a collection of notes on areas of personal interest
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The early masaajid in Qatar were traditionally uncomplicated, simple designs. Sadly, few are left. This first photograph was taken at al-Khor in October 1975, three years after the housing served by the masjid associated with this burj on the foreshore had been taken down. Here it stands, itself awaiting demolition. Behind it can be seen the burj of one of the new wave of masaajid that began to spring up to serve the new housing developments funded by the increasing wealth of the State. Both new and old are simple designs, but this older burj illustrates something of the scale and character the earlier structures possessed.
* Please note that there is likely to be a degree of repetition in the notes on this page with notes elsewhere. In fact, that may be true on many other pages, if not all…
Much of the commentary on these pages relating to the design of masaajid uses photographs of their manara for description and distinction. However, there were certainly masaajid around the peninsula which did not have a manara. It is unclear why this might have been so as I have heard different reasons for it. Some suggest that these would be masaajid awaiting the addition of a burj; some that it was an issue relating to the means of the local community; and others that there is not always a technical need for a manara, depending on its physical relationship with the community. Whatever the reason, masaajid without manara were definitely in a minority. This aerial photograph taken of a masjid in Rumaillah in 1972, shows one one such example, illustrating a masjid at its simplest and photographed at Rumaillah in 1972.
The building is long in relation to its depth, allowing an optimum number of worshippers to face the qibla wall, shoulder to shoulder in comparison with Western worshippers within a church or cathedral. The building has an odd number of bays, this being the general rule enabling the mihrab to be located at the centre of the qibla wall. On the inner north-east corner there is a structure associated with wudhu, or ritual washing.
This aerial photograph, taken in 1976 south of Doha, apparently shows another masjid without a manara, this time associated with a large farm. It would be reasonable to believe it was constructed for the labourers working on the farm and that the manara would not be required as there would only be those on the site living around it. There might have been a small manara on the roof, but it seems unlikely as there appears to be no evidence either on the roof or in the corner of the courtyard. The structure demonstrates the lineal character of a masjid, reflecting the practice of standing shoulder to shoulder when praying. But its most notable feature is that there is no iwaan but a solid wall with a single door on its north, entered from the small courtyard.
This photograph was taken in 1978 at Fuwairat, at the time a small coastal conurbation in the north-east of the peninsula. The photograph shows that there were two masaajid situated close to one another, neither of them having a manara. Fuwairat was a very small community, and it is possible that the residents did not think it necessary to have a manara as either a response to a common understanding of their religious requirements, or as an important design feature of their masjid in the identification and presentation of their village. It seems that the larger masjid – that on the right with ‘Entry Forbidden’ written on its wall – has been supplanted by the smaller one on the left. Even if it is assumed that the community was declining in size, it seems strange that a manara was not constructed as an element of the masjid design as other small villages in the peninsula usually had them.
The comments here mainly related to old masaajid, and not to the more modern structures being developed. But there are also a number of masaajid in the peninsula constructed for the benefit of travellers and workers, and which do not have the character of design associated with traditional masaajid. In particular, they often do not have a manara associated with them, as in this case of a simple masaajid near Zikrit, and taking its electricity from a solar collector. For the record it is worth noting that some of the small, temporary masaajid have manaaraat attached to them, designed for effect rather than function. An example of one is illustrated below and although the manara may be argued to have a function supporting the loudspeakers, the effect is of pastiche or even folk art.
Perhaps a little difficult to make out, these two photographs – the first being a detail of the second – was taken on one of the early aerial runs over-flying Doha in 1952. The detail illustrates the character of the early manara. The masjid to which it was attached is that in the centre of Doha, now known as suq Waqf. The manara stands in the south-east corner of the masjid complex. It is a plain circular shaft, tapering slightly and sitting on a square base. It appears to have an undecorated head and, in that respect, would be different from the masjid al-Qubib situated a little way to its east where the head has a gadrooned treatment.
The lower image shows the setting of the masjid and its relationship with the wadi that flowed through the centre of the suq in 1952 and a wider image can be seen at the page looking at old photographs of Qatar. While the covered suq was on the other side of the wadi from the masjid, there were shops on the same side and an important sikka to its east. Note that the masjid was a significant size in both its covered and open areas.
The old masaajid reflected the basic requirements for containing prayer activities, and were usually comprised of a simple enclosed or covered space with its mihrab and qibla wall indicating the direction of Mecca, an entrance sahan, usually a riwaq, and a manara from which, traditionally, the faithful were called to prayer. These abraaj are the most distinctive and, to my mind, the most attractive characteristic of these old masaajid, representing as they do, both simplicity and strength in their construction as a reflection of worship. Rightly or wrongly, they tend to be the main feature I have noted in the studies on these pages. Even though there has been considerable discussion about their origins and authenticity in terms of Islamic doctrine, they remain strong elements of the urban streetscape and, because of this, the easiest way to identify a particular masjid.
The upper photograph shows the masjid at al-Khuwair or al-Jumail in the north of the peninsula as it appeared in 2010. Compare it with the second image, taken in February 1976 when there had evidently been improvement work, the assumption being that it was still in use at that time. I don’t know when it was abandoned, but in the intervening thirty-four years the roof has fallen in and the walls show evidence of deterioration. This, third, photograph shows the complex from, approximately, the south-east, and illustrates a little of the squared character of the mihrab on its west, qibla, wall. There are more photographs of it and its surrounds on the link.
Many of the old masaajid have been demolished, allowed to fall into disrepair, or have been rebuilt either in some semblance of the original, or to a completely new, and larger, design. In many respects this process mirrors what happens with other types of building, with the exception that, for commercial reasons, rarely are those buildings allowed just to fall into disrepair other than where there are political or historical reasons for it. Of course the increasing population of the peninsula suggests that provision should be made for prayer in either more or larger masaajid. Whether this must be effected by demolishing the older buildings and constructing larger ones, and whether old masaajid should just be cleared away and their designs lost, it is sad to see the older masaajid, representing as they do so much of the history of the peninsula, in a state of disrepair as can be seen in these two masaajid, the photographs both taken at Sumaismah in 2010. There appears to be no median solution, perhaps such as one that incorporates an older, historic masjid within a larger complex such as can be seen at Coventry Cathedral in England, or Sienna’s Duomo in Italy.
There will have been masaajid in Qatar for centuries, associated with settlements such as that at Zubarah, an early settlement on the north-west corner of the peninsula. While these are likely to have followed the pattern established centuries earlier for masaajid, their three-dimensional form is lost. Most of the old style masaajid still standing were constructed around the middle of the twentieth century, the earliest two being dated to around 1935, these being the al-Ayuwni masjid in Wakra, and the Bin Obaid masjid in al-Salata. Both of them served fishing communities and were constructed near to the coast line as were similar masaajid in Sumaismah, Khor and Ruwais.
Old masaajid, such as that shown above at Ruwais, form attractive and familiar groupings that can still be seen all around the peninsula, though they are gradually being replaced by more modern versions where there is still a need for worship at that location. In some parts of the country it is, or was, possible to see both old and new structures side by side as is shown in these two photographs taken in Wakra in May 1973. The photographs illustrate one of the simple, traditional styles of manara with, behind or beside it, a typical design that was constructed with the early oil income from from the nineteen sixties. This style of masjid was constructed from concrete blocks and reinforced concrete and was able to reach greater heights than the hasa and juss constructions that characterised the early masaajid of the peninsula.
The circular, domed or conical burj is likely to represent the oldest form of manara in the Qatar peninsula. The distinctive shapes would have been relatively easy to construct by unskilled workers or by craftsmen brought in to carry out the work. At this distance in time it is not possible to know whether a domed or conical shape came first, but a guess would suggest that the conical dome was the easier to construct by unskilled hands. The burj illustrated here is not old but is that of the masjid in the centre of suq waqf. The following group of abraaj, together with that above, represent this relatively group of forms.
These three photographs are of a masjid at al-Ruwais in the north of the peninsula in different stages of repair. The photograph above was taken after the building appeared to have been abandoned, the second two photographs, a little while earlier. The masjid was still being used for worship when photographed in February 1975, the call to prayer being made from the slightly elevated position of the manara, and without the benefit of loudspeakers which quickly became a feature of all masaajid.
This personal scale of masjid embodies many of the intrinsic qualities of Islamic architecture in Qatar and there is a very domestic feel to this arrangement. Outside the building there is a dikka where the men can meet and talk before and after prayers, and a galvanised water tank provides the water for wudhuw’ traditional ablutions. The design of the door and its over-panel are commonly found in the peninsula as is the pattern of balustrading forming the top of the wall. Note that, in the first of the three photographs, the door has been salvaged as have, apparently, the balustrades and water tank.
This masjid also was in Ruwais. The first photograph, taken in March 1975, shows a much more slender manara that rests on a plain octagonal drum which itself stands on a rectangular base that is not in the picture but may have been a small room related to the functioning of the masjid. Comparing this manara with that above, the essential difference is only the height, suggesting that this masjid was the more important of the two. The finials are also different, but it is not possible to tell if that above was similar and has been broken or weathered.
This detail is of the top of the same burj, but taken from a slightly different angle. What is particularly notable is that these abraaj are simple forms, crudely made, but reflecting in their design and construction an honesty that must relate to their function. Note the resemblance of its shape to that in Wakra in the photograph above, although the top of this burj is more pointed. Wakra is, of course, a considerable distance away from al-Ruwais, lying south of Doha and with a rather different history.
