A mosque is an Islamic place of worship. Its main function is as a sanctuary for prayer, but it can also be used for education and community functions. Muslim tombs, unlike mosques, have no uniform specifications; they can range from a simple headstone to grandiose tombs for prominent Islamic figures. There are a number of famous mosques and tombs, most of which are in the Middle East.
Many mosques are based on the one first built by Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The archetypal mosque usually has pillars, an open courtyard and a dome over the enclosed area. The enclosed area is usually square, with one of the corners facing Mecca, and the mosque often includes a pool or running water for use in ritual cleansing. The first mosques did not feature minarets, but the tall spires have become a widely recognized feature of mosques around the world. The minarets provide an ideal, high location for the Muslim call to prayer.
An Islamic tomb, should a Muslim elect to have one instead of a simple burial and headstone, usually consists of a single chamber that contains the dead person's body. It is common for an Islamic tomb to be decorated with Quranic inscriptions. Larger tombs, such as those for Muslim saints -- often mystics called Sufis -- can be decorated with a dome. The notion of Islamic tombs is often controversial because of Islam's emphasis on avoiding anything close to idol worship.
The most famous Islamic mosque is the Masjid Al-Haram, or Holy Mosque, in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Muslims turn toward the Holy Mosque when performing their daily prayers, and it is considered the holiest site in Islam. The Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, or Mosque of the Prophet, is the second-holiest site in Islam. The mosque is in Medina, Saudi Arabia, and it was built by Muhammad and the first Muslim community. The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is the third-holiest site in Islam, and it sits next to the famous, golden-topped Dome of the Rock.
Famous Islamic Tombs
The most famous tomb in Islam is Muhammad's tomb, which is located alongside the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. Abu Bakr and Umar, the first two successors to Muhammad, are buried there as well. Some famous tombs of Muhammad's companions include shrines to early Muslims, such as Abu Ubaydah and Jafar bin Abi Talib in Jordan, and the tomb of Bilal -- who made the first call to prayer -- in Syria. For non-Muslims, the most famous Islamic tomb is the Taj Mahal, which was built as a tomb for the wife of an Islamic ruler from the Mughal Empire.
- USC Libraries: Architecture - A Visual Interpretation by Rahul Mehrotra and & Sharada Dwivedi: Islamic Mosques and Tombs
- USC Libraries: Architecture - A Visual Interpretation by Rahul Mehrotra and & Sharada Dwivedi: Tombs
- Reuters: Timbuktu tomb destroyers pulverise Islam's history
- United States Naval Academy: Tombs of Sahabah
- Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images News/Getty Images