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The Significance of the Minaret as the Symbol

of the Official Religion


Wan Athirah binti Wan Ahmad Kamal
Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Shah Alam, Selangor

Abstract
Minarets are more than just technical devices although they always fulfill an
architectural function. Beyond their function, they fulfill another role of even
greater significance, which is to remind man through their symbolic aspect of the
spiritual principles. In addition, the minaret reflects on its own level of realirt and
also corresponds to an inner state of man himself. The paper outlines the
rationalism of why the minaret is the symbol of an Islamic country through two
characteristics; form and surface, with the case study of the national Mosque,
Kuala Lumpur. Every aspeacts of the minaret, from its shape, surface and colour,
has significant meaning to be the face of Islam. The use of the tower as a symbol
is perhaps greater now than at any time in Islams past, even though it has to
compete with steel-framed structures which may be higher or have other claims
on the attention of the passer-by.
Keywords: minaret, mosque, Islam, shape

1 Introduction
1.1 Minaret
Minaret, the tall and slender tower attached to a mosque, is the most prominent
feature, besides dome, of Islamic architecture. The minaret provide a vantage
point from which the call to prayer, adhan is made by the muezzin, the person
who chants the call for prayer. The word manra is originally meant an object
that gives light or nur. Schawally and Doutte have suggested that the
application of the word manra to the tower of mosque is due to the light held by
the Muezzin as he recites the call to prayer at night which gives the onlooker
below the idea of a light-tower.

The earliest mosques had no minaret at all. The mosque built in the days
of Muhammad at Kaaba and Medina were so simple that there was no place for
building anything like a tower. The call of prayer was performed elsewhere. It is
claimed that the Adhan itself was copied from the Christians and the Jews. Ibn
Hisham tells us that when the first Muslims came to Medina, they prayed
without any preliminary Adhan. The Muslims heard the Jews use a horn or
Shofar, and the Christians the Nakus or clapper, a long piece of wood struck with
a flexible wabil, the Aramaic nakosha, which is still in use among the
Nestorians. Thus, Prophet Mohammad pbuh gave the command "Rise, 0 Bilal,
and summon to prayer!" Later tradition has embellished this simple account. AlNawawi gives the words in this wise "Go to some prominent place and summon
to prayer". It was quite natural that Bilal should make use of a position from
which he could best be seen and heard. Upon one occasion, during the Umrat alKasu, Mohammed ordered Bilal to recite the Adhan from the top of the Ka'bah.

Figure 1 : The Great Mosque of Damascus

Scholarly findings trace that the idea of the minaret arose during the
Umayyad dynasty and in Syria. In K.A.C Creswells article on the origins of the
minaret, he cited that the four towers called the awmi constructed on the roof
of the Umayyad mosque in Fustat were the first minaret to be built. He later
added that the great church in Damascus, which Al-Walhd finally turned into a
mosque, was constructed with four squat towers in each corner, and it is the
earliest mosque to use such towers to call for prayer.
Despite the fact that minarets were not a familiar facet of the earliest
mosques, these towers very soon adorned the skylines of Muslim cities and
became synonymous with Islamic architecture, and every region developed their
own signature styles. These structures were greatly influenced by the regions
society, culture and context which determined their shape, surface and colour.
Nevertheless, the form of the minaret has greater significance, beyond their basic
function. Its architecture reminds man through their symbolic aspect of the
spiritual principles.

Figure 2: The Jews Shofar

1.2 National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Located at the heart
of the city and standing 73m high, the tall and distinct
minaret serves as a visual statement, a symbol of the greatness of Islam as the
official religion in Malaysia. The mosque was built during the Malaysian postindependent era whereby most of its economic activities blooms. It was designed
by the architects of Public Work Department : British architect, Howard Ashley,
and Malaysians Hisham Albakri and Baharuddin Kassim. The structure was
established as a symbol of the countrys independence as mooted by the Federal
Executive Council on the 30th Juy 1957. The site initially was occupied by the

church of Venning Road Brethen Gospel Hall since 1922 but was appropriated
by the Malaysian government to build the National Mosque in 1965. The
mosques capacity is 15,000 worshippers at one time.

Figure 3 : Aerial view of the National Mosque

2 Form
2.1 Slim, vertical form
The positive vertical shape serves as exoteric landmarks leading to a significant
esoteric places. In the total urban composition, these minarets stand as the
vertical strokes of Arabic script, corresponding to the permanent transcendent
essences of things, while the horizontal development of the city expresses the
continuous, material creations of man linked in a total composition that
expresses Unity. Archetypically it reflects mans ontological axis, the vertical
and transcendent dimension which provides a spiritual depth or height to mans
otherwise two dimensional material existence. This analogy attains greater
richness when the minaret is viewed as the number 1 related to the first letter of
script, alif. Then, in the macroscale, alif or manar becomes synonyms with the
Creator and, in the microscale, with Hid reflection man. Externally, it
represents a man, a defined form who alone among the creatures stand upright in
the universe; internally, it recalls the soul of a man yearning to return to its
primordial place of origin.