Mosque designs varied throughout the peninsula but it is by their manara that each would have been recognised, particularly when they were tall. This photograph was taken in March 2006, thirty-one years after the upper photograph and is of the same burj at al-Ruwais that has been allowed to fall into disrepair. This photograph also shows that one of the openings at its head is triangular, the other three being smaller and rectangular. The triangular opening is located directly above the door at the foot of the burj and accents what might be considered to be the front of the burj.
Seen again, but from a slightly different angle, here is the head of the same burj, photographed in May 2012. The small amount of deterioration seen in the photograph above is now becoming more significant as weathering by rain and wind attacks the most exposed part of the construction. Yet there appears to be no damage to the shaft of the burj and there is the possibility still to save the structure even if it is considered that there is no use for it, its function now being provided in a new masjid.
Having said that, you can see from this second photograph that the iwaan of the masjid has a beautiful and simple rhythm to its columns and their associated decoration. By contrast, the burj can be seen to have a very strongly modelled form, the octagonal element of the burj resting on a square base organised in line with the surround wall of the masjid, with access gained to the interior of the burj by around eight steps. Restoration of a building of this design quality would be, as it would for many of these old structures, a permanent link with the history of the peninsula, more particularly, that of the north where this character of burj seemed to be relatively common.
Very similar in the shape of the top of its burj to that at al-Shamal shown above, this manara is situated at al-Shahaniyah. There are six openings at the head compared with four in the manara above, and the top has been had drawn higher above them. It is interesting that the manara has not been finshed with just but left with the stone construction exposed. Globe lights have been added between the openings to create interest at night and, above them can be seen two of the four small openings whose purpose is uncertain. Perhaps they were created for the location of future loudspeakers – though usually these would be mounted lower, often out of the window openings.
I am not able to say whether this is a later or earlier form of finishing to this old manara at Umm Houtah in the south-west of the peninsula. My feeling is that this may have been a relatively simple burj which was taller but, at some time was shortened and a cap added in this conical form. Located on the north-east corner of the masjid there appears to have been considerable alterations to the footprint of the masjid which might support my suggestion, as might the existence of the two, small irregular openings rather than a more formal window or column arrangement.
There are two points I would like to make here. The first is that the burj represents an even simpler model of manara than that of the Wakra mosque above. In particular, it would have been relatively easy to construct. It is possible to construct most of a tower from the inside, but finishing the top of it would require some form of ladder or scaffolding.
The top of this burj, photographed in Doha in November 1976, appears to be a development of the simple abraaj illustrated above. The dome and the four arched triangular windows are the obvious elements of traditional architectural vocabulary, but the drum of the burj is wider than the dome creating a break between the dome and the shaft when compared with those above. As can be seen from the photograph above and below, the burj is relatively short.
The other item to note on this burj is the finial on top of the dome which is significantly different from any others I have seen. My guess is that it is supposed to represent a star sitting on a recumbent crescent moon. However, the star is, quite unusually, four-pointed rather than having the more normal five points. Below this device, the rod holding it up has been carved as two cruciform disks that are rotated at 45° to each other. This is very different from the more simple designs of finials in Qatar.
This lower photograph shows the masjid in its setting on an outcrop of rock at al-Salata, the photograph having been taken in August 1972. The grouping of musalla and burj seems very similar to other small masaajid around the peninsula, suggesting that the building to its east was constructed at a later date, even though the wall finish appears to have been executed at the same time.
In the small settlements that were scattered around the north of the peninsula, such as here at al-Mufjar, there were a number of small masaajid with abraaj designed and constructed in the unadorned style characteristic of the form of Islam practised in the peninsula. These first two photographs of the five-bay masjid illustrate it as being another typical example of this style of religious architecture.
The photograph of this next masjid is said to be around thirty-five years old, suggesting it was taken about 1975. I do not know where in the peninsula it was situated. From its design it is likely to have been constructed considerably before that date. At first glance the burj appears to be similar to those in the photographs above. However there are some significant differences. The head of it has been divided into the more normal six divisions compared with the four of the previous example, and the columns supporting are stepped back from the sides of the burj rather than being carried through on the same line as the face. The sides of the burj are vertical and do not have the battering characteristic of many of the older masaajid in the peninsula. An electricity cable has been slung across open ground to the masjid, and telephone wires are visible in the photograph, confirming that these services were provided after the construction of the masjid.
The photographs demonstrate the development of the more enclosed, domed head of the burj, but expressing it architecturally as a separate device, setting its four openings on a short, battered column, itself resting on a square plinth of about the same height creating a burj of squat proportions. Note that the manara sits on the south-east corner of the site.
This old manara stands at Umm Juwaid in the north-west of the peninsula. It has obvious similarities to the cappings in the photographs above and below it, but its attraction to me lies in the proportions of the simple burj which follows traditions of sitting at the north-east corner of the masjid and is set on a low squared base – which might have been used as a dikka – into which the surrounding wall is loosely integrated. Its great eccentricity is in the heavily tapered short shaft of the burj with what appears to be a later addition of the rounded cap with its, I believe, six semicircular arched openings. The shaft and cap of the burj bear the crude finishing marks of those who constructed it, and there are two vertical fluorescent tubes visible which would have been added to it when electricity came to the village. It is a beautiful little example of its sort.
Here is a slightly more sophisticated version of a similar burj, this one photographed in January 1979 at al-Shahaniya in the centre of the peninsula. Like the top of the burj below, it has six openings compared with the four in the burj above, but it also shares with that above the design feature of the openings sitting on a wider shaft. It also has a much taller dome than both of them, one that is more parabloid than pointed or semi-circular.
This photograph was taken at al-Shahaniya in 2014 and shows the state of the top of the burj on the abandoned masjid. It seems unlikely that this is the same burj as that above, but it is interesting to see that it has similarities with the taller group of abraaj that developed from the shorter early abraaj. The head of the burj has six opening in it, each having two stones or blocks creating an angled head to the opening, and the six openings sitting on a projecting base. The drum of the burj is cylindrical, slightly bulging in its centre, and with the cylinder sitting on a square base that is almost a cube in the north-east corner of the masjid. The construction appears to have been made with concrete blocks, and it is not possible to say how the cap of the burj was shaped.
The photograph of the top of this burj was taken in January, 1973, and shows a developed form of the simple abraaj illustrated above. The curve of the top of the burj is taken straight down into the columns without a break and the openings are simply formed. The shaft of the burj is circular in cross section for the top half, but follows the traditional octagonal form below, and out of photograph. However, the top of the burj would have been relatively easy to construct without extensive scaffolding. Its curiosity lies in the top being hexagonal while, as mentioned previously, its base is octagonal.
You will see that the top of this old burj is similar in many respects to those preceding it. The design of the dome is slightly pointed and, compared with the semi-circular headed openings in the above burj, this one has squared, pointed arches sitting on small haunches, but with the six openings cut straight into the extended walls of the dome. The openings, unusually, are wider than they are high. A trim has been situated some way below them suggesting that the openings should be, or were, deeper. In common with many of the older masaajid serving relatively small communities, the burj is not very tall. The lower photograph was taken in the 1970s and shows that the roof of the musalla appears to have a new covering suggesting that it was still in use at that time.
The only old tower I have seen being renovated had timber outside it, cross-braced for stability. Being an expensive material, I am not able to say if timber would have been a normal scaffolding or whether finishing would use ladders for this kind of design. However, small holes can be seen in the shafts of many abraaj, and this suggests a possible location for temporary scaffolding. This photograph is not of the reconstruction of an old burj, but of the construction of a new burj in the nineteen-seventies, but is placed here as it is similar to the old burj i saw worked on, as well as a number of other buildings in the nineteen-seventies and beyond.
I had thought the next three photographs to be of the same manara, though am now not so sure. They were taken at different times but you will notice that the finial on top of the cupola is slightly different, as is the arch in the middle photograph, which might suggest they are of three different masaajid, even though this might seem counter-intuitive within a single small town.
This type of manara was built in different parts of the country, with examples at least in Doha, Wakra and Sumaismah having the short burj approached by a straight run of steps. It would have been relatively easy to construct, requiring little or no scaffolding.
This first of the three photographs is the oldest. It was taken in May, 1973 when much of Wakra was in disrepair following its being abandoned, although there were still a few people living in its old centre beside the sea. In a sense this manara has similarities with the first manara shown above at Ruwais in that it is not a fully developed manara standing on its own base, and is approached by a straight flight of stairs.
The importance of these small masaajid is that they represent a more domestic character that some believe to be more in keeping with the societies they serve and represent than the larger masaajid. While juma’a mosques might be larger to accommodate the greater numbers at Friday prayers, these small masaajid sit more comfortably within the housing areas in which they were developed, particularly with regard to their scale.
The design of the burj in the above photograph, taken in 2006, incorporates a narrow, pointed arched opening for access. All three examples have a rolled moulding over the opening encircling the burj which may have been considered to have a rôle in controlling water run-off, but I suspect is more to do with an aesthetic decision that adds a small amount of sophistication to the overall simple form of the burj. This may also be the reason for the development of the finial at the top of the burj which, in all cases, produces a visual stop to the design. Nowadays each manara tends to be surmounted by a crescent, or star and crescent.
Incidentally the origin of the star and crescent appears to be a reflection of the close conjunction of the nascent crescent moon and the planet Venus at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadhan.
