4.614 | Fall 2002 | Undergraduate
Religious Architecture and Islamic Cultures

Glossary of Terms

**Abbasids [The]** The second major Islamic dynasty (750-1258), were the descendants of al-Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle, hence the name. Their effective rule lasted only for a little more than a century. After that they became the figureheads of an elusive Islamic unity that did not exist in reality.
Abd al-Malik Fifth Umayyad caliph (685-705), organized the Caliphate, Arabicized the administration and Islamized the coinage after he had subdued several revolts against the rule of his family.
Ablution Fountain A feature frequently but not always encountered in mosques. It is usually put in the center of the mosque’s courtyard for the worshipers to perform their ritual washing before prayer.
**Aghlabids [The]** A dynasty that ruled Ifriqiya and Sicily between 800 and 909. Their capital was at Qayrawan, and they paid tribute to the Abbasids.
Akhi Member of the Sufi network that Islamized Anatolia and formed the religious counterpart to the warrior class.
Al-Andalus Southern Spain, but used in Arabic sources to designate all of Islamic Spain.
**Al-Qahira (Cairo)** The new capital city of Egypt established by the Fatimids upon their conquest of the country in 969 north of Fustat, the old capital.
**Al-Qata’i’ (the wards or the fiefs)** The new settlement built north of Fustat on the site of the future Cairo by Ahmad ibn-Tulun, the Turkish governor of Egypt sent by the Abbasids.
Arcuate Architecture The contrasting architectural principle based mostly on vaults, arches, and domes, executed in brick. It is generally attributed to Mesopotamia and Persia, and seen as the Islamic style brought to India with the invading Turkish armies.
**Ayyubids [The]** A family of Kurdish amirs who ruled Syria and Egypt (1176-1250). Their founder was Salah al-Din (Saladin), the exemplary knight and hero of the Counter-Crusade.
Banna’i Technique A tile decoration meaning the builder’s technique, it consists of revetment of glazed bricks set within unglazed ones to form geometric patterns.
Bostra A Syrian-Roman city and another capital of the Ghassanids; the illustration of urban splendor in the eyes of the Prophet Muhammad.
**Central-Dome Mosque [The]** Mosque in which the prayer hall’s space is dominated by a central dome surrounded by smaller and lower semi-domes. It was introduced by the Ottomans in the 15th century.
Chahar Bagh (Persian, four gardens) Quadripartite garden enclosure with a cruciform plan.
Chahar taq A term referring to the form of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian fire temples of Iran; a domed square with an opening on each side and no doors.
Chatri (originally Persian for umbrella) A small, vaulted pavilion used in India mostly.
**Counter-Crusade [The]** A movement to recover the Islamic lands occupied by the Crusades. It was fueled by the ruling military and religious elite as part of a wider moral reinvigoration of the community that was translated architecturally in the spread of religious institutions such as madrasas and mausolea.
**Crusades [The]** A series of campaigns launched in 1099 by Christian Europe against the Islamic East, ostensibly to liberate the Holy Land. In 1187, Salah al-Din (Saladin), the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, took Jerusalem back. In 1292, Acre, the last stronghold of the Crusaders in Palestine, fell to the Mamluks.
**Dar al-Salam (the Abode of Peace)** The round city founded in 762 by al-Mansur (754-75), the second Abbasid caliph, to be his royal center on the western bank of the river Tigris. Its plan and symbolism were the result of a synthesis of many previous traditions. What started as the enclosed, round city of al-Mansur soon expanded on both banks of the river and its name reverted to that of the ancient name of the site, Baghdad.
Darga A Persian term for entrance vestibule, it became an important element in Timurid architecture and developed into monumental proportions along very symmetrical lines.
Dihqans The landed nobility of pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia.
**Fatimids [The]** An Ismaili dynasty whose founder claimed descent from Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet and wife of ‘Ali, and established a counter-caliphate in Ifriqiya (909-71), which was later expanded to include Egypt and southern Syria (969-1171).
Four Iwan Type A structure with cross-axes ending in four iwans surrounding a courtyard. In four-iwan mosques and madrasas, the prayer hall is the largest iwan. The type first appeared in Khurasan, probably developed from ancient Iranian models. It was the most popular type in the medieval period, and remained dominant in Iran.
Ghazi Warrior or conqueror, used both as a title and as a means of attracting Turkomans to fight for the faith and for the expanding principality.
**Great Seljuqs [The] (1038-1194). A Turkish, Sunni dynasty which ruled the whole Iranian world (including Khurasan and Transoxania), Iraq, Syria, and parts of Byzantine Anatolia.
Haftrangi (Cuerda Seca)** A technique that permits the creation of multi-colored patterns on the same tile before firing without letting the colors run together.
