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NY Mosque
The
New York Mosque

by

Becky Custer
[custer@murray.fordham.edu

Building the Mosque

New York City is a melting pot of nationalities, races, and religions. There is something to offer everyone. However, for the Muslim community was without a proper place to worship for many years. It was not until five years ago that a mosque was built for them, but this took many years in the making.

It began in 1966 when the governments of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Libya donated money for the construction of a mosque in New York City. With this money they purchased a piece of property in upper Manhattan. Not until 1987 did the Board of Trustees reach an agreement on the beginning of work on the mosque. The goal was to build a mosque that conformed to traditional Islamic architectural style, while at the same time updating it with a modern look compatible with the surrounding New York City buildings. The completion of construction was in 1990 with the official opening on September 25, 1991. The ceremony was presided over by H.H. the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber.

The Architecture

When passing the Mosque while walking down the street one may not even realize what is because of its modern features. Study the old architecture of the ancient mosques of the middle ages and one will see that it has the same basic shape and characteristics.

At the end of the seventh century [of the Common Era], Muslim rulers were firmly established in their conquered domains. They began to erect mosques and palaces on a large scale as visible symbols of their power. They were made by craftsmen gathered from Egypt, Syria, Persia, and Byzantium who built in the styles they were trained in. By the eighth century these styles had synthesized to form an Islamic tradition.

An Old Tradition

One feature that was common with all mosques was the marking of the qibla. The qibla is the direction to which Moslems turn in praying to Allah. They pray in the direction of Mecca. The qibla is emphasized by a colonnade. In the New York Mosque, the qibla is marked by a gold, squared arch that is detailed in scrolls. Within this arch are glass arches that become smaller by each pane. This gives it a look of depth, as if the qibla is leading somewhere.

The Turkish Input

The New York Mosque is perhaps more similar to the Turkish mosques that began being built in the tenth century. This style of mosques was called Madrasah. The mosques built before the tenth century used many columns and aisles. The Turkish mosques, like the New York Mosque, had a simple, large, open space.

Use of Space

Space was an essential characteristic of mosques. There were many cavities that prevented the viewer from seeing the end of walls. It gave the mosque a limitless, fluid look. The New York Mosque also bears this characteristic. There are many depths to the walls emphasized by the white of the walls and the glass.

The interior of the Mosque can be compared to Hagia Sophia, a church built in 532-37 in present day Istanbul (what was then Constantinople). The Hagia Sophia had many openings that let light giving it the illusion of floating. The Mosques also makes use of this image. With the interior lights, the hanging lights, and the natural light filtering in from the outside, the Mosque looks celestial. Unlike an Orthodox church, however, the mosque has no figurative decorations to detract attention from God, nor divisions on the floor to allow elaborate liturgies. It is a common space to gather the Muslim community in prayer before the one absolute divinity.

Modern Elements

The exterior of the Mosque retains the basic square shape of the Hagia Sophia and other mosques of which followed that type. The difference, and this comes with the modern construction, is that the New York Mosque is more rigid, geometrical. The Mosque has the central dome of traditional Mosques without having the half domes and smaller domes that were added to the medieval mosques.

The last characteristic that the Mosque bears is the minaret. This is the tower used to summon the faithful to prayer by the cry of the muezzin. The muezzin is the Muslim official who proclaims from the minaret the hour of prayer.

The New York Mosque is a gem for its keeping with traditional Islamic architecture and religious teachings. It is open to the public, Muslim or non-Muslim, and welcomes those who would like to experience their prayer. It is located on 3rd Avenue between 96th and 97th streets.

Islamic Links


This Page is part of the Medieval New York Web Project, a project of students in the Introduction to Medieval History courses taught by Paul Halsall in the History Department of Fordham University in 1996-1997.

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