This photograph was taken in Wakra in 2010. I have a feeling that it is the same building as that shown above, that photograph having been taken in 2006, this one in 2010, which means that the manara has been rebuilt. There are few manaaraat of this style in the peninsula, the structure standing on top of the ancillary rooms to the musalla of the masjid and approached by external darajaat. The structure of the manara is solid with a semi-circular headed opening and three small windows, only one of which can be seen in this photograph. The dome on top of the manara is slightly pointed with a rolled beading at its junction with the drum of the burj. It is a beautiful, simple design, and one that is very much in keeping with the architectural and religious traditions of the peninsula.
The masjid above shows a development of the domed finish to its manara with the incorporation of a semicircular trim at the junction of dome and burj. It can be thought to be a development of the simple, slightly tapered shaft where the whole of the shaft is designed as a single unrelieved shape.
Similar in many respects to the masaajid above this old masjid was photographed at al-Nasraniyah in the west of the peninsula. However, the masjid appears not to be an very old construction. I would guess it is a more recent version of an older construction. The simple orthogonal columns support a roof construction with a raised parapet through which maraazim, formed from welded cranked pipes, are led in the traditional location – above the columns. But it is the low burj with its attached staircase which is the interesting feature of the grouping. The circular shaft of the burj has been taken straight up and completed with a double row of pre-cast perforated elements creating the protective parapet. The top of the manara is capped with a pyramidical construction supported on four columns set inside the overall diameter of the burj.
Initially I had thought that these small masaajid were characteristic only of the smaller settlements outside Doha, but this example, which was photographed from the air in 1974, was situated near the shore in the centre of feriq al-Khalifat on the east side of Doha. As can be seen, it is not a small masjid but is unusually deep and appears to have been constructed with three rows of columns inside, reflected in the three pairs of windows on its north side seen here. Another photograph I have shows it to have seven bays along its east-west axis. The surrounding houses were all single storey so the decision to have a short burj approached by a steep single flight appears to be logical. On the original image it seems that the burj has openings on four sides, so has a relatively simple geometric construction with a finial mounting its hemispherical cupola. What appears to be a timber and corrugated iron iwaan has been added in order to create a degree of shading to its entrance.
The next development appears to have been the separation of the dome and the shaft by the creation of an opening, usually formed of four, six or eight columns supporting the dome both structurally and visually as in these two manaraat, the first photographed at Umm al-Ugh in November, 1976 and the second at Zikreet on the west side of the peninsula in February 1983, the shaft of both, again, having a slightly battered form. Note, in the first of these two photographs, that openings have been made at the top of the north and south walls of the iwaan in order to allow air to circulate.
Both of the manaraat show a clear distinction between dome and shaft, though the lower example has the dome resting on a short drum which has the effect of producing a shape which, with its symmetrically turned finial, creates a form reminiscent of an ogee arch. The two heads of the manara show the domes separated from the shaft of the manara by the construction of the openings, in both cases this being hexagonal in plan. The interest here is that the hexagon does not relate naturally to the right angled form of the walls at ground level within which the manara sits. In the lower manara, the openings supporting the dome are formed of a trabeated construction that has little design connection with either the shaft of the burj below it nor the come above – although the faces of the columns almost line through with the face of the manara.
These next three images are of the same masjid at Zikreet in the west of the peninsula, seen here photographed in June 2012, and showing that the masjid is still in use. The simple form of a traditional Qatari masjid is evident, the iwaan leading to the musalla having seven openings, the central one lining up with the mihrab on its west wall and the manara in its north-east corner being short and visually strong.
Entrance to the masjid is gained through steel gates on the north and south walls of the compound and advantage has been taken of electricity to the village by the addition of light and sound to the head of the manara. Three neon strip lights have been added to the heads of alternate openings and two loudspeakers point, more or less, north and south. Interestingly, the building shows no sign of deterioration over the intervening years and appears only to have received a coat of white paint. There has, however, been the addition of a structure in the middle of the east side of the compound to improve the conditions for performing wudhuw’. Regrettably this has resulted in the addition of a large water tank on top of it which, to a great extent, reduces the visual balance and simplicity of the overall arrangement of the traditional masjid, particularly in the usual importance of its manara.
The masjid shown here was photographed somewhere in the peninsula in 1972. Regrettably I have no idea where it was and would be grateful if anybody would tell me. At first sight it might be thought to be the masjid illustrated above at Umm al Ugh, but there appear to be significant differences, particularly with regard to the size and shape of the cupola. The latter is almost hemi-spherical and sits well within the capping of the shaft of the manara, and its weight is not carried directly on the six circular columns which provide the openings at the top of the manara. There appears to have been some concern for the structural integrity of the columns as mangrove poles have been inserted two-thirds the way up to provide strengthening or rigidity. As is common with many of these old masaajid, the musalla is relatively tall to improve the environmental comfort for those using it. The short proportion of the manara and the heavy mihrab structure, give the grouping a solid appearance.
Here is another example of a mosque which makes a feature of its manara by designing it to be mounted by external darajaat. This mosque is situated at al-Sumaismah and its qibla wall is shown in another photograph below, illustrating the unusual mihrab with its doubled domed capping. But this construction is a beautiful example of simplicity with a tall domed cap and finial to the open top of the manara, and the simple design of the balustrading. Regrettably the simplicity of the traditional architecture is spoiled for me by the loudspeakers on top of the manara, and the prominence of the water tanks both inside and outside the curtilage of the mosque, curious decisions bearing in mind the trouble that was taken to mask the air-conditioning units on the east side of the building. For a design comparison, at the foot of the page there is an old photograph of a mosque that has a similar featured staircase though, in that case, the darajaat lead to the roof of the building and not to the manara. The lower of these two photographs was taken in the early 1970s.
While this masjid has no external staircase giving access to its manara, it is similar in the design of its manara to that above. The image from which this was taken suggests it was photographed in this form Doha in the 1950s. The masjid itself has a simple form and will have been built inexpensively and in an honest reflection of its materials as a simple trabeated construction. The manara follows this form with a square plan, semicircular arched openings at its head surmounted by an ogee or bell-shaped dome topped by the type of finial seen all over the peninsula in architecture of this age.
This photograph does not really belong to these pages on Qatar, but was included as it is an important example of its sort. The photograph was taken in a small village on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in December 1981 and illustrates a very simple form of manara which has been integrated into the form of the masjid to which it is attached. A flight of darajaat lead to the roof which has a wall around it high enough to prevent views from it to any surrounding housing, a device for ensuring the privacy of the neighbouring families. This must be one of the most simple and early forms of masjid constructed in this part of the world. While this may have been a common sight for centuries, modern technology has added water tanks for washing at ground level, and a loudspeaker to the top of the manara. Incidentally, note the lateral thinking which has secured a telephone pole by casting it into a steel drum filled with concrete.
These two photographs were taken at al-Jumayl and Madinat al-Shamal in the north of the country, and illustrate not only the manner in which many old buildings have been allowed to deteriorate, but something of the character of the small mosques that were found all over the country. The manara on this mosque is typical of many small mosques, though a different shape from that of the mosque at the top of the page. I don’t know if the shape demonstrated a sub-regional difference but I would be interested to learn how they differed around the peninsula. In the lower photograph you can see that the columns still seem to be in relatively good condition even though the roof has fallen. The traditional decoration in the angle of the trabeated column and beam construction also appears to be in a good state. However, the render is beginning to come away from the beams exposing the traditional method of reinforcing the construction. It is the simplicity of these small details which balances and gives interest to the restraint of the architecture.
This photograph was also taken at Madinat al-Shamal and is of the interior of the masjid, focussing on the minbar which, due to the small size of the masjid, has been incorporated into the mihrab. This type of design is a beautiful and uncomplicated way of dealing with the necessary functions of prayer while, at the same time, being designed within the simple aesthetics of the peninsula’s wahhabi tradition. The semi-circular arch sits on a simply expressed capital with virtually no decorative input though, perversely perhaps, the design might have benefitted from the capitals being omitted to create a more pure expression of the structure.
These photographs are of another version of the simple abraaj to be found in the peninsula, this time an abandoned masjid at al-Jumailiyah in the north-west of the country. In common with many abraaj in the peninsula, the head of this burj has been given six semi-circular headed openings supporting a roughly fashioned domed finish of no specific geometric shape.
The manara is not as high as most of the others shown here, and its head has a more open feeling to it. One possibility that occurs to me is that they might reflect a concession to the wahhabi preference for masaajid not to have a manara, a reflection of the movement’s lack of ostentation, though a relatively common feature in Qatar despite its proximity to Saudi Arabia, the home of the wahhabi movement.
The masjid is a simple one with a musalla and iwaan of five bays’ width. Notice that the musalla occupies around half the depth of the covered structure and is provided with a single window at each end, the iwaan having a pair of windows at each side.
These stubby manaaraat have an elemental beauty to them typifying the scattered masaajid around, especially, the north of the peninsula. These would have served the isolated settlements springing up within the interior and had a need only to house relatively small numbers of the faithful.
Their interiors were a reflection of the austere external form, this view from the iwaan into the musalla being typical in that it is extremely simple in its form. Curiously, the mihrab is semi-circular on plan with a domed head to it which is not reflected internally where there is a horizontal lintel to it. Inside the mihrab there are three small square holes, one in the centre and one on each side. They are unlikely to have been designed as windows so it must be considered they are either there for the small amount of light they will allow, or for ventilation even though there is a window each side of the qibla wall as well as one at each end of the musalla. On each side of the mihrab, on the qibla wall, small openings, rushanih, have been left, most probably to store copies of the Holy Quran.
