Conversion of non-Islamic places of worship into mosques

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The ancient temple of Kashi Vishwanath dedicated to Hindu Deity Shiva, with Gyanvapi Mosque standing atop, built on the orders of Muslim emperor Aurangzeb in 1669 AD.[1]
Hagia Sophia, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral converted into a mosque in 1453 AD.

The conversion of non-Islamic places of worship into mosques occurred during the life of Muhammad and continued during subsequent Islamic conquests and under historical Muslim rule. As a result, Hindu temples, Buddhist temples, Christian churches, synagogues, and Zoroastrian fire temples were converted into mosques. The practice has led to conflicts and religious strife in various parts of the world.[2][3][4]

Several of such mosques in the areas of former Muslim rule have since been reconverted or become museums, such as the Parthenon in Greece, and numerous mosques in Spain such as Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba etc. Conversion of non-Islamic buildings into mosques influenced distinctive regional styles of Islamic architecture.

Qur'anic holy sites[edit]

Kaaba, an ancient sanctuary in the city of Mecca and the holiest site in Islam was originally a place of worship for Arabian polytheists. The site housed about 360 sacred idols which were demolished after Muhammad conquered the city.

Mecca[edit]

Muslims believe the mosque at Ka'ba[5] was rebuilt and used for monotheistic worship since the time of Ibrahim and Ismail.

Before Muhammad, the Kaʿba and Mecca (referred to as Bakkah in the Quran), were revered as a sacred sanctuary and was a site of pilgrimage.[6] Some identify it with the Biblical "valley of Baca" from Psalms 84 (Hebrew: בָּכָא‎).[7][8] At the time of Muhammad (AD 570–632), his tribe the Quraysh was in charge of the Kaʿaba, which was at that time a shrine containing hundreds of idols representing Arabian tribal gods and other religious figures. Muhammad earned the enmity of his tribe by claiming the shrine for the new religion of Islam, which Muhammad claimed to be the religion (monotheism) of Adam and Abraham, that he preached. He wanted the Kaʿaba to be dedicated to the worship of the one God alone, and all the idols were evicted. The Black Stone (al-Hajar-ul-Aswad) at the Kaʿaba was a special object of veneration at the site. According to tradition the text of seven or ten especially honoured poems were suspended around the Kaʿaba.[9]

Jerusalem[edit]

Dome of the Rock is a shrine in Jerusalem. Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, is traditionally believed to have ascended into heaven from this site. In Jewish tradition, it is here that Abraham, the progenitor and first patriarch of the Hebrew people, is said to have prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. The Dome and Al-Aqsa Mosque are both located on the Temple Mount the site of Solomon's Temple and its successors.

Mosques were regularly established on the places of Jewish or Christian sanctuaries associated with Koranic personalities who were also mentioned in the Bible.

Upon the capture of Jerusalem, it is commonly reported that Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, refused to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre[10] for fear that later Muslims would then convert it into a mosque in spite of a treaty guaranteeing its status.[11] The architecturally similar Dome of the Rock was built on the Temple Mount, which was an abandoned and disused area in the 7th century but which had previously been the site of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the most sacred site in Judaism.[12] Umar initially built there a small prayer house which laid the foundation for the later construction of the Al-Aqsa mosque by the Umayyads.

Elsewhere[edit]

The mosque of Job in Al-Shaykh Saad, Syria, was previously a church of Job.[13]

The Herodian shrine of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the second most holy site in Judaism, was converted into a church during the Crusades before being turned into a mosque in 1266 and henceforth banned to Jews and Christians. Part of it was restored as a synagogue by Israel after 1967.

Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples[edit]

The destruction of Hindu temples in India during the Islamic conquest of India occurred from the beginning of Muslim conquest until the end of the Mughal Empire throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Bindu Madhav (Nand Madho) Temple[edit]

The structure of Alamgir Mosque standing atop the original site of Bindu-Madhav temple in Varanasi

The Alamgir Mosque in Varanasi was constructed by Mughal Emperor Aurnagzeb built atop the ancient 100 ft high Bindu Madhav (Nand Madho) Temple after its destruction in 1682.[14]

Kashi Vishwanath Temple[edit]

The original Kashi Vishwanath Temple was demolished by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque atop the original Hindu temple. Kashi Vishwanath was among the most renowned Hindu temples of India. Even today the pillars and the structure of the original temple can be clearly seen.

Aurangzeb's demolition of the temple was motivated by the rebellion of local zamindars (landowners) associated with the temple, some of whom may have facilitated the escape of the Maratha king Shivaji. Jai Singh I, the grandson of the temple's builder Raja Man Singh, was widely believed to have facilitated Shivaji's escape from Agra.[15] The temple's demolition was intended as a warning to the anti-Mughal factions and Hindu religious leaders in the city.[16]

As described by Jadunath Sarkar, on 9 April 1669, Aurangzeb issued a general order “to demolish all the schools and temples of the infidels and to put down their religious teaching and practices.” His destroying hand now fell on the great shrines that commanded the veneration of the Hindus all over India—such as the second temple of Somnath, the Vishwanath temple of Benares and the Keshav Rai temple of Mathura.[17]

Menara Kudus Mosque[edit]

Minarets are not traditionally an architectural feature of Indonesian mosques, instead the Menara Kudus Mosque employs a Hindu-Buddhist temple-like structure for a drum used to call prayer.[18]

One of Indonesia's most famous mosques, Menara Kudus has retained much of its former Hindu character.

