The Pearl Mosque of Oman
THE SYNTHESIS OF THE PEARL MOSQUE
Byzantine architecture had given us architectural monuments that span time, continents and religious belief. In particular, the Hagia Sophia built in 537AD and later the Suleymaniye Mosque completed in 1558AD in Istanbul present to the world the most recognisable building silhouette that is replicated throughout the world.
When the Roman Emperor Justinian the First completed the Hagia Sophia he was said to have exclaimed that he had surpassed the prophet Solomon. Such was the scale and grandeur of Hagia Sophia that later buildings were to imitate the architecture. When Sultan Mehmed II conquered Istanbul in 1453, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque and a minaret was added to proclaim that conversion.
The architect, Mi’mar Sinan however moved forward when he designed and built the Suleymaniye Mosque in 1558. He did not dwell upon the Hagia Sophia but improved upon it. Sinan supported the main dome with half domes as opposed to Hagia Sophia’s dome supported by pendentives. It is an elegant engineering solution that efficiently transfers the enormous central dome lateral load vertically to the ground. Sinan also moved his buttresses into the mosque making it disappear into the walls making the mosque appear lighter as opposed to the rather bulky exterior of Hagia Sophia.
Thus, Sinan was able to create a portent architectural statement that expresses the eminence of the Caliphate. Just as Justinian was able to exclaim “Solomon, I have surpassed thee!”, Sultan Suleyman was able to exclaim that he had surpassed Justinian.
Oman is fast moving into the future with major developments that will bring the prosperity of the nation to its people. It will also bring Oman at par with if not surpassing its neighbours to stand tall among the nations of the world. In moving forward to the future, that vision must be guided by our heritage. However it is not sufficient for us to merely pick and imitate the past, but like Sinan, we are to improve on the past and to innovate into the future.
We seek to be nearer to God (Rabb) and in remembrance of Him (Dzikr) we look at His signs that is all around us, encompassing us, part of us. The open sea has always evoked a sense of tranquillity in the hearts of man. And to this sea we return so that we may find peace and remembrance.
The sea cleanses, and from it God provides wondrous things. The pearl, white and pure emerges from the shell of an oyster. The prophet Yunus (as) spent his penance in Remembrance of Him within the bowels of the fish (Nun). And from it he emerged as a man renewed.
Into the sea we immerse ourselves that we become part of nature and that His signs are clear, evident. It cleanses our soul and we emerge like the pearl, white and pure. We look at the oyster to reflect the beauty and purity of what is grown within. Thus the mosque is an oyster where within are pearls of His worshippers.
The mosque is thus shaped as an oyster, one from the sea. At mid-day it submerges to seek tranquillity, and at dusk it emerges to share the peace and purity. The very act of submerging the mosque reflects an act of prayer where one prostrates in total submission.
The oyster is tied to shore by an umbilical that preserves the connection between the divine and the mundane. The umbilical wraps itself around an oasis that is articulated with gardens where rivers flow and waterfall tumbles in a pale reflection of paradise (al-Djanna). The gardens are arranged as seven courtyards, reflecting the seven gardens of heaven. The building itself is an enclosure of screens done in patterns and motifs with reference to the beauty and symmetry of nature through which He is manifested.
The form of the mosque too takes its cue from the domes of great Byzantine mosques. The domed shape is slowly caressed into a simplified and pure elliptical form, reflecting the simplicity and purity of Islam. And to realise this form, creating it pushes the boundaries of innovation in architecture and engineering. And going beyond those boundaries, we submerge the mosque, in the end creating an iconic mosque that is hoped to be as enduring as the great Suleymaniye mosque.
The English word minaret comes from the Arabic, manara, that is translated as a ‘light house’. As a light house, it is appropriate that there is only one light beckoning the faithful to prayers to one God. Out in the open sea, the main minaret stands as a landmark proclaiming the Oneness of God; the Syahadah which is the main pillar of islam. The main minaret is flanked by four other minarets that expresses the other four pillars of Islam; the establishment of prayer, fasting in month of Ramadhan, performing the pilgrimmage Hajj and the payment of zakat.
From the earliest mosque born from the house of the prophet, the mosque is the center of social and cultural life of Muslim communities. Continuing with that tradition, the Suleymaniye Mosque was built as a complex containing 4 kulliyas, a school, a hospital, a medical school, a madrasa, public baths, a caravanserai and a public kitchen. The Suleymaniye mosque thrived as the centre of the Muslim community and continues to do so.
The pearl mosque is designed as a complex where the public zone is articulated as an annex building providing the physical connection between the mosque proper and land. The pearl mosque is divided into three zones the first being the public zone and the second the private zone that is separated by the ablution that makes up the third zone. The spatial planning is linear with the faithful coming up first to the public zone from which one cleanses oneself at the ablution zone before finally entering the private prayer zone.
The mosque welcomes the faithful into the public zone that is articulated as a courtyard with a garden and flowing rivers. The public zone is envisaged as a public place of learning where facilities such as a gallery, classrooms, a lecture hall, a library and a café are provided overlooking into a garden. The courtyard is conceived as a reflection of al-Djanna where the idea of learning is conceptualized to be in an environment that is tranquil and spiritually close to God.
The ablution facilities with toilets are provided each for male and female congregation. From the ablution area the congregation moves to a foyer that provides a proper gathering space and acts as a subtle buffer before entering the private praying zone.
History, culture and belief have provided us with the architectural references. But in order for the mosque to be special and outstanding, the architectural synthesis must move forward, improving on the past whilst innovating into the future. The architectural and engineering innovation will bring forth an iconic building fit to be called the eighth wonder of the world.