These first two photographs are of the same manara at Umm Swaijah in the north of the peninsula, the first photograph having been taken in January 1973 when the manara appeared to be in relatively good structural order and finish, and the latter more recently. These abraaj have a beauty of their own in their simple response to the public element of the religious needs of the community.
Traditionally, there would have been no need for them to have a great height as the community was relatively small, the houses being relatively close to the masjid and so within calling distance and only a short walk away. In addition, and as has been discussed elsewhere, there may also have been a concern for maintaing privacy where there was a possibility to overlook the private areas of adjacent houses.
The custom in the Qatar peninsula was for early abraaj to be constructed on a circular plan, this shape being taken up and narrowed to create a domed finish to the manara as illustrated by photographs further up the page. The reason for this is simple: desert stones are irregular in shape and not suited to forming stable, right angled, interlocking corners, added to which the circle is an intrinsically strong form.
This argument also holds for a domed finish so it is interesting to see in these above two examples – as previously mentioned, the first two photographs are of the same manara, taken forty years apart in al-Khor – that four columns have been introduced, holding a square slab on which a conical pyramid has been constructed to complete the capping of these abandoned manara. In the first two photographs above a typical traditional decorative element has been added to the junction of beam and column producing a richer design, while the third photograph shows how a simpler effect has been produced by taking the squared manara plan straight up, but completing it with a simplified, thin openings with angled corners, and a circular capping with the corners visually reinforced.
As can be readily seen, the conical dome on top of this entrance to a Doha masjid is similar to the preceding manaraat designs. Taken in June 1972, the photograph shows one of the few domes used over the entrance to a masjid near the centre of Doha. There is a possibility that this was an original manara that was superceded by the larger one to its side, though I have included below a photograph of the manara i believe was taken in 1966. Note that the dome on top of the manara has a slightly different, more rounded form. The small dome is also an important example in that it has four small openings at the bottom of the dome as well as having arches in the structure supporting the dome which are of a character found in a number of traditional buildings in the peninsula.
While those semi-circular headed arches are very common, the pointed arches directly above the entrance have a more free design development, are established within recessed panelling and these, together with the flat arch, are supported by simple, attached columns with unusually modelled capitals at the two sides as this lower photograph illustrates.
The first of these three photographs of an old masjid at Sumaismah was taken around thirty years before the second. In the first two of these three photographs a little of the traditional construction can also be seen in the roofing of the musalla complete with a mirzam on top of each of the columns. But it is the top of the circular manara which is particularly interesting in its construction and distinctive outline, the first two of these three photographs illustrating its proportion and, from the scale of its steps, its size.
The detail of its top in the third photograph shows that, in this case, six short, squared columns support a horizontal structure of timber on which rest slabs, perhaps faruwsh to create a hexagonal base. From this base, what appear to be similar wooden planks to those supporting the horizontal slabs, lean in to form a conical structure, and are covered with a juss mortar to create the final shape to the top of the manara. Regrettably, the finial has been broken but is just possible to tell from the first photograph that its original form was probably a stylised or simplified crescent.
Here is another example of a manara designed in a very similar manner to that above.
The design principle of finishing the shaft of the burj with columns supporting a flat platform, and then adding a dome to complete the manara has been unusually executed in this beautiful little desert masjid, photographed near Dukhan in January, 1979. Four columns support the top of the manara which has a very small dome placed on top to complete it. The manara itself is circular and of an extremely short, squat design, the base being almost half the height of the full manara.
The houses on the foreshore at al-Khor were demolished in 1972 with their owners being given new houses on the higher ground south of the old village. Some elements of the village were left, the manara of this masjid being photographed three years later in March 1975. Again, the manara is relatively low and has eight columns supporting the semi-circular dome at its top, the simple structure being entered through another semi-circular headed opening via a few simple steps.
This next group of four manaraat are all relatively tall, share some characteristics, but are still simple in their designs. All the photographs were taken in and around Doha in March 1976 and illustrate manara that have a balcony and balustrading developed around their heads. The first example is similar in many respects to that preceding it, but has six openings, compared with eight above, with semi-circular headed arches on circular columns supporting the arched dome. The balustrade is of a simple design with a cast cement pattern supporting its handrail.
This next pair of manaraat appear to share a number of similarities. The two pointed domes rise directly from the columns in the first example, and from the developed head of the columns in the second. Both domes sit on circular shafts although the first example has six divisions at its head, while the second has eight as can be clearly seen in the design of the balustrading that surrounds them. It is probable that the pair of them were designed and constructed at the same time. Whether this means that the balustrade design was produced to order or whether designers used the same pattern from choice is impossible to say – although I have seen a similar design used elsewhere and in a number of places on both masaajid and housing – but it seems to argue that the pair of masaajid and their manaraat were constructed at around the same time, and probably by the same building team.
The head of this manara is slightly different, being a more sophisticated design. The dome is more saracenic than the earlier hemispherical domes while the eight circular columns support semi-circular arches with haunched springings within a recessed plane. Below the balcony there is a band of material which visually improves the junction of shaft and balcony and, perhaps, adds structural support to the construction of the balcony. The balcony panels have a very traditional geometric appearance with the alternating diagonal placing of crosses and eight-pointed stars.
It might be useful to show here an example of the pattern used in the balustrading discussed above. This particular example was photographed on the wall surrounding the sahan of an old masjid at al-Ruwais in February 1972, but has also been used elsewhere. It is usually constructed from a number of cast elements, each comprising two complete arches in the centre and a half arch at each side. The running pattern along the top has a central circle supported by a diamond on each side. The detailing is quite fine but, with time and the application of paint, the running pattern tends to appear to be formed of a single, repeated shape.
An interesting comparison can be made between the photograph of the manara above, and this one, also taken in Doha, but earlier, in January 1973. Here the dome has a similar saracenic shape to that above but a stronger finial with recumbent crescent moon. The line of the dome sits out slightly from the vertical face of its supporting structure, that structure being formed of square columns with pointed arches reflecting the shape of the dome. A simple running decorative device surrounds the projecting balcony, the latter a non-functional architectural element similar to that immediately above. The decorative device contains both a curved and pointed shape to create its distinctive form. The manara is more organic than the example above and, as can be seen in the lower photograph, the massing of the masjid with its manara lends a simple and dignified presence to the urban scene.
The decorative elements illustrated in the photographs of the manara above appear on a number of the older masaajid of the peninsula, adding to their character while improving identity and way-finding – though, of course, this was not a necessary characteristic as every masjid is known and identified by those who live near them. However, this manara has an extremely distinctive decorative design running around it, and is additionally remarkable for the extent of the modelling incorporated in its head below the dome. It is the only masjid i know of in Qatar with this type or degree of modelling to its manara.
Referred to affectionately by some as the ‘dancing men mosque’, the name reflected the apparent shapes created by the pattern running round the top of the shaft. It is probable that the lower, if not the upper, running pattern was meant to be based on a downward-pointing crescent moon standing on a vertical device, perhaps supporting a diamond intended to represent a star – but this really is speculation as the usual place for a star is within the arms of the crescent rather than sitting behind it.
The third photograph illustrates an interesting design development on this manara where the head of each column has had the crescent motif incorporated onto it as an unusual form of capital. The three-dimensional form which was created by the modelling has a liveliness to it reminiscent of the work of the Spanish architect, Gaudi and others, and is a curious development in an area where figurative work is proscribed.
It is also instructive to look at the manara shown here and compare it with that above. This manara appears to be older than the above example but exhibits similarities in the way the elements of the top of the manara have been assembled. Both manaraat are octagonal in plan on circular shafts – although this burj is heavily battered, as can be seen in the lower photograph – and the detailing around the head of the arches is very similar, both in the way in which they sit on circular columns as well as the way the junction between shaft and dome is carried out. However, it appears that the space between the columns has been filled in at at lower level some time as it is evident that the fill element has not been evenly placed in relation to the columns. The heavy band to the top of the shaft creates a very strong visual stop to the burj and again emphasises its short character.
The first two of these three photographs show the head of the manara at Umm Salal Muhammad. The first was taken in May, 1979 and the second a little earlier. They illustrate something of a traditional construction for a cantilevered base of a balcony utilising timber rather than masonry. Radiating timbers have been let into the head of the burj with sufficient masonry above them to ensure that the cantilevered timber should be stable enough to take an upstand and the weight of a person, should either of these be intended. In fact, neither of these features is likely as there is no exit to what would be the balcony and, in any case, there are loudspeakers positioned to broadcast the call to prayers. Access to the head of the burj is only likely for maintenance and the projection has to be recognised as a design feature. In this case the juss used to cover the soffit has begun to fail through lack of a mechanical bond and is falling away, creating a dangerous situation below.
The last of this group of three photographs looks down at the masjid at Umm Salal Muhammad from the west showing the character of the walls which have been finished by hand. Unusually, the interior of the masjid has six bays rather than the more usual odd number which allows the mihrab to be located between columns. In this case the even arrangement of bays locates the mihrab facing the central line of columns rather than the space between them.
Shaded by trees on its east, entrance side, the masjid at Umm Salal Muhammad has an attractive iwaan facing its courtyard, itself approached with neatly detailed steps which are in harmony with the architecture and geometry of both the manara and the masjid. As can be seen from the photograph, the main room of the masjid, the musalla, has been created with a double row of columns dividing it laterally, the junction of the column and beams being treated with the traditional detail seen all over the peninsula.