Ram Janmabhoomi[edit]

Babri Masjid (meaning Mosque of Babur) used to be a mosque in Ayodhya, Faizabad, India at a site believed by some Hindus to be the birthplace of Hindu deity Rama.

Ram Janmabhoomi refers to a tract of land in the North Indian city of Ayodhya which is the birthplace of Lord Rama according to the Hindu philosophy. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), after conducting excavations at the site, filed a report which stated that a temple-like structure stood at the site before the arrival of the first ruler of the Mughal Empire, Babur, who constructed the Babri Masjid ("Mosque of Babur") at the site. However, it is important to clarify that, after scientific testing carried out by ASI's team, "it was claimed that there were remains of an ancient Hindu temple under the disputed structure." and said it "was not an Islamic structure" but, could not establish whether a temple was demolished to build a Mosque.[19] From 1528 to 1992 this was the site of the Babri Mosque (Babri Masjid). The mosque was constructed in 1527 on the orders of Babur and named after him. Before the 1940s, the mosque was also called Masjid-i-Janmasthan, translation: ("mosque of the birthplace"). The Babri Mosque was one of the largest mosques in Uttar Pradesh, a state in India with some 31 million Muslims.

Critics of the ASI state that the "presence of animal bones throughout as well as of the use of 'surkhi' and lime mortar" that was found by ASI are all characteristic of Muslim presence, which they claim "rule out the possibility of a Hindu temple having been there beneath the mosque".[20]

The mosque was razed on 6 December 1992 by a mob of some 150,000 Hindus supported by the Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP),[3][4] after a political rally developed into a riot[21] despite a commitment to the Indian Supreme Court by the rally organisers that the mosque would not be harmed.[22] The Sangh Parivaar, along with VHP and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), sought to erect a temple dedicated to Rama at this site. The 1986 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica stated that "Rama's birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babar in 1528 on the site claimed of an earlier temple".[23] Numerous petitions by Hindus to the courts resulted in Hindu worshippers of Rama gaining access to the site.

On 30 September 2010, Allahabad High Court ruled that the 2.7 acres disputed land in Ayodhya, on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on 6 December 1992, will be divided into three parts: the site of the Ramlala idol to Lord Ram, Nirmohi Akhara gets Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabutara, Sunni Wakf Board gets a third.

In 9 November 2019, the Supreme Court of India delivered a judgement which gave the entire 2.77 acres of land to the Hindu trust to build the temple. Muslim parties were given an alternate 5 acres of land inside Ayodha city limits to build a mosque.[24]

Other references[edit]

Intricate Hindu stone carvings on the cloister columns at Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque, Qutb complex, Delhi.

An inscription at the Quwwat Al-Islam Mosque adjacent to Qutb Minar in Delhi states:

"This Jamii Masjid built in the months of the year 587 (hijri) by the Amir, the great, the glorious commander of the Army, Qutb-ud-daula wad-din, the amir-ul-umara Aibeg, the slave of the Sultan, may God strengthen his helpers! The materials of 27 idol temples, on each of which 2,000,000 Deliwal coins had been spent were used in the (construction of) this mosque."[25]

An inscription of 1462 A.D.at Jami Masjid at Malan, in Banaskantha District of Gujarat states:

The Jami Masjid was built by Khan-I-Azam Ulugh Khan. He eradicated the idolatrous houses and mine of infidelity, along with the idols with the edge of the sword, and made ready this edifice.He made its walls and doors out of the idols; the back of every stone became the place for prostration of the believer.[26]

Sikh Gurdwaras[edit]

Gurdwara Lal Khoohi in Lahore, Pakistan was a Sikh Gurdwara which was converted to muslim shrine.[27][28]

Zoroastrian fire temples[edit]

After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Zoroastrian fire temples, with their four axial arch openings, were usually turned into mosques simply by setting a mihrab (prayer niche) on the place of the arch nearest to qibla (the direction of Mecca). This practice is described by numerous Muslim sources; however, the archaeological evidence confirming it is still scarce. Zoroastrian temples converted into mosques in such a manner could be found in Bukhara, as well as in and near Istakhr and other Iranian cities,[13] such as: Tarikhaneh Temple, Jameh Mosque of Qazvin, Heidarieh Mosque of Qazvin, Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, Jameh Mosque of Kashan, Jameh Mosque of Ardestan, Jameh Mosque of Yazd, Jameh Mosque of Borujerd, Great Mosque of Herat as well as Bibi Shahr Banu Shrine near Tehran.

