What is a Minaret?

Balconies high atop minarets in Istanbul, Turkey.
Photo: Karl O'Brien.

Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, has four slender minarets. Photo: khoogheem.

Six slender minarets at the Prophet's Mosque in Mecca. Photo: Ali Mansuri.
In Islam, a minaret (Arabic: “beacon”) is an element of Islamic religious architecture. It is the tower traditionally used by a muezzin, or crier to call the faithful to prayer five times each day. Minarets are always connected with a mosque, sometimes by an elevated passageway.

At the time of the prophet Muhammad, the call to prayer was made from the highest roof in the vicinity of the mosque. The earliest minarets as such were former Greek watchtowers or the towers of Christian churches.

Today, calls to prayer are usually done in the prayer hall through a loudspeaker, and minarets serve mainly decorative purposes.

The oldest minaret in the world is in Kairouan, Tunisia. Built between 724 and 727, it has a massive square form.

The tallest minaret in the world is that of the new Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco, which stands 210 meters tall. Minarets were built to be “landmarks of Islam” — to be visible from afar and to stamp an area with Islamic character.

The number of minarets per mosque varies, from one to as many as six. They are constructed in a wide variety of forms ranging from thick, squat spiral ramps to soaring, delicate, pencil-thin spires.

A minaret has one or more balconies, from which the muezzin announces the call to prayer, and a spiral staircase on the inside or outside. Often the minaret is square at the base, where it is attached to the mosque. Above this square base it may rise in a series of circular, hexagonal, or octagonal stages, each marked by a projecting balcony.

At the top is a bulbous dome, an open pavilion, or a metal-covered cone. The upper parts of the minaret are usually richly decorated with carving. The steps may be internal or external.

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  1. "minaret." Encyclopædia Britannica (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  2. "minaret." John L. Esposito, The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (2003).
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