How Islamic Architecture Spread Around The World 

Islamic architecture first emerged as a distinct style with the reconstruction of the holy sanctuary of Ka’ba in the city of Mecca. Subsequent Islamic architecture merged a range of styles, including Abyssinian, Roman, Egyptian, Byzantine and Persian. With the spread of Islam as a religion, its architectural styles were transported and transformed through the construction of Mosques and other traditional sacred buildings.

The Great Mosque of Samarra,Iraq.

The Great Mosque of Samarra,Iraq.


By the year 700, Islam was spreading through the Middle East through conquest, trade and missionary activity. Two of the key works of early Islamic architecture are the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Great Mosque in Damascus. These early works of Middle Eastern Islamic architecture were characterized by elements that would become universal, including arches and nonrepresentational decorations. The Dome of the Rock included vaulted interior spaces, a dome and a repeated interior pattern that became known as an “arabesque.” The Great Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, one of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture in Persia, is famous for its huge spiraling minaret.


The presence of Muslim traders in African countries was often accompanied by the building of Mosques. The King of Mali went so far as to return home with Islamic architect, al-Sahili, after a pilgrimage to Mecca. Al-Sahili’s presence in Mali influenced the local architecture to create what is now known as the Sudano-Sahelian building style. In West Africa, it is the Mosque that most clearly embodies the Islamic architectural style.

Sudano-Sahelian style Mosque, Mali.

Sudano-Sahelian style Mosque, Mali.


Islam reached China in 651 with the arrival of envoys sent to pay tribute to Emperor Yong Hi. Middle eastern traders were allowed by decree to remain in China, building mosques and tombs as parts of their communities. Four distinct styles of Chinese Islamic architecture emerged: the Central Asian type, which is characterized by brick or stone construction with simple geometric forms; the transitional type, which traditionally has large wall spaces on the entry facade and a wide use of arches and domes; the national minority type, which can combine Islamic designs with painting and gold accents typical of China; and the Xinjiang type, an architectural style that

The Great Mosque of Xi'an, China.

The Great Mosque of Xi’an, China.

had emerged before the arrival of Islam, marked by closely spaced beams, flat roofs and adobe vaults, characteristics that became adapted for Mosque constructions in this style. Each of these four architectural styles meshes Chinese and Islamic architectural elements.


Islam reached Indonesia at various times over several centuries. It was initially a product of commercial trade, with merchants from Yemen and the Persian Gulf following the monsoons to Malabar, then to Sri Lanka, Java and Sumatra. While early mosques were made of wood and exhibited styles characteristic of Buddhist and Hindu religious structures, these were gradually replaced by buildings constructed from more durable materials and with more identifiable Islamic characteristics. Contemporary Indonesian Mosques share qualities derived from European architecture, although there is a movement to return to using traditional wooden building materials and having distinct hybrids of Indonesia and Islam in newly constructed Mosques.

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