From outside, most mosques in the West are no match for their splendid counterparts in the Islamic World. Many of them were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s by labor immigrants. Especially minarets, tower-like extensions to the main buildings which are used to call to prayer, are often missing.
However, some architectonical elements are mandatory for every mosque. The prayer room is one of them. Inside, visitors can easily spot the carefully decorated prayer niche (Mihrab) which allows foreign Muslims to determine the direction of prayer at one glance. Separate sanitary facilities to take ablution are also indispensable.
Another feature of every mosque is the Minbar, the pulpit, on which the Imam gives the Friday sermon and other lectures. The tradition of erecting a pulpit can be traced back to the Medinan mosque. To this day, the features of the very first mosque built by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions in Medina are exemplary for mosques worldwide.
The mosque is at the heart of religious life. It offers room for prayer and contemplation but also for social, cultural and charity events. Recently, many mosques put more emphasis on activities for women and youth, thereby answering the challenges of a changing member base. With counselling, language and supplementary courses, supervision of homework, summer camps and sport tournaments, communities actively work to help their members to participate in society and strengthen their identity.
Another important building block are public relations. Interreligious forums, guided mosque tours, and open days serve to reduce mutual fears of contact and pave ways to meet and learn from one another.