Islam may be the world’s fastest-growing religion, but it’s actually the youngest of the four biggest religions (compared to Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity).
However, over the centuries, Islam has certainly left its mark, the most visible one being its awe-inspiring mosques. From towering domes with glittering chandeliers to elaborate mosaics and calligraphy, you can spend hours appreciating each and every painstaking detail.
In the spirit of Ramadan, let’s take a look at the Muslim world’s most enchanting mosques that you should definitely add to your bucket list of places to visit:
Note: As expected when visiting any religious site, visitors must dress conservatively, meaning long-sleeved shirts and ankle-length trousers or skirts. Women are also required to cover their hair.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque | Iran
Located in Isfahan, this brilliant example of Iranian architecture has been standing since the 1600s, during the reign of Shah Abbas I of Persia. It was originally built for private use by the royal court and its interior is covered in intricate tilework that has made it famous around the world. In the 1930s, after witnessing the mosque’s breathtaking beauty, British travel writer Robert Byron wrote, “I have never encountered splendor of this kind before.”
Sultan Ahmed Mosque | Turkey
Also known as The Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most iconic sights. Comprising five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes, the mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I to reassert Ottoman power following a lack of victories in the 1603–18 war with Persia. It sits right next to another famous landmark, the Hagia Sophia.
Al-Haram Mosque | Saudi Arabia
Al-Haram Mosque is the most sacred site in Islam, as it houses the Kaaba, a building known as the “House of God”. No matter where they are in the world, all Muslims are required to face the Kaaba when they perform their prayers. It’s also the world’s largest mosque, as it must accommodate millions of Muslim pilgrims who come from around the world to perform the Hajj or Umrah every year. The mosque is home to other significant sites, including the Black Stone, Zamzam Well, Maqam Ibrahim, and Safa and Marwa.
Shah Faisal Mosque | Pakistan
Surrounded by the rolling Margalla Hills in Islamabad, the sprawling Shah Faisal Mosque looks like it belongs inside a sci-fi flick. But actually, according to Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay who came up with the design, the mosque’s sleek and modern look was inspired by a Bedouin tent. Its triangular-shaped main hall is said to be big enough to comfortably hold up to 10,000 worshippers.
Hassan II Mosque | Morocco
This picturesque seaside mosque is set in Casablanca, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Its minaret is the world’s tallest, standing at 210 meters, and emits a laser from the top that is directed towards Mecca. In tribute to Morocco’s heritage, the mosque was built using locally-sourced materials and is decorated with traditional Moroccan motifs. Its design was inspired by Moroccan buildings and other famous Islamic sites from around the world.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque | United Arab Emirates
Resplendent in white marble, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque ranks among the world’s top landmarks, as voted by travelers. Completed in 2007, the mosque’s golden pillars, Moorish arches and sparkling chandeliers studded with Swarovski crystals give it a very luxe air. Then again, it’s located in Abu Dhabi, considered the UAE’s cultural capital.
Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque | Sri Lanka
Does this mosque remind you of a certain stripy, peppermint-y confection? (You’re not the only one.) Also known as the Red Mosque, Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque is one of Colombo’s oldest mosques. The mosque’s design is a hybrid of architectural styles, including Indian and Indo-Islamic, based on details and images provided by the local Indian Muslim community that commissioned its construction.
Qol Şärif Mosque | Russia
The turquoise domes of Qol Şärif Mosque are an unmistakable sight within Kazan’s Kremlin site, a centuries-old former citadel that now contains the city’s prized museums and historical sites. While the mosque predominantly serves as an Islamic museum throughout the year, it’s still used as a place to gather and perform prayers during major Muslim celebrations.
Crystal Mosque | Malaysia
Malaysia has marvelous mosques aplenty, but one of our favorites is the unique Crystal Mosque in Kuala Terengganu. Its gleaming exterior is made from glass, steel and crystal, hence its name. The mosque is actually set on Wan Man Island, located in the estuary of Terengganu River, where it flows to meet the South China Sea. The island is home to the Islamic Heritage Park, which is one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions.
The Great Mosque of Xi’an | China
The Great Mosque of Xi’an is the largest and most well-known mosque in China. Constructed during the Ming dynasty, the mosque is still used as a place of worship for Muslim residents in the area, mainly comprising the Hui people. Rather than following traditional Middle Eastern influences seen in most mosques, the mosque was built like a Chinese temple, featuring tranquil courtyards and ornamental gates, as well as Chinese and Arabic calligraphy.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque | Oman
Built from 300,000 tons of Indian sandstone, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Qaboos as a gift to the nation to mark his 30th year of rule. Located in the capital city of Muscat, it is the only mosque in Oman that allows non-Muslim visitors. One of the mosque’s most prominent features is the plush handwoven Iranian carpet in the main prayer hall – measuring over 70 × 60 meters, it is the second largest single-piece carpet in the world and took four years to make.
Nasir al-Mulk Mosque | Iran
While it resembles an ordinary mosque on the outside, stepping foot into Nasir al-Mulk Mosque is like wandering into a technicolor daydream. Famous for its walls lined with geometrically-arranged colored glass windows, the multicolored glass bathes the interior of the mosque in a riot of colors and kaleidoscopic designs when the morning sunlight shines through them. Located in the ancient city of Shiraz, this architectural wonder is locally known as the “Pink Mosque”.
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