Conversion of church buildings to mosques[edit]

Albania[edit]

The Catholic church of Saint Nicholas (Shën Nikollë) was turned into a mosque. After being destroyed in the Communist 1968 anti-religious campaign, the site was turned into an open air mausoleum.

Bosnia and Hercegovina[edit]

Fethija Mosque in Bihać, Bosnia

The Fethija Mosque (since 1592) of Bihać was a Catholic church devoted to Saint Anthony of Padua (1266).

Turkey[edit]

Before the 20th century[edit]

Istanbul[edit]

Following the Ottoman conquest of Anatolia, virtually all of the churches of Istanbul were desecrated and converted into mosques except the Church of St. Mary of the Mongols.[29]

Rest of Turkey[edit]

Elsewhere in Turkey numerous churches were desecrated and converted into mosques, including:

Orthodox[edit]
Armenian Apostolic[edit]
The Selimiye Mosque was the largest and oldest surviving Gothic church in Cyprus, which was possibly constructed on the site of an earlier Byzantine church.

20th century and after[edit]

In addition, after the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922), some of the Greek Orthodox churches in Turkey were converted into mosques. In 2015, Turkey decided to renovate the ruined Hagia Sophia church in Enez, dating back to the 12th century, as a mosque despite former statements made about the possibility of restoring it as a museum.[34] As of 2020, four Byzantine church museums converted to mosques under Erdogan's rule (including the Haghia Sophia in İznik (2011),[35] the Chora Church in Istanbul (2019)[36] and the Haghia Sophia in Istanbul (2020)).[37]

Cyprus[edit]

Following the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus, a number of Christian churches were desecrated and then converted into mosques. A relatively significant surge in church-mosque conversion followed the 1974 Turkish Invasion of Cyprus. Many of the Orthodox churches in Northern Cyprus have been converted, and many are still in the process of becoming mosques.

France[edit]

During the Ottoman wintering in Toulon (1543–44), the Toulon Cathedral was temporarily used as a mosque for the 30,000 members of the crew of the Ottoman fleet.

Greece[edit]

Painting of the ruins of the Parthenon and the Ottoman mosque built after 1715, in the early 1830s.

Numerous orthodox churches were converted to mosques during the Ottoman period in Greece. Among them:

The Rotunda of Galerius in Thessaloniki, initially a Mausoleum of Roman Emperor Galerius, a Christian church (326–1590), then a mosque and again a church after 1912.

Hungary[edit]

Following the Ottoman conquest of the Kingdom of Hungary, a number of Christian churches were desecrated and then converted into mosques. Those that survived the era of Ottoman rule, were later reconverted into churches after the Great Turkish War.

  • Church of Our Lady of Buda, converted into Eski Djami immediately after the capture of Buda in 1541, reconverted in 1686.
  • Church of Mary Magdalene, Buda, converted into Fethiye Djami c. 1602, reconverted in 1686.
  • The Franciscan Church of St John the Baptist in Buda, converted into Pasha Djami, destroyed in 1686.

Lebanon[edit]

Morocco[edit]

Spain[edit]

A Catholic Christian church dedicated to Saint Vincent of Lérins, was built by the Visigoths in Córdoba; during the reign of Abd al-Rahman I, it was converted into a mosque.[38][39][40] In the time of the Reconquista, Christian rule was reestablished and the building became a church once again, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.[38][39][40]

Syria[edit]

Post-Colonial North Africa[edit]

A number of North African cathedrals and churches were confiscated and/or forcibly converted into mosques in the mid-20th century

Others were desecrated and later destroyed after the Christian congregants were expelled.

Iraq[edit]

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria converted a number of Christian churches into mosques after they occupied Mosul in 2014. The churches were restored into its original functions after Mosul was liberated in 2017.[41]

  • Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Ephraim in Mosul, Iraq; converted to the Mosque of the Mujahideen
  • Chaldean Church of St. Joseph in Mosul, Iraq

Israel[edit]

After the conquest of Hebron, this holy place was "taken over from the Jewish tradition" by the Muslim rulers. The cave and the surrounding Herodian enclosure was converted into a mosque.[42]

Elsewhere[edit]

The Aksa mosque in The Hague, Netherlands, was formerly a synagogue.[45]

In part of Europe and North America with significant Muslim populations,[46][47] some church buildings and buildings of other religious congregations that have fallen into disuse have been converted into mosques following a sale of the property. In the United States examples include two Catholic churches in Detroit.[48]

United Kingdom[edit]

United States[edit]

Germany[edit]

Influence on Islamic architecture[edit]

Conversion of non-Islamic religious buildings into mosques during the first centuries of Islam played a major role in the development of Islamic architectural styles. Distinct regional styles of mosque design, which have come to be known by such names as Arab, Persian, Andalusian, and others, commonly reflected the external and internal stylistic elements of churches and other temples characteristic for that region.[71]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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