the nomadic tribes in the Arabia and their quick-to-setup tents are a symbol of their hard but natural way of life. King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia made the suggestion and funded the construction as a gift to the people of Pakistan (Faisal Mosque, n.d.). The mosque was designed by a Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay whose design won an international competition held in 1969 in which 43 design proposals from 17 countries were submitted. It was designed without a traditional dome or arches. Upon its completion in 1986 it was the largest mosque in the world till 1993 when the Hassan II Mosque in Morocco was built.

The Faisal mosque is constructed in Islamabad, at the base of Margalla Hills which are the southernmost offshoot of the Himalayas. It is constructed on an elevated piece of land and offers great views for miles around. The tent-shaped structure covers the main prayer hall, which is decorated with marble and mosaics and can house 10,000 worshippers inside alone. Combined with the courtyard and lawns, more than 250,000 worshippers can be accommodated at the mosque. It contains a library, a lecture hall, a museum and a café. ts grounds also house the mausoleum of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq who ruled the country from 1978-88. His funeral was the biggest in the history of Pakistan (Faisal Mosque, Islamabad, n.d.). The mosque also used to be the old campus of the International Islamic University.

Faisal mosque came under a lot of criticism from conservative Muslims for abandoning the traditional symbols of Islamic architecture. This criticism died down when the mosque was completed and its beauty was evident. The unique design, set against the backdrop of green hills of Margalla, only adds to a worshipper’s connection with the Almighty. As the national mosque of Pakistan, it is a symbol of national pride for the young nation. This mosque is a popular site for foreigners as well as tourists from other parts of the country.