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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:41

Video transcript

normally when you see a niche you expect a sculpture to be in it however we are looking at a prayer niche in my lab this is really just a directional pointer it is a pointer in the Islamic faith you are supposed to pray five times a day and you're supposed to pray towards Mecca so knowing where you are meant to be pointing and where you are meant to be praying is really a fundamental thing so all of the mosques anywhere in the world are set up to do this and so they have this min Rob in a wall which is known as the Qibla wall correct and that just basically faces towards Mecca it's not oriented east or north or south or west but in the direction of Mecca whatever that might be and there's no altar notice edifice that stands in front of it so some of the things that you might be expecting to see as you would see in a Western church or Cathedral don't exist here and so people wouldn't pray towards this niche they would just pray in the direction that this niche was set that's exactly right you imagine this back into its mosque into its context could see people in rows facing the Quibbler wall praying towards Mecca Mecca was the home of the Prophet Mohammed he lived in Mecca until 620 when he was forced out and he went to Medina his house in Medina at a large courtyard his house was more a civic center than really just a domestic space and it was oriented towards Mecca now we have no evidence physical evidence of the house it's long gone but that is what the Hadees and early sources tell us so this basic architectural form which is now found in every mosque may have in fact been based on perhaps an archway within the courtyard of the prophet's home in Medina and it's interesting you say that his house was the Civic Center because that's the way we think about mosques that is that they're not just religious spaces but they're really cultural centers one of my favorite experiences was going to the Great Mosque in Damascus and you go into the courtyard and it is social families are there children's are there people are talking meeting up having a good time it's a place of community we've also seen that with the arab spring that friday prayers and people going to the mosque was a kind of flashpoint for many people to then go and protest their governments so the mosques hold this very important political and social place in the Islamic world let's put this particular min rah back in its historical context this is from the city of Isfahan and it's brilliant blues that we see in these tiles is not distinct just to this min Robb but was really distinct to the entire city OS fahan is the blue city it is spectacular really you have to imagine blue tile light blue dark blue turquoise blue everywhere a vibrant glowing city that would have shimmered this min Rob would have been within nodded public mosque but a madrasah part of a school yes miss believed to have come from I think it's called the Minami madrasah in Esfahan so this is where people who were enrolled at the school studying theology would have come to pray and often they would hear a sermon not dissimilar to what people would hear in a church or in other religious spaces but in this context you don't really even need the sermon because it's written into the tilework itself yes and that's one of the things that makes this so gorgeous on the exterior rectangular frame we have a verse from the Quran this is Arabic and it is read from right to left the opposite direction that we read in English right the Quran was always in Arabic and the Quran should always be learnt and studied and recited in Arabic because it is the Word of God it is divinely revealed Mohammed is believed to have been a conduit for the Word of God not the person who created it so it has to be in Arabic that outer frame that you were pointing out the script is so fluid and so beautiful and so decorative it almost seems to be a pure abstraction the inner frame is really distinct this is not that kind of fluid script that we see on the outer part of the min Rob this seems much harder edged and much more geometric this is called KU thick script and it's one of the most well known scripts throughout the entire Islamic world we have Q fixed script written on the Dome of the rock that was finished in 691 692 this is also really interesting it stands out partially because you have the blue on the white as opposed to on the rest of the niche where you have white on blue blue is your dominant background color but what's also particularly interesting about this inscription is what it says and it basically lists the five pillars of Islam so these are the five rules that any adherent to Islam must follow that's right and it's very simple you have to believe in the confession of faith there is only one God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet he is his messenger you have to give alms you have to pray 5 times a day if you are able you should undertake a pilgrimage the Hajj to Mecca and lastly Ramadan the month of fasting and those are the five basic things you should try to achieve in your life if you are to be a good Muslim so this is a really didactic statement and it seems so appropriate that it's within a madrasah within a school yeah it's a constant reminder you also would have had a literate population you have people who are studying the Quran for hours upon in I see that there's a third area within the niche that has text within it it's low so it would be visible when one was praying he says in Arabic the Prophet peace be upon him the mosque is the dwelling place of the pious so it's another nice reminder that you should become templated but also invoking Muhammad that he is the kind of beacon to which all Muslims should be looking to live their lives