Converting Temples into Mosques as a Relative and Qualified Trend
In view of the essential nature of Islam, in general, and in view of the essential qualities of Islamic architecture, in particular, reclaiming and converting not only temples but also churches and some other forms of non-Muslim ceremonial edifices, into mosques, or simply sharing them with the local non-Muslim population, was not at all a strange or an abominable thing. That can be explained in the following way.
In this chapter, some aspects of the historical phenomenon of reclaiming and converting Hindu temples into mosques will be discussed. The underlying reasons for the phenomenon which were not only of expedient socio-economic and political, but also of profound spiritual nature, will be discussed. The chapter is divided into four main sections: (1) The expediency of converting temples into mosques; (2) Muslim tolerance towards conquered peoples; (3) Converting temples into mosques as a relative and qualified trend; (4) Converting temples into mosques and the identity of Islamic architecture. The character of the study: its content, methodology and conclusions, is conceptual, or philosophical, rather than empirical.
When completed, the form of the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah was extremely simple. It consisted of an unpaved enclosure with walls made of mud bricks and an arcade on the qiblah side (towards Makkah) made of palm-trunks used as columns to support a roof of palm-leaves and mud. There were initially three entrances which pierced the eastern, western and southern walls. The northern wall was the qiblah side facing al-Masjid al-Aqsa – which was the first qiblah for about one year and a few months. However, as the qiblah was changed to face south towards Makkah, the southern entrance was subsequently bricked up and a wall on the northern side was pierced. Before the qiblah change, there was, in all likelihood, no roofed area in the mosque (some still believe there was) but after the qiblah change, an arcade on the southern side facing Makkah was created. There was no decoration of any kind within or without the mosque.
The mosque of the Prophet (pbuh) played the role of the seat of the first Islamic government. In the mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) used to spend long hours on a daily basis discussing, deciding and executing many affairs related to administering the state. Jihad (striving in the way of Allah) and state defense strategies were also initiated and concluded in the realm of the mosque. When returning from a journey, the Prophet (pbuh) used to go to his mosque first. There he would perform a short prayer of two units (rak’ah). Then, he would sit in the mosque and attend to the people and their needs.