The top of the manara shown in this photograph is similar in concept to those preceding it and is that of another ruined masjid in the peninsula in the region of al-Zubara. However, there are two particular features that are worthy of note. While the shaft of those manaaraat are either circular or square in cross-section, this shaft is octagonal, and the hemispherical cupola that tops the shaft is made of eight segments that would have been precast and offered into place. As such it illustrates a degree of care in construction which is at odds with the off-set window, which appears irrational, if not careless, though the other three windows appear to have been located more accurately.
The hemisphere sits directly on top of the octagonal walls without any intervening architectural device, such as a projecting roll. Such devices have both a visual as well as a practical rationale, the latter having to do with protecting the exposed top of the wall from weather damage as well as ameliorating any marking of the face of the wall by rainwater run-off. The manner in which the hemisphere sits on the wall creates an abrupt junction which contrasts with many of the other early manara designs in the peninsula. It is additionally worth noting that the finial appears to be slightly different from the normal designs.
Here is another masjid with a relatively short manara, this time at al Jumailiyah, a settlement in the centre and towards the north of the peninsula. The building takes the standard form of these small masaajid in being clearly defined, having a musalla with a traditional structural system based on five bays. There is an entrance to the internal courtyard off-centred and adjacent to the manara in the north east corner of the east side of the building, and another entrance on the south of the courtyard. The manara has a very squat proportion but the qubba on top of it is relatively refined with a larger percentage of opening to solid than most similar domed cupolas. It is interesting to see that a rim has been emphasised on top of the cylindrical element of the manara, and that the qubba is relatively narrow in comparison with the width of the supporting cylinder. A small crescent sits on top of the qubba, a feature that is different from the usual element that can be seen on the other examples here, and which suggests a later date for its construction.
Generally mosques are rebuilt larger – and with a tall manara – to reflect the increased populations of the area they serve. Perhaps this is one of the reasons there are few small mosques of this character in existing communities, though this example is obviously associated with a community that has moved and abandoned its buildings. I am not aware of any mosque of this scale that has been kept. I think it’s a shame as these structures represent a very definite architectural stage in the development of the country. Not keeping examples such as this may be regretted in the not too distant future, and I would hate to see them reconstructed as pastiche.
To the right here are two photos of the Abu Manaratain mosque, built in 1940 in Wakra, and showing the very typical shape of the early mosques in Qatar. These small, enclosed buildings with their tapering towers and simple mihrab could be seen all over the country. Many of them have now been replaced by more modern constructions, thought to serve the community better, or perhaps more accurately, reflecting the size of the increased population needing to have access. The construction was relatively easy to carry out, the towers’ battered walls and domed finish all readily carried out by hand with relatively unsophisticated labour. The result is a beautifully simple combination of shapes, sculptural in essence and ideally suited to purpose, and reflecting the local community’s relationship with Islam.
This photograph is of the top of a manara in Qatar, that I believe is in the region of al-Khor. The reason for its inclusion here is that it fits the link between the simpler group above with those below. While the openings in the tower are square and extremely small, it is the modelling of the top of the manara that is interesting, appearing to mark a transition between the simple, battered and moulded conical designs with more geometrically coherent hemi-spherical designs.
This photograph is of the top of a manara at Wakra. It demonstrates how the modern requirement for broadcasting the call to prayers electronically has compromised the clean lines of the manara. While this is not a dramatic intervention, the inclusion of the loudspeaker is sufficient to destroy the shape of the windows. Though I know there is a feeling that there should be a direct line between loudspeaker and the ears of those hearing the call, there really is no reason why the loudspeakers should not be located at a lower level.
The head of this manara at al-Jumail continues the simple traditional hemi-spherical shape characteristic of the older masaajid of the peninsula. There is no rim around the head of the manara so its lines are clean, interrupted only by the windows. In the case of this manara they have an interesting shape to them, suggesting a little invention by the builders, incorporating a semi-circular shape, itself having a smaller semi-circle at its top. There are four such windows, a number common to the smaller, old masaajid, the older, larger manara tending to have six windows.
These next two photographs are of the mosque at al-Arish, a small fishing settlement west of Abu Dhuluth on the coast in the north of the peninsula. Again, the mosque and its manara are of a simple design based on the traditional layout of masaajid in this north region of Qatar. It is sad to see the body of the masjid in ruins but the manara survives and illustrates something of the simplicity of the buildings established by the fishermen who lived here. The burj was still standing in 2012, but its condition had deteriorated further.
Its manara is a simple untapered column with a semi-circular capping and four traditional semi-circular arched openings at the top, but with the addition of a squared moulding above these openings running around the manara. I can’t say why this feature has been added as most masaajid of this sort in the north have unrelieved columns. I suspect it is a design embellishment that will provide a modicum of unnecessary protection to the openings, and may be considered as a development from the earlier manaaraat of tapered, unrelieved design.
Here is a more recent reconstruction of a mosque near Umm Salal Muhammad. The minaret represents a later architectural type than that above it and was developed in order to permit the call to prayers to be made from the tower more easily. There appear to be two unusual points in this reconstruction. The first is the projection of the shandal from the face of the building. I have written elsewhere that the reason for shandal to project was an economic one. Only in expensive buildings would they be trimmed so that they did not appear on the outside face of the building; in ordinary buildings they were not trimmed with a view to their being re-used at a later date. I have been told that buildings were only thought to have a thirty year life, essentially a single generation. The second, related point, is that they appear to be closer together than usual.
It is always sad to see the old buildings of the peninsula in ruins, but this musalla of a masjid in the north of the country has a poignant look to it illustrating, as it does, not just the construction of the building, but also some important features of these small places of prayer which can be compared with the structure and layout of the larger masjid in the photographs below.
You can see the similarity between the musalla above, and this, at al-Mufjar, also one of the small settlements in the north of the country. Here work has recently been carried out on the building, as is witnessed by the cement render used on the walls, but the detailing remains very simple in its design and execution, the mihrab and minbar on the right being carried out in a minimal manner. One difference, however, is that in this musalla, there are window openings in the qibla wall as well as in the two end walls suggesting this is the more recent of the two masaajid.
Elswhere I have written about the structure of the buildings of the peninsula, describing their internal widths as being limited by the span of the shandal poles which spanned their ceilings or roofs. This small masjid has its width limited in the same way and is arranged with its long axis at right angles to the direction of prayer indicated by the mihrab on the right. This is diametrically different from the manner in which Christian churches were developed – with their long axis facing the direction of prayer.
Ventilation to this enclosed musalla appears to have been provided by an opening over the entrance door on the left or east side of the space, and by two badgheer on the south, facing, and north sides. It is also notable that the arches used to relieve the walls are of simple, square pointed design, almost established at 90°. This is a good example of a simple masjid reflecting the strict form of Islam practised by those who settled the peninsula from the Arabian hinterland.
This next group of photographs illustrate an abandoned masjid at al-Dhakhira in the north-east of the peninsula. It is likely to have been an important masjid as it is relatively large, having nine bays across its iwaan and interesting detailing to its columns. Their detailing is similar to that seen in some buildings in Doha. As such it would reflect the community established on the coast there. This is a more recent development as can be seen both in its size as well as in its detailing, particularly in the treatment of the manara of the masjid. I would guess it to be about forty or fifty years old, certainly a newer masjid than that illustrated at al-Wakra above, at al-Jumail and at the top of the page, though not as new as that illustrated by the manara at al-Wakra below.
Its trabeated construction has simple but articulated decorative additions between column and beam, and there are mirzam draining the roof of the ancillary building which appear functional. While this all seems normal, the construction of the manara seems strange as the projecting shandal appear to prevent access to the openings at its head and are likely, therefore, to be decorative. A final note of interest is the break in the centre of the beams over the nine trabeated entrance openings.
One of the unusual features of the masjid at al-Dhakhira is the twin mihrab arrangement shown here in a photograph taken in 1986. I don’t know what the significance of this is, but there are not many with this style in the peninsula and they create a significant interest to the west faces of the masaajid on which they are located. In the lower photograph, illustrating the top of the manara, it is notable that the cupola and surmounting finial are of the same design as the pair on top of the mihrab. Unusually, the openings at the head of the manara are relatively narrow.
The masjid has a beautiful, simple interior, the structure accurately reflecting the method of construction. As you can see in this photograph, the masjid is large, having a row of intermediate columns running across the middle of its musalla, or covered prayer hall. The surfaces of the columns are treated with subtle articulation. and the roof is supported on shandal carried by the trabeated column and beam structure.
Here is a photograph looking down the musalla from the other direction. On the right can be seen the minbar set in the qibla wall and which, together with the mihrab indicating the direction of prayer, are the visual foci of the interior of the masjid. The minbar again shows subtle decoration in its treatment of its surfaces, the whole interior being very much in keeping with the more strict Islamic traditions of the peninsula in its dignified design.
Before leaving the masjid at al Dhakhira, it is worth illustrating the manara of the masjid. Situated as a free-standing structure in the south-east corner of the group, the entrance to the manara is gained by a very narrow opening which is created with an orthogonal shape in which there is a semi-circular arch inset about 100mm from the face of the structure. As you can see from the photograph, the door frame, sitting inside this, is also orthogonal, creating an arched opening above it. The design of this opening is a very simple detail, but one that is effective in adding subtlety to the structure.
This detail is repeated at the top of the manara where there are six openings with similar detailing. Note that, in the centre of the openings, a mangrove pole has been inserted in order to strengthen the structure at what is potentially a weak point. The cap of the manara has a top completed with a finial, typical of the original architecture of masaajid in the peninsula.