The minaret is also given a symbolic meaning giving the highest


position to the declaration and attestation of faith, "Shahada". The declaration of
"Allah is the greatest" and "there is no God except Him and Mohammed (pbuh)
is His messenger", and the rest of the wording of Adhan is in fact a daily
confession of Islam of that particular community or city. This noble meaning has
been undermined by the articulation of skyscrapers, which dominate Kuala
lumpur cityscape.

Figure 4: The faithfuls performing prayers at the prayer


hall, National Mosque


2.2 Cuboid form

The cuboid structure with a square shaped base floor plan, symbolize stability
and equality, one of the basic principle in the value system of Islam. Islam
teaches that every human is equal to eye of the Creator. The stock of man, the
color of his skin, the amount of wealth he has and the degree of prestige he
enjoys have no bearing on the character and personality of the individual as far
as Allah is concerned. The only distinction, which Allah recognizes is the
distinction in piety; is the criterion of goodness and spiritual excellence. In the
Quran, Allah Almighty Says: "O mankind, indeed.We have created you from
male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know
one another. Indeed the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most
righteous. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted" [Quran 49:13]
The geometrical form also gives the sense of orderly, as we, the
Muslims believes to live in an orderly universe and everything is assigned a
place in a grand scheme which is working in a magnificent and superb way by
the Almighty. There is law and order among all the parts that make up this

universe. Everything is assigned a place in a grand scheme which is working in a


magnificent and superb way. The sun, the moon, the stars, in fact all the
heavenly bodies are knit together in a splendid system. These bodies follow an
unalterable law and do not deviate even slightly from their ordained course. The
earth rotates on its axis and in its revolution around the sun follows the path laid
out for it with precision. Everything in the world, from the tiny whirling electron
to the mighty galaxy, constantly and ceaselessly follows its own laws. Matter,
energy and life - all obey laws, laws by which they must grow or change, live or
die.

Figure 5: The tall minaret of the National Mosque


2.3 Pointed umbrella roof

The sharp and pointy umbrella-like form of the minaret roof is pointing towards
sky is seen as the gate from heaven and earth, being the mediator between the
temporary world, dunia and the afterlife, khirah. The tapered tip reminding the
Muslims their obligation as the servant of Allah when are placed on earth.
Muslims believes that mans existence on earth is only temporary, where he will
be tested, trained and then passed over to the Hereafter where he will stay
forever. The possessions and blessings of this world, although created similar to
their originals in Heaven, actually possess many defects and weaknesses. For
they are only intended to make man remember the Hereafter. Truly, the life of
this world is nothing but a (quick passing) enjoyment, and verily, the Hereafter
that is the home that will remain forever." [Quran 40:39]

Figure 6: The minaret of the National Mosque

3 Surface
3.1 Geometric screen
Each repeating geometric motifs on the south wall of the minaret has a built-in
symbolism ascribed to it. The rhombus, with its four equal length of sides, is
symbolic of the equally important elements of nature: earth, air, fire and water.
Without any one of the four, the physical world, represented by a circle at the
centre of the rhombus, would collapse upon itself and cease to exist.
The common theme of all Islamic art is geometric regularity, spatial
rhythm, periodic repetition. Islam, with its central creed of an omnipotent God to
whom all humans must humbly defer, found in the infinite pattern a supreme
artistic expression of its philosophy. By showing only a finite portion of a design
which in its entirely is infinite, the believer is reminded of his frailty and
insignificance under the reign of the Almighty.
The attractive and beautiful design of the minaret, affects the number of
the worshippers come to the mosque. promotes the faithfuls to perform their
prayers with other Jemaah at the mosque, which in turn make the mosque as the
center of human activities and encourage the Muslims to socialize.

Figure 7: The geometric pattern screen of the minaret


3.2 Colour

Figure 8: The south facing wall of the minaret

In the Islamic tradition, colour is considered primarily from a metaphysical point


of view, one which sees the durality of light and darkness as permanent
possibilities latent in the celestrial Archtypes. The world of colour cannot be
devoid of opposition. The marvel is that the colour spray from that which is
without colour, tht which is without colour, or Pure Light, is the realm of Pure
Being and Absolute Unity, in which there is no individualization. Once
determined, Light becomes the source of existence.
The white colour of the minaret symbolizes the integration of all
colours, pure and unstained. In its manifested state, it is the colour of Pure Light
before individualization, before the One become the many. Light, symbolically
viewed as white, descends from the sun and symbolizes unity.

Figure 9: The colour of the minaret, compliments the other components of the
mosque, creates the sense of unity.

4 Conclusion

Every aspects of the national mosques minaret, from its form to its height,
surface and colour is vital in announcing Islam as the official religion. The
minaret is in fact, valued more for its actual or symbolic religious function than
for its role as a marker or articulating feature, both within the complex to which
it belonged, and more broadly, within the cityscape itself.

Reference
[1] Bloom, J. (1989). Minaret: Symbol of Islam. The Rise of the Minaret.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[2] Ardalan, N., & Bakhtiar, L. (1973). The Morphology of Concepts. The
Sense of Unity: The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press.
[3] Hillenbrand, R. (1994). The Minaret. Islamic Architecture: Form, Function
and Meaning. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.