Roughly one-quarter of the world is Muslim. With facades dressed in mosaics, glowing marble, crowning domes, and spiraling towers, their mosques are awe-strikingly stunning from the outside. Look deeper to exquisite interiors, accentuated by magnificent Persian carpets or valleys of chandeliers.
Also known as masjids in Arabic, mosques are places of prayer and worship in Islam, but they also function as so much more. Often they serve as community centers with classes or social places hosting events and holidays, like Ramadan.
Historically-speaking, mosques were not always as decadent some we see today, like the infamous Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. In fact, the first-ever mosque was home of the prophet Muhammed in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Muhammed would stand in front of the wall his courtyard that faced Mecca and would preach to the followers that gathered together to hear him.
Since then, the spread of Islam from the Middle East has fostered the proliferation of mosques around the world. Reflective of where and when they were built, mosques showcase different styles or designs, but travelers should look for some key characteristics: A prayer hall with an ablutions area, where worshippers can clean themselves before prayer; mihrabs, or semicircles in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca; minarets, or towers from which the call to prayer is announced five times per day; and domes that top the incredible structures.
From Timbuktu to Washington D.C., these holy marvels provide incredible historic, cultural, and religious commentary, illustrating a city’s identity within the Muslim world and as a destination all its own. Peruse through these photos from around the world, and whenever possible, be sure to stop inside a mosque on your next trip.