Throughout Muslim history, the symbiosis of faith, art and architecture embodied in mosques, has given us some of the most beautiful and enduring manifestations of the divine. Here are 6 documentaries exploring this.
“Divine in form, sacred in function, holy buildings are among the most beautiful and most enduring achievements of mankind. They are also the most prominent symbols of faith, witnesses of our desire to pray and celebrate together.”
These are the opening words of Art of Faith: Islam, part of a 2008 documentary series that explores relationships between art, architecture and faith. This documentary looks at how very different mosques across the world express the essence of Islam and it also looks at the stories behind other buildings of faith, like madrassas and mausoleums. Travelling to Agra, Córdoba, Istanbul, Jerusalem, London, Kairouan, Samarkand and Singapore, this documentary takes us to visit some Muslim masterpieces.
The first place visited in Art of Faith: Islam is the Haram al Sharif or Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem. In The Furthest Mosque, British musician Danny ‘Hamza’ Thompson sets out to wander the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, and discover why the Haram al Sharif holds such an important place in Islam.
The documentary series, Inside Istanbul, has three episodes dedicated entirely to mosques. Season 1, Episode 1 looks at the iconic Suleymaniye Mosque, which stands on one of the seven hills of Istanbul. Built in 1550 in honour of Suleiman the Magnificent, the tenth Ottoman Sultan. The Suleymaniye Mosque is a work of harmonious architectural art with extraordinary proportions. The vast prayer hall is topped with 53-metre-high domes on four pillars. The light from the 138 windows moves shadows and makes radiant the stained glass and Iznik ceramics of the interior. The structure was built by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who sought to surpass the nearby, Byzantine, Hagia Sophia cathedral, by giving Sultan Suleymaniye an architectural gem worthy of his reign. Episode 4 of Inside Istanbul, looks at the Camlica mosque which is the largest mosque in Turkey. It is also the newest and has become a major attraction in Istanbul for its stunning interior and architecture. It was only completed and opened in March 2019 and the complex contains an art gallery, library and a conference hall in addition to the main mosque.
A separate documentary A Dream in Blue: Sultan Ahmet Mosque looks at the other most famous mosque in Istanbul, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque. Constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I, it also contains his tomb, a madrasah and a hospice. Hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes are bathed in blue light. It is one of Islam’s most elevating and beautiful sights. However, these are thousands of mosques in Istanbul and going off the beaten track is often much more rewarding than staying on it. Unknown Mosques of Istanbul takes you on a tour of hidden gems that even many locals don’t know about. This documentary encourages you to wander away from the crowds and discover a quieter beauty.
Travelling on from Istanbul to Madinah, we arrive at Al Masjid An Nabawi – the Prophet’s Mosque. Starting in Madinah’s new and ultra-modern train station is quite a contrast to the story that unfolds about this most important mosque and its presence at the birth of Islam.
1,400 years ago the Al-Masjid An Nabawi was a place of worship that served 1,700 people. It is now a site of pilgrimage that can accommodate a phenomenal one million. Charting its development from the time of the Prophet to the present day, Inside the Prophet’s Mosque is a documentary in which Ahmad Al Shugairi learns about Al Masjid An Nabawi and its unbroken connection to the Prophet, his family and companions.
Dar al Islam, New Mexico: America’s Eco Mosque and Retreat is a wonderful, short documentary that unites mosque architecture, Muslim history and what the Quran teaches about our responsibilities to care for and nurture the divine gift of Earth.
The Dar al Islam is a non-profit, educational organisation established in 1979. The campus is anchored around a Mosque and a school building on a hilly plateau across from the historic village of Abiquiu in Northern New Mexico.
The buildings were designed by beautiful soul, architect, artist and poet Hassan Fathy (1900-1989). Dar Al Islam was his final community project and for Othman Abd Ar Rahman Llewellyn of the Saudi Wildlife Authority it is the most beautiful mosque in North America.