However, it is the top of the manara that incorporates a really attractive detail where the edge of the structure is finished with a small scale interpretation of shurfa that serves to soften what would otherwise be a hard edge. Why this feature is found nowhere else on the complex, I can’t say, but it is one of those small features that give personality to a building. The detail is broken to hold the small detail shown here. Facing approximately north-east across the external courtyard, the detail enhances the manara as a separate work of architecture, giving it a greater prominence within the group. I have always considered this detail to be a stylised crescent moon and star, but have to admit that I’m unsure if this is so.
This photograph, of the top of a manara at al-Athba has been included as it illustrates a development of the traditional architecture seen in the photographs above. Part of a rural development, some skill has been taken in developing the simple hemi-spherical dome, supporting it on what I believe to be six circular columns each supporting a simple semi-circle. This seems very much in line with the simple traditional architecture of the peninsula combining. It is a skillful and pleasing aesthetic design.
Here is a photograph of the masjid at al-Sumaismah, a settlement on the east coast of the peninsula between Doha and al-Khor. Reconstructed it is relatively large but, you will see, is similar in style to the masjid above at al-Dhakhira. The reason I have included it here is for two small features.
Firstly, the mihrab has twin conical domes on top of it, a feature that is relatively unusual in Qatar. Although the twin domes introduces a more refined look to the mihrab, the effect has been countered by the heavy design of the finials. The other reason for inclusion is that the roof parapet is designed with a very slight batter to it, again a refined detail and one which I’ve not been aware of in other masaajid. I also note that a low wall was added outside running along the foot of the qibla to hide mechanical plant. Compare the photograph above with the lower one, made in 1975. Notice that more windows have been added and the building re-roofed in the process of adding the raised parapet.
These towers and their associated structures were built of traditional materials – see below – the hand finishing of the walls with juss render, literally hand-applied, giving the buildings character and a charm lacking in later buildings.
These four photographs illustrate an old masjid in al-Wakra. Situated just north of the north-east corner of Sheikh Adbulraham bin Jassim’s fort, it is unusual in both its plan and elevation. It has no manara, and I don’t know if it ever had one, though I believe this would be unusual. The form of the masjid is that of an iwaan for the musalla which suggests that not many people used the masjid for prayer or that, customarily, they made their prayers in the open as there is little space inside for more than two lines of people facing the qibla. The east façade has a set of seven openings surmounted by simple, right-angled arches, slightly rounded at their haunching. On the west wall, the mihrab takes the simple form of a square extension to the building entered, internally, through an ordinary squared opening. Externally, it has an off-centred cupola on it surmounted by a column finished with a simple, conical device. It is a fascinating little structure, and one that I believe to be unique.
The third of these photographs was taken in the early 1970s and is of the same building, showing that it was in disrepair in those days with a small amount of graffiti on it, but that there was evidence of a stone wall that would have set out at least the curtilage of the site. The last photograph shows it a little better in context, in particular illustrating its closeness to the north wall of the old fort. It is curious to see what is obviously a mosque standing by itself, its musalla open to the west and with nothing protecting or even marking out the site that I believe it must once have had. It is evident that some work has been carried out to preserve the structure of the mosque, but it seems unusual that nothing appears to be happening to enclose it and perhaps return it to its original form.
Here is another building in al-Wakra which has been reconstructed using hasa bahri and juss, though with the use of cement mortar in parts of the reconstruction. On each side of it can be seen the first generation of new mosque constructions in the sixties and seventies. These latter buildings were of concrete block construction, and finished with cement render. Their most notable characteristics were that they were much taller than any of the traditional structures and introduced new styles to the architectural vocabulary of the peninsula. You can also see that the nearer one is simpler and most probably older than the one which is further away.
This detail of the above building is included to make two points. The first is that the reconstruction of the old building seems to have been carried out relatively faithfully. Some of the materials that were used to repair the building were modern, particularly the use of cement rather than the traditional juss, and this is a continuing problem not just in Qatar but in other parts of the Gulf. I believe the badgheer has not been reconstructed in its original form but I’m really not sure.
The second point relates to the top of the manara where, in the original, you can see that there was a small balcony surrounding it. I don’t know if a mu’adhin mounted the manara to call the faithful to prayers, but that would have been its original purpose. Nowadays the mu’adhin uses a microphone transmitting to loud speakers set at the top of the manara, though this one appears not to have one. I assume the masjid is no longer in operation. With the small balcony taken away, the character of the manara has changed considerably. Its new form is, perhaps, more in line with Qatar’s wahhabi traditions, but I prefer the older form, perhaps because it represents a stage in the development of Qatar’s more traditional architecture.
Here is a detail of the top of the manara which shows in more detail how the refurbishment was carried out. The shaft of the burj is circular, but the enclosure at the top of its capping is hexagonal. Each of the openings has a semi-circular head with small shoulders that are integral with the face of the six columns. These were the original openings to the balcony but, with its removal, each of the openings has been closed with twelve standard pre-cast concrete blocks. It is not a very elegant solution, though it does have a basic relationship with the traditional architecture of the peninsula.
This is an interesting small manara located in Wakra. The burj of the manara is relatively short and squat and is slightly bowed rather than being battered or a regular cylinder. The openings in the burj are level rather than spiraling which suggests that access to the top of the manara is by ladders rather than by a circular staircase. The head of the manara suggests that it was constructed some time ago, the dome being supported on six semi-circular arches themselves carried on slim columns with simple capitals. The hexagonal wooden balustrade provides only limited protection but produces a different character from many of the mosques in the peninsula.
You will see that the top of this manara is very similar in its design to that above in Wakra. However, it is a more refined example. The shaft of the burj is circular and slimmer, the projecting ledge around the head is similarly octagonal, supporting balustrading of capped newel posts, handrail and diagonal bracing having a feature at their crossing. The eight columns support simple semicircular arches above which there is a more complex capping with crestings around a pointed cupola completed by the traditional finial.
This masjid with its strongly massed manara was photographed at Wakra in 2014 and is will have been constructed recently. The manara has many of the characteristics of these elements in the peninsula but demonstrates a heavier modelling as well as a relatively high squared base. The battered manara is circular on plan with its shaft relieved visually by rectangular openings following the anti-clockwise ascending spiral staircase.
At the head of the manara there are six semi-circular headed arches supporting the domed cupola with its traditional finial. The arches sit on simple capitals surmounting circular columns, the capitals having an Egyptian feel to them. But in contrast with many manaraat the support and detailing of the ambulatory element of the construction are visually heavy and finished with interesting detail. The balustrading is trimmed with elements some of which resemble hearts, and the surmounting dome is ringed with a base consisting of two bands of upright leaf elements, the upper band projecting above the lower. These are unusual in the traditional detailing of masaajid and might be usefully compared with other details on this page.
The decisions that went into the design of this manara are interesting. The base and shaft have much in common with the older traditional architectural vocabulary of the peninsula. The heavy treatment of the top of the manara reinforces this but is enlivened by the incorporation of simple and effective repetitive details.
The design of the head of this old manara at al-Khor bears a similarity to that a little way above, though a number of interesting design decisions have been taken which enliven the design of the burj. The shaft of the burj is circular, enriched with horizontal mouldings and steps to the cornice, and sits on an octagonal base, out of picture. The head repeats the octagonal form in its base but, interestingly, there appear to be only six columns supporting the capping element, each with a relatively crude, rounded capital, support directly the base of the qubba which has a steeper than usual shape.
It is difficult to date the burj but it appears to be relatively recent in construction, yet traditional in design. My guess is that it would have been post-1975 as I don’t recall seeing it before then. The finial of the burj is also relatively crude and has more of a three-dimensional design to it than is usual. What can’t be seen at this scale is the graffito inscription near the head of the burj stating ‘allah akbar’, an addition by one of the workmen. Finally, and as can be seen in the photo a little way below, it is worth noting that although the manara was constructed in the lowest corner of the site, it is still a relatively short construction, the featured narrowing around two metres below the columns further shortening its apparent height.
This photograph is of the riwaq of the same masjid and illustrates a curious mixture of styles. The width of the riwaq is constrained by the length of the danjal spanning it, leaving room for only two alcoves at the end which follow the traditions of the peninsula by having semi-circular heads with a rectangular recess over each. Neither of these contains naqsh plasterwork which might have been anticipated. Note that this photograph was taken with a very wide angle lens that distorts the image; the bays would be noticeably narrower.
The openings to the musalla are interesting in that the heavy columns are not taken right up to the ceiling, but narrow down around two metres from the floor to meet a similarly squared beam. Within this framework the arches are likely to have only a slight structural benefit. They reflect the honesty of the structural columnar form but, rather than opening the whole space between the columns, double doors alternate with windows, coloured glass being used to fill the space between column and door or window. This would have been a relatively expensive option at the time. The arches over the openings to the musalla are fairly flat pointed arches, similar to those used on important buildings such as the residential development of Sheikh Abdullah on feriq al-Salata in Doha. What is unusual is the design of the central arch which, in its simple use of a semi-circle stepped into a larger broken semi-circular arch, appears to suggest the plan design of the mihrab facing those using that door for entry to the musalla.
This view of the old masjid was taken from the north-east in 2012 and illustrates how the levels of the development have been organised on the steep site. Stairs lead up from the west and, unusually, the open courtyard appears to be stepped by the evidence of its north wall. On the body of the masjid, the riwaq or iwaan can be seen to have nine arches, the central one having a similar feature at its head as does the internal wall inside the riwaq, though on the outside face it consists only of a semi-circle without the small shoulders at its junction with the main arch as the internal arch has. Finally, and although it is not shown here, the mihrab on the qibla wall appears to have a double qubba on top of it, the qubaab not being anything like as steep as that which tops the manara.
