8 Nov 2010
Option 2 – Islamic Art
In traditional Islamic architecture the Gibla was the wall facing in the direction of the Mecca, and contained a Maqsura, the place where the emir or caliph would pray. The Mihrab was usually a concave niche in the Gibla, indicating it as the Mecca-oriented wall of the mosque. However, the word Mihrab has been used to refer to a variety of architectural elements that vary in size, shape, and elaboration. This meaning of the word make the true origin and purpose of the Mihrab difficult to determine. In early Arabic literature, Mihrab sometimes referred to the part of the palace where the king would sit, sometimes to a niche that held an image, and sometimes to a colonnaded platform. It is used to describe such a variety of architectural features, historians have had to trace the origins of the word. Mihrab could either be derived from the Ethiopic word Merkuerab meaning sanctuary (an obvious suggestion considering the religious role of Mihrabs), or the Arabic Harba, a form of authoritative lance (a valid proposal because the prophet would often define the boundaries of the prayer space by planting his lance). However, this latter theory is questionable because the Mihrab was such a focal point of Islamic mosques and the word Harba appears only five times in the Koran. Also supporting the former theory is the fact that each time it appears in the Koran, it refers to a chamber or fine structure. Originally, historians believed the Mihrab to be a prayer niche towards which members of the community would pray but Muslims pray towards Kaba, which lies beyond the Gibla, proving this theory incorrect. In continuing efforts to determine the origin of the Mihrab, it has been related and compred to Buddhist cult niches, apses in Christian churches, and the royal throne recess in audience halls. In addition to the religious function of Mihrabs, they also had symbolic meaning. Early Muslim coins portrayed a prophets...
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