Hasht-Bihisht (Persian, eight paradises) A late name to an old type of building that has a radially symmetrical plan with eight parts surrounding a central chamber which is almost always domed. In Islamic times, this plan was most suited to house a reception/audience hall, or a tomb. It was popularized by Timur and his descendants in both their palatial and religious monuments. Later developments emphasized the faç by adding turrets to the four corners, by raising the central part of the faç via a pishtak, and/or by doubling the side through chamfering the corners.
Hazar-baf A textile term borrowed in Persian brick architecture to designate the woven-like, checker-board quality of brick decoration that appeared in the ninth century.
Hazira or Rawda (Arabic) terms used in the Mughal period to designate a tomb or a mausoleum. The originial meaning of the former is “enclosure”, the latter “garden.” This suggests the garden origin of tomb-gardens.
Hudur Sufi acts of devotion which took the form of dancing, singing, and whirling among other ways. Each Sufi order had its distinctive hudur.
**Hypostyle Mosque [The]** Mosque in which the prayer hall is formed of rows of vertical supports, or columns, that can multiply indefinitely. Dominant type in the early period.
Ifriqiya Present day Libya, Tunisia, and most of Algeria.
**Ilkhanid [The]** Il-khan (Subordinate of the Khan) was the title assumed by Hülegü (1256-65), after he became the Mongol ruler of Iran and Khurasan. The Ilkhanids eventually converted to Islam and adopted the Iranian culture. It was from that period that the material culture of Iran flourished after the severe blow caused by the Mongol invasion.
Imaret Soup kitchen, it was one of the major charitable units in any religious Ottoman complex.
Islam One of today’s global religions and the third monotheistic religion, revealed after Judaism and Christianity and accepting them both. Brought by the Prophet Muhammad (570-632) in Arabia, it soon spread all over the southern and eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and south, east, and central Asia. In Arabic, the word Islam literally means,“to surrender, to submit” (to the will of God), which is the essence of the religion.
**Ismailis [The]** Recognize the first six imams, but differ with the Twelvers about the seventh, Ismail, hence their name.
**Iwan Mosque [The]** Mosque in which the prayer hall is an iwan, or more, up to four iwans, surrounding a courtyard. It was the most popular type in the medieval period, and remained dominant in Iran.
Khanqah Institution for sufis which usually contains a mosque, quarters for a number of sufis, and a meeting hall where the hudur is performed. Its introduction into the urban environmrnt in major cities marked the recognition of popular religious practices by both the ruling and the clerical classes.
**Koca Sinan [The]** (1499?-1588): The greatest Ottoman architect, he served as chief architect or the Architect of Dar-Usaadet (the Abode of Felicity) for 50 years (1538-88). He built or supervised a total of 316 structures in Istanbul alone. He greatly influenced the development of Ottoman architecture and produced its most celebrated masterpieces.
**Kulliye [The]** From the Arabic kull (the whole), it was used in Ottoman times to designate the religious, social, and charitable complexes. Kulliyes were built by sultans, their wives, and their high officials. A great kulliye normally comprises a congregational mosque, one or more madrasas, a soup kitchen (imaret), a hospital (dar al-shifa), a school for kids (mektab), a bath, fountains, and possibly the mausoleum of the founder and his family.
**Madrasa [The]** The specialized institution of learning that was adopted by the Seljuqs to promote Sunni teaching. A madrasa usually contains a mosque, classrooms, and lodgings for students and teachers. Madrasas appeared most probably in Khurasan in the 9-10th c. and spread all over the Islamic world in the 11-12th c.
**Mamluks [The]** A curious phenomenon that is not encountered outside the Islamic world, Mamluks were imported slaves, mostly of Turkish or Caucasian stock, who were destined for a military career. The Mamluks ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517.
Maqsura A private area in the prayer hall enclosed by a wood screen for the ruler and his entourage.
Mashhad A complex term that means either a memorial for a shahid (witness of the greatness of God, but later exclusively meaning martyr) or a memorial for a true vision, which mostly involves the Prophet or members of his family.
**Maydan-i-Shah [The]** Among the largest open squares in the world (1700 by 525 ft), it was the focal point of Shah ‘Abbas’s plan. Its four sides were lined up with shops on two levels, and each side of the Maydan had a monumental structure in its centre.
Mecca Birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and a major trading center in Arabia that linked Byzantine Syria in the north with Yemen in the south. The tribe of Qureish lived in Mecca and was divided into 40 clans of varying wealth and status.
Mihrab A wall recess, mostly in the form of arched niche, in the qibla wall, indicating the position of the prayer-leader facing the direction toward Mecca.
