The building enthusiasm of the Abbassids took a new dimension in the construction of mosques as reflected in their size and character. Unlike the Umayyads who continued the stone tradition of Syria, the Abbassids adopted the Mesopotamian tradition of mud and baked brick construction often arranged in decorative manner or carved and moulded with geometric and vegetal designs.
The minaret of the Abbassids with its monumental character and size undertook another function, in addition to the call of prayers, consisting of advertising the presence of the Friday mosque from afar and sