Gabe Weiland: Islamic Architecture and Spirituality

Many concepts of Sufi practice and spirituality are embodied in Muslim architecture and architectural forms. Typically, the gradient progression from a symbolic standpoint is from a multiplicity of forms all coming together towards a single point of unity. In Sufism, the goal is Ihsan, and the Sufis must seek closeness and unity with God. There is also a symmetry between the central dome and other subsidiary domes, representing unity, even within multiplicity. This is reflected in the Garden of Mystery, where it said that entire harvests can be found in a single kernel of wheat. The entirety of the cosmos can be found in any single part. Everything is a reflection of God and His unlimited, unimaginable existence. The importance of the Qibla wall and the unified, directional prayer of the mosque’s parishioners is also important.
The goal of Islamic architecture is to provide a modestly beautiful place of worship with symbolic form. It is modest in that it’s goal is not to glorify the artist or the structure itself. Even some modern mosques do not have minarets since they are seen as excessive and gaudy. Furthermore, the decorative aspects must not be overly glorified or idolized, and is usually limited to geometric patterns and calligraphy. Still, this aesthetically sterile and pure environment for worship is perhaps what distinguishes a mosque most from most christian churches. Whereas symbolic artistic representations of Jesus and other biblical figures are common in many churches of all denominations, Islamic mosques are not ornately decorated in the same manner with stained glass caricatures and paintings. Likewise, the concept of tomb visitation in Catholic churches goes against mainstream Muslim orthodoxy. However, mystical Islamic traditions have embraced some of these controversial practices including tomb and shrine visitation, although these remain separate from Mosques. Additionally, Sufi lodges and other buildings take the pure design of the mosque even further, eschewing aesthetics altogether in favor of simplistic, ascetic settings.