Similar in many ways to the look of the riwaq of a masjid in Khor, illustrated a little way above, this photograph was taken in 2013 of the dilapidated interior of an old masjid in al-Dhakhira. Note that the photograph above was taken with a very wide-angled lens, its bays being in reality much narrower and more similar in proportion to those in this photograph. This photograph illustrates clearly how the traditional architecture of buildings in the peninsula was influenced by the length of the danjal poles used to create their roofs. The spacing between walls of domestic houses, as well as masaajid, was usually two bays though, on occasion, this might be increased to three bays, albeit each a little narrower. Here, those praying at the front of the musalla are unlikely to have been able to form more than two lines deep, which suggests a rationale for masaajid to be relatively wide, the importance of this being an issue written about elsewhere.
As there is restricted space at the front of the musalla, the minbar has been incorporated into the wall. Usually it is set to the right of the mihrab, this latter opening being on the left edge of the photograph and having a Quranic inscription above it. Its placing suggests that this masjid is eleven bays wide, significantly wider than many. That above, for instance, has nine bays.
The detailing of the masjid is simple, as might be anticipated for traditional architecture in the peninsula. The decoration of the openings on the qibla wall consists of two recessed arches, each of them different as can also be seen in the two arches on the far wall.
Here is a photograph of a beautiful old manara viewed at the setting of the day. There are two notable characteristics illustrated by the photograph. Firstly, the manara is relatively low. While it is a little higher than the roof of the masjid, it accords in its general appearance, with the wahhabi traditions mentioned earlier in that it is simple and unadorned. The second characteristic is its general shape. The heavily battered walls of the manara have a strong resonance with the architecture of the Najd, the large area of the Saudi Arabian hinterland, particularly with its fortified structures. While there is no suggestion of a need to fortify the masjid, there is the probability that those constructing it were familiar with those building techniques, or actually came from the Najd.
Finally, it should be noted that the masjid appears to have been affected by construction of the road to its north. The iwaan can be seen to have seven-and-a-half openings. Normally you would expect to have an odd number in order for the central space to line through with the mihrab on the qibla wall. It appears here that there are one-and-a-half missing, suggesting that originally it had a long proportion as it can be seen that the musalla is only a single span deep compared with the old masjid in al-Khor immediately above where the musalla is two deep and seven wide.
The capping of the manara is also interesting. The conical form is unusual for the peninsula. I know of only two other similar forms in the traditional masaajid of Qatar, though they sit on a flat base and don’t join the body of the tower as this does. Generally the capping of manaraat in Qatar were rounded as can be seen in many of the photographs above.
I have included the al-Qubib masjid in Doha, also known by some as the Qassim bin Muhammad al-Thani masjid, although it was sadly demolished either in late 2008 or early 2009, though now is reconstructed on a larger scale. Many expatriates knew it as the ‘pigeon mosque’ due to the numbers of these birds that customarily sat on it. The masjid stood to the east of the old central suq waqf and would have been a large building for its time, reconstructed along the lines of a previous masjid in the late 1950s. Compared with the smaller masaajid in Qatar, and despite its lack of height, this had a more urban feel to it.
The manara of the masjid is very unusual for Qatar. This photograph illustrates it in a little more detail so that you can see both its simplicity, and the manner in which the gadrooning runs straight into the tapered, circular burj of the manara without an intervening horizontal decoration. There used to be an older masjid in Qatar, illustrated below in an old sepia photograph, and which was the building this replaced. More about this building has been added on the page looking at the older buildings of Qatar.
Although there is a related note on this design elsewhere, it is worthwhile repeating it with regard to the manara. A new Grand Mosque is being constructed in a prominent position on the edge of the New District of Doha. Its design mirrors that of the old Qassim bin Muhammad al Thani masjid, demolished in 2009, but on a much grander scale. The top of its manara is shown here. Although larger, it lacks something of the grandeur in the simpler, older, manara shown above it. The two photographs also illustrate the visual importance of the finial in the overall design of the manara.
The older masjid was unusual or unique in Qatar, if not in the region. A masjid originally stood on its site and the al-Qubib masjid was apparently similar in its layout to the original which I believe was constructed by the Ottoman occupation, though I am not sure of this.
As can be seen from the top photograph, the masjid had a number of qubab, one over each columnar bay. Unusually for Qatar, the masjid was developed along traditional lines in having offices for associated functions of the masjid incorporated in its design. In addition, the building was air-conditioned.
Internally the building was dominated by the heavy columns supporting the roof and qubab. Internally and externally, simple pointed arches were a feature of spanning openings. Externally it had a number of unusual features, particularly associated with the qibla wall which had small openings near the roof line as well as maraazim to relieve its long roofline. The corners of the qibla wall had battered, rounded structures reminiscent of fortified structures, but with a stepped qubba device capping them. At the foot of the qibla wall, the rounded haunching was again resonant of fortified structures.
During 2009, 2010 and the first half of 2011, an extremely tall hoarding encircled the site of the old al-Qubib mosque in the al-Asiery area, east of Grand Hamad, and immediately north of Ali bin Abdullah Street in the centre of Doha. In July 2011, the hoarding was taken down to reveal not only the reconstructed al-Qubib mosque, but also a number of buildings adjacent to it, designed and built in what appears to be the traditional architectural style of the peninsula. This view of the masjid can be compared directly with that above, both looking from approximately the south-west.
The previous building was demolished in 2008. This aerial view of the new project, looking from the east and with Ali bin Abdullah Street on the left, gives an indication of the overall development of masjid and the associated buildings, and shows that there is a large site yet to be developed on its west side. The new, ancillary buildings are not copies of buildings that were there previously but must have been designed and located with a different purpose in mind. Another aerial view can be seen on one of the Islamic urban design pages.
It is not yet possible to know how accurate a reconstruction it is, nor do I know why it was apparently demolished and rebuilt, but its new external form appears to be very similar to the previous version. The most significant difference seems to be that the manara has been located in the north-east corner of the masjid compared with the south-east of the previous version. The openings at the top of the manara are not quite the same as those of the original, seen above, and its gadrooned dome appears to be set back further from the edge of the shaft. However, the mihrab on its qibla wall is very much different from the original, as can be seen when comparing these two photographs above, and the building appears to have been built on a plinth, an architectural device which creates a different relationship for those viewing and moving around the building.
Both the mihrab and manara had a strong similarity to the traditional architecture of Qatar, though the treatment of the top of the manara is more sophisticated than any of the other, older manaraat. Although the building has for me an African flavour, the treatment of the tops of the mihrab and manara seems to relate more to the Indian sub-continent. The masjid had a simplicity and strength to it that was very much in accord with the traditions of the peninsula.
These next two mosques differ from those above in that I had at first believed they were newly constructed in traditional style as I thought the area was cleared for redevelopment and, therefore there was no population for which to provide a facility. However, looking at them more closely it seems that they must be refurbished rather than rebuilt. They are included here as they retain much of the character of the traditional masaajid of the region, particularly those that embody the wahhabi principles of simplicity and lack of ostentation.
Since writing the note above I have found a photograph I took in November 1987 which I think is of the same masjid as that above, and placing it in feriq al-Salata, the housing around it having been demolished and the structure about to be repaired. Comparison of the two photographs show that the maraazim have been replaced by pipes, the small openings on the mihrab have been closed along with one of the windows to the musalla, and lights added on the pillars of the wall linking the main structure with the manara. Most significant is the move from wall-mounted air-conditioning units to a central or split system.
The next two photographs also appear to be of the same masjid and have been included in order to illustrate that at least one masjid has been left more or less as it was originally designed. I am not able to put a date to the second of the photographs, but it is likely to date from the 1970s or 1980s. However, the last of the three photographs shows the same masjid in 2012. The building housing the wudhu facility has been enclosed and, without natural ventilation, may have had air-conditioning added – though it is not possible to tell if this is so from this angle – and the manara has had loudspeakers added at its head in order to broadcast the adhaan. Interestingly, a palm tree has been planted within the compound.
It is fascinating to see them in this setting, contrasting vividly with the glass and heavily styled modern buildings that are rising around them, both in their architecture as well as in what they represent. Traditional masaajid had no need to have tall manara as the surrounding housing would have been mostly single storey. This was the case in this part of Doha, feriq al-Salata, with the exception of the nearby complex now housing the Qatar National Museum which contained two-storey buildings. The first masjid is the simpler of the two buildings and has a relatively heavily battered construction to its manara, a feature that is found in some of the older buildings, and one that I have always associated with the older constructions, though this might not be the case.
This photograph shows the same masjid from the south-east as it was in November 1987. There seems to have been little work carried out to it in the intervening twenty years but a couple of alterations are obvious. In a similar way to the other masjid on feriq al-Salata, the maraazim have been updated and the building now appears to have improved air-conditioning. The screen wall has had concrete mushrabiya added to its height and the roof now has a low wall around it, perhaps to mask the air-conditioning equipment. In addition vertical lighting tubes have been added to the columns around the top of the manara.
The heads are designed differently with the first manara having a head that is flatter and smaller than the column of the burj on which it sits. In this case the form the head takes is a naïve development of a column and beam construction with inset semi-circular arches, the head sitting on a typically expressed ledge that suggests the floor of an internal platform.