Minaret A tall slender tower, circular or square in section, built next or in a mosque, from which the Muslims are called to prayer. Mosques may have one, two, three, four, and up to six minarets.
Minbar The pulpit, mostly made of wood, put in a mosque near its mihrab, upon which the prayer-leader stands when he gives the congregational prayer’s sermon on Fridays and in holidays.
Mosaic-faience A tile decoration that reached its apex in the 14th century, it is a patterned arrangement of closely fitted small pieces of tiles which have surface glaze of different colors.
**Mughals of India [The]** A dynasty whose founder Babur (1526-30) descended from the most illustrious Mongol conquerors, Ghenkis Khan and Timur, hence the name. They ruled most of India for three centuries before direct British rule was set in 1858. The period between Babur’s reign and 1707, when five of his descendants, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangazeb ruled is considered the age of the Great Mughals.
Muqarnas Also called the stalactite or honeycomb, one of the most distinctive Islamic architectural elements used in domes, in domes’ transitional zones, in cornices and friezes, in conches above entrances, and on friezes supporting balconies of minarets. Its origin, symbolic meaning, and date of first appearance are frequently debated.
Neo-Islamic Styles The nineteenth century started with the first European military interventions in the Orient and ended with most of it under direct colonial rule. Architecture was affected by these new political realities and by the disciplinary developments in Europe where architecture had become an academic field with its rules and parameters. European styles began shaping the outlook of “Oriental” cities and the tastes of their inhabitants. Also European and European-trained designers became the masters of the building trades everywhere. These same professionals acted as the interpreters of the architectural heritage of the countries in which they worked. They documented, analyzed, and classified the structures they encountered, which permitted the introduction of these formerly-unexplored styles. Consequently, hybrid styles of building and decoration were produced in both East and West that borrowed freely and sometimes indiscriminately from the varied repertoires of non-western architectures, and blended them with various European structural, constructional, functional, and stylistic modes. The end results came to be known collectively as Oriental styles and individually we encounter various epithets such as the Neo-Moorish, Neo-Saracen, Neo-Mamluk, Neo-Mughal and so on.
Night Journey and the Ascension [The] ( Al-Isra’ wa-l-Miraj) The miraculous journey of the Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension to Heaven to receive from God major doctrinal requirements.
Nizam al-Mulk (1020-92). The able vizier of the Seljuq sultans who organized the structure of their state, promoted Sunni learning, and sponsored madrasas in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, all called Nizamiyya.
**Ottomans [The]** A Turkish dynasty named after Ghazi Osman, who established a small principality in the northwestern corner of Anatolia in the 13th century. The Ottomans fulfilled an Islamic dream in conquering Constantinople (Istanbul) and formed the largest empire of its time which comprised the Balkans, Greece, Anatolia, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, the Holy Cities of Arabia, Algeria, and Tunisia. The empire lasted until 1924. The early Ottomans had a close relationship with sufis and dervishes, but the building of an Islamic empire brought the ulema class to the forefront. Early Ottoman religious architecture reflects the balancing of traditional Orthodox themes with the mystical sufi ones in its forms and functions.
Palmyra A caravan city turned imperial center with heavy Roman influences.
Petra The Nabatean capital carved in the rock with hybrid Hellenistic sensitivities.
Pietra Dura Semi-precious stone (lapis, onyx, jasper, topaz, and cornelian) inlays in marble following geometric or floral designs.
Post-Seljuq Period After the desintegration of the Great Seljuq Empire, many spin-off dynasties carved out smaller provinces in Anatolia (which opened up to Turkish immigration after the Seljuks defeated the Byzantines at the battle of Manzikert in 1071), Syria, and Mesopotamia. The most important among them were the Seljuqs of Rum (Anatolia) and the Zengids.
Qa’a-Mosque Type Probably a development borrowed from residential architecture, this type has a qa’a plan (the most common hall type in Egypt), which normally has two iwans facing each other on the main axis, with wall recesses on the two remaining sides, while the central space is covered with a wooden cupola.
Qayrawan The Islamic capital of Ifriqiya, founded by Uqba ibn Nafi’ in 664. He built in it a dar al-imara (palace of the governor) and the congregational mosque which carries his name (the Mosque of Sidi Uqba).
Qibla The direction of Mecca toward which Muslims are required to face when they perform their prayer.
Qubba Literally “dome”, but the word often signified the mausoleum of an amir or a pious man, which was usually, but not always, a cubical structure covered with a dome.
Ribat Originally designated a building type that was both military and religious in character. It was a fortified barrack for those volunteers (murabitun) whose piety led them to devote themselves to guarding the frontiers of the Islamic state.
