Mosques, madrasas, tombs, palaces, hammams (public baths), Sufi hospices (e.g., khanqahs or zawiyas), fountains, sabils, commercial structures (e.g., caravanserais and bazaars), and military fortifications are all common or major forms of buildings in Islamic architecture. Some of these buildings are important examples of Muslim world architecture and many others can be found around the world with significant Muslim populations.
In addition to conventional buildings, mosques also include a number of features not found in other religious structures including: domes, minarets, mihrabs, and ablution pools (or wadis). These elements may be as simple as tent-like coverings attached to a wall or they may be elaborate structures built over several levels with interior rooms and balconies. The presence of such features is often used by architects to identify buildings as being Muslim. For example, the Great Mosque of Mecca is always described as having a dome despite recent renovations that removed most of the original structure.
Madrasas were usually schools where students learned reading, writing, mathematics, jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, astronomy, geography, and other subjects. Often located in large colleges or university campuses, they were also centers for teaching new skills and technologies. In addition, some scholars believe that since the 12th century many madrasas have included architectural features like minarets and domes to show that they are places of worship.
The Islamic faith has had a broad impact on the structures that are being developed in these Muslim-dominated communities. The mosque, tomb, palace, fort, and school, among others, are regarded to be the primary architectural types.
Mosques are religious buildings where people gather for prayer. They include a main chamber for praying and a space behind it called the "niya" or "nave", where offerings are placed before them. There may also be a second chamber called the "mi'at" where visitors can sit and wait for important persons to visit. Churches have a main chamber called the nave, but they do not have a separate area for visitors; instead, their interior is used for public worship.
Tombs are monuments built to mark the graves of individuals who have done something special or notable. They usually consist of an area covered by a single slab or structure with a roof. Palaces are large, luxurious houses built by rulers or other important people. They can sometimes be seen in ancient cities that were occupied by several different groups living under one ruler. Forts are defensive positions built to protect towns or areas within their boundaries. Schools are places where learning takes place; students attend classes here even if they have money enough to pay for private lessons.
Muslims also commissioned a wide range of architectural constructions, from modest mosques for everyday prayer, like the Mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah in Isfahan, to madrasas, or religious schools, and commemorative monuments, like the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The largest mosque built by Muslims is the Great Mosque of Mecca, which has a capacity of up to 20 million visitors per year. It is estimated that since the time of Muhammad, more than 60 million people have walked its floors.
Maintaining a large community effort, such as the construction of the Great Mosque, requires a strong leadership which can coordinate the work of architects, engineers, contractors, and others. Thus, over time, Muslim leaders have played an important role in designing and building mosques all over the world.
Currently, there are more than 7,000 mosques in China. They date back nearly 900 years, with some examples even older than that. The majority of them were built between 1250 and 1950. There are also many temples, pagodas, mausoleums, and villas constructed during this time period.
Although most of these buildings are now abandoned, several interesting structures remain. One of the best-known sites is the Mogao Grottoes, which are caves full of Buddhist statues carved out of rock near Dunhuang in Gansu Province.
From the 7th century onwards, Islamic architecture and the building traditions of Muslim communities in the Middle East and beyond find their ultimate expression in religious buildings such as mosques and madrasahs. These structures set new standards in design and construction which had a profound impact on later architectural developments across Europe and the West.
Islamic architecture is distinguished by its emphasis on geometry and mathematics. The layout of the average mosque is based on a square with three equal sides; each corner has an octagonal tower. The minaret is used to call people to prayer and is located at one of these corners. It is usually built like a spiral staircase with steps leading up to an observation platform where the muezzin (prayer caller) stands during prayers to deliver the sermon over the congregation.
The mathematical perfection found in many Islamic buildings made it possible for European architects to build upon these foundations and develop their own styles which would come to dominate the world stage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The main influences were France and Italy. The French Impressionists took inspiration from the use of color in Islamic buildings and created paintings which have some similarity with tile designs used by Islamic artists.