The second masjid has a simple manara that runs through the ledge below the openings in the head, producing a simpler design reinforced by having the openings of semi-circular headed arches punched through. The addition of vertical fluorescent lighting strips, however, complicates this clean line, creating a more detailed effect in daylight. Note that both masaajid have had the typical grey loudspeakers fitted that are used to broadcast the calls to prayer.
This photograph shows a number of details associated with the entrance to the larger masjid, suggesting this is an existing building rather than a rebuilt one. Facing south, the myaa’ al-sharb looks as if it has been there some time and has no cover to protect those using it. The privacy wall is evidently old by virtue of the additional blocks added to the top of them, a feature of the nineteen seventies. The entrance gate has columns incorporating simple semi-circular attached features supporting a rectangular head that is almost deep enough to have a decorative treatment in the manner of Iranian and Egyptian porches. The main building of the masjid shows a very typical Qatar treatment with decoration within the junctions of the trabeated form of structure. Perhaps more interesting is the form of the badgheer which is relatively low. At that height it is likely to be relatively ineffective but, as there is likely to be no requirement for it on the roof of the musalla, its incorporation is likely to be decorative rather than functional.
The Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim museum has a masjid associated with it. Newly built, it has been designed in a traditional style as can be seen from this photograph, and is an elegant little construction. Both the masjid and its manara appear from their colour to have been constructed from desert hasa and a juss limestone mortar. The manara sits directly on the ground but is associated with the north-east corner of a low sitting-height wall that serves to define the finaa’ or sahan, the open entrance space that leads to the musalla where the faithful pray. The burj is a simple shaft, slightly tapered and completed by a conical construction rather than a hemisphere as are many in the country. This conical type is, though, very typical of some of the older masaajid in the peninsula. Interestingly the manara is completed by a more modern metal crescent and star rather than the finials often found on the older manaaraat. Openings at the top of the manara are square and although there seem to be no loudspeakers, there are small circular lights set between each pair of openings. You may also note two slit windows two-thirds the way up the manara whose purpose is unclear.
I have to apologise for the quality of the next two images, but the first was taken from the heavily textured cover of a publication made over thirty years ago, the second is also from the same publication, though not its cover. I believe that the masjidabove, is the masjid that replaced this building.
The first photograph is placed here to illustrate a very important feature. The dome at the top of the manara is gadroon-ribbed, in many ways a novel development in the peninsula. The earliest similar form I am aware of is the much larger dome over the masjid at Qayrwaan in Tunisia that dates from 862, that masjid being one of the most important in the Islamic world. This form of dome is found in north Africa and Asia, but is not a common design and it is difficult to know how and when it might have come to Qatar. While the gadroon form is a way of stiffening a dome, in effect creating ribs, at this scale stiffening would be unnecessary and the form must be seen as decorative. Note that the masjid for which the manara is provided, has a single row of plain domes incorporated into its roof. The sahan is surrounded by a wall whose top is scalloped, again a simple decorative feature that enlivens the wall.
This manara was also included in the above-mentioned publication thirty years ago and would have been considered then an important structure. The dome and finial completing the burj are not dissimilar to those found elsewhere in the peninsula, the finial being in the mushroom form seen on some of the older manaaraat. The screening of the curved pointed arches seems unnecessary, as does the banding below it. But the extended structure below it is a curious design being too low to have been a parapet for the windows above. Constructed of projecting, cantilevered poles, reinforced by a thickened support at the wall, it appears to be a vestigial element or even an aesthetic adornment. If the latter it would be relatively rare though I do have an indistinct recollection of a similar form of construction on another manara, though that was left uncovered below. I have included the lower part of the photograph which shows the treatment of the façade of the iwaan with its angled arches contrasting with the more gentle arches of the openings in the top of the manara.
I know nothing about this masjid, nor where it is, other than that it is named for Sheikh Abdullah bin Thani and that I believe it no longer exists. There are two unusual characteristics. The manara is relatively short and has unusual proportions, the lowest of the three parts is taller than is customary which creates in the central part an unfortunate shortening in its appearance. The top of the manara is simply treated though its cupola is not hemi-spherical but extended in height. The second unusual characteristic is that the masjid has a staircase leading to its roof, though I am not clear as to why this might be required.
While there were in the peninsula a number of masaajid built to cater for the mainly national population, the increasing numbers of foreigners, mainly men, entering the country had their particular needs for formal prayer. A number of expatriates were accommodated in buildings vacated by Qataris themselves moving to new houses, for the most part this being true of those employed in the private sector. But the government found itself needing to house larger numbers of expatriates which it did in sprawling barasti housing developments on what was then the outskirts of Doha. For this government set aside land with a rudimentary or notional road requirement, and the expatriates built within this layouts reflecting their family, national and traditional allegiances. This first aerial photograph was taken in 1976 south of Doha and illustrates something of the character of this housing, though there were other, larger and denser developments. To the right of the centre of this photograph can be seen a white coloured building, shown in more detail in the lower photograph. This was a masjid constructed by and for the people who lived in this particular barasti development. While there is no manara the mihrab is evident, marking the direction of prayer and, interestingly, the building has a clearly defined fence around it marking the ziyada. It is also notable that the water tanks providing for ritual wudhuw’ are kept clear outside the containing fence and not incorporated with or inside it as might be anticipated. Also note that the construction appears to be of quite different materials than those from which the housing is constructed – much of it of oil drums – and is likely to have been provided by government, one way or another.
Here is a masjid that is very much different from the masaajid illustrated above. This structure was photographed in November 1976 and had been constructed south of Doha on the north side of the ‘C’ ring road where a large area of barasti housing had developed over a period of years housing expatriates mainly employed by the government. These workers were responsible for constructing this masjid using the same type of materials as those from which their houses were constructed – mainly beaten out oil drums. Its significance here is in its design which reflects the pitched roofs of traditional barasti constructed of mud walls with pitched roofs constructed from palm fronds.
While the above masjid appears to have been designed and built to cater for the larger congregation found adjacent to it in the ‘C’ ring road barasti housing area, this small masjid was built for a smaller group, perhaps of workers on the adjacent housing development. It is not covered and is a development of the temporary masaajid commonly found serving work areas where the qibla wall is marked out on the ground with either a drawn line or stones.
The temporary masaajid which are illustrated above are not just representative of the early days of development, but continue to appear wherever workers are located and there is no provision, or easy provision, for them and their communal prayers. This small masjid is, in effect, a development of that above, apparently catering for an expatriate workforce in a more protective environment. The structure is steel framed with a corrugated iron roof and plywood panel wall lining. Provision has been made for a wall-mounted air-conditioner with the white conduit exposed on the exterior, which suggests two things: firstly that an electrical connection will have to be made – there is a long tradition of illegal connections – and, secondly, that if this small space is to be air-conditioned, it will be enclosed and noisy when the conditioner is working.
The room is not designed to have an open side for an additional congregation, suggesting a known number of users. Some care has gone into its construction with properly welded joints implying a longer term use than usual. Not easily seen on this photograph, there is a curious combination of elements including a hand-made steel crescent and five-pointed star mounted on top of the mihrab. These temporary masaajid fulfil a necessary function, and it is interesting to see how a selection of building materials are converted into shelter for prayer.
This temporary masjid is located at Shahaniyah, in the centre of the peninsula, and appears to serve the roadside settlement along with travellers moving across the peninsula. It is an unusual little structure suggesting the importance to its designers of the manara in its grouping. This element is constructed with a central pole around which pipes have been suspended and, at the head of the burj, is a cone on which is mounted a decorative moon. Completing the head are openings suggesting windows and an octagonal element replicating in miniature the gallery or balcony – shurfa – on which, in the past, a mu’adhin would have chanted the call to prayers, and which has attached to it two loudspeakers to relay the modern call.
While the miniaturising of a manara is unusual, its presence and character puts me in mind of the toys mounted on poles which advertised the tambura ceremonies. Apart from that, the masjid appears to be purpose made. Carpet-covered steps have been awkwardly added to its glazed entrance, the door of which has a small amount of geometric decoration. An air-conditioner has been added and four fluorescent strip lights have been fitted just below the roof. There appears to be no provision for ablution. Like the small masjid above, this building will only hold a limited congregation and it is notable that the structure appears to be more or less square on plan, not following the tradition which focussed on a lineal plan with its longer qibla wall.
There appears to be no waqf or government system for providing a masjid outside the provision of the main masaajid usually associated with the established residential areas of Doha. The photographs immediately above show how those working on construction sites have used available materials to fabricate spaces for their prayer. But in the centre of Doha there are many areas with a large Muslim working or residential population and insufficient space to do something similar on the appropriate scale. Because of this, people will pray in spaces large enough to contain their requirements, regardless of the use for which the space was originally designed, or in which it is used. Within buildings people will pray individually or communally in suitably sized spaces and without the marking of a qibla or mihrab. Here a large group pray at a road junction, communal prayer being a preferred characteristic of both nationals and those coming to the region for work and who would comprise the majority, if not all of those seen in this photograph.
While it might be thought difficult to cater formally for the situation illustrated above, there are small initiatives which illustrate possibilities for dealing with the need to pray in the higher density areas of the city. Photographed in August 2008, this small area of the Corniche pedestrian system has been marked out for prayer, complete with a simple qibla wall and mihrab comprised of blocks on the ground. This small masjid works well and its concept might be understood as a model, possibly being extended into more dense urban areas by a suitable and sympathetic treatment of vehicular and pedestrian pavements.
more to be written…
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