**Rusafa(Sergiopolis)** Capital of the Ghassanids, clients of Constantinople.
Sabil-Kuttab A charitable structure composed of a sabil (drinking fountain) on the ground floor, and a kuttab (Qur’anic school for boys) on top, which was usually a room open on all sides.
**Safavids [The]** (1501-1732): Of an obscure origin which is most probably Sunni and Kurdish, the Safavids (named after a sufi master, Shaykh Safi) forged for themselves an illustrious genealogy that goes back to ‘Ali, and proceeded to forcibly change Iran into a Shiite state. In the process they shaped the modern image of the Iranian nation.
Samanids Dynasty which ruled part of former Sogdian territory from 819-1005; capital was Bukhara; patrons of New Persian literature, science and architecture.
Samarra The new capital city established by caliph al-Mu’tasim in 836 to house his growing army of Turkish slave-warriors (Mamluks) on the Tigris, 60 miles north of Baghdad. It developed into a conglomeration of secluded caliphal palaces and houses for the troops on a grandiose scale. The city remained capital of the Abbasid empire until 883, then it was abandoned and Baghdad regained its old position.
Sasanians Dynasty which ruled Iran from 226-651; capital was Ctesiphon.
Shah Abbas I (1588-1629): The greatest Safavid monarch, he moved the capital to Isfahan in 1598, and built there a royal city that extended to the south of the old city and connected it with the Zayandeh river via a wide avenue, the Chahar Bagh (Four Gardens) Avenue. Shah Abbas’s royal buildings were organized around his central Maydan or along the Chahar Bagh Avenue.
**Shiites [The]** From shia (supporters), those who recognized ‘Ali as the only legitimate imam (political and religious leader) after the Prophet, and rejected most other caliphs, especially the Umayyads. They developed into several sects which differed in the number of imams they recognized. Most important are: The Twelvers Imamis, The Ismailis, The Fatimids.
Sogdians Central Asian people who inhabited and ruled the land roughly corresponding to the modern country of Uzbekistan up until the Arab invasion in the 8th century.
**Sunni Revival [The]** The term used to designate the movement that culminated with the Seljuqs who actively sought the elimination of Shi’ite principalities in the eastern Islamic world and the Shiite grip on the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, and who sponsored and fostered the renaissance in Sunni theology and jurisprudence.
**Sunnis [The]** From sunna (tradition or custom), those who adhere to the standard practice (understod to be of the Prophet). Sunnis are the majority of Muslims and follow four schools of jurisprudence: the Shafi’i, Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali. They accept the legitimacy of both the Umayyads and Abbasids.
Tabkhane Hospice, sometimes attached to a mosque for the free lodging of wandering dervishes and travelers.
Timur (1370-1405) A Mongol chieftain, Timur started from Transoxania to build a world empire. He conquered Khurasan, Iran, Iraq, and parts of Syria and Anatolia. He massacred whole populations, but saved the craftsmen whom he sent to his capital Samarqand to embellish it. His was the last empire initiated by the steppe people.
Trabeate Architecture The characteristic architectural principle of Hindu India based on the post-and-lintel system, mostly done in stone, and related stylistically and decoratively to carved wood architecture.
**Turkish Baroque Style [The]** The name given to the Ottoman architectural and decorative production from the mid eighteenth century until the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The style was concomitant with the gradual Westernization of the Ottoman elite’s lifestyle and tastes is characterized by a profusion of curved, undulating motifs, imported European patterns, and unrestrained, extroverted plans.
**Twelvers Imamis [The]** The majority of Shiites, they recognize twelve descendants of ‘Ali. Most of Iran became Shiite in the sixteenth century under the Safavids.
**Umayyads (of Spain) [The]** After the fall of the Umayyad dynasty in 750, a scion of the family, Abd al-Rahman I, fled to Spain and established a principality in Cordoba independent of the Abbasids. His great grandson, Abd al-Rahman III (912-961) declared a new Umayyad caliphate with its capital in Cordoba.
**Umayyads [The]** First Islamic dynasty (661-750) established by a companion of the Prophet, Mu’awiya. Their capital was Damascus. They built the first monumental mosques.
Waqf Endowment deed. In the medieval period, amirs and dignitaries endowed charitable structures both for pious and social reasons and as a means to preserve some of the wealth generated by their iqta’, or revenues form land holdings granted by the state only while they are actively in the service.
Ziyarids Dynasty which ruled part of the Caspian provinces of Iran from 932 to c. 1075; nominally Islamic but holding to pre-Islamic Persian traditions and claiming descent from the Sasanians; responsible for several tomb towers, including Gunbad-i Qabus and Pir-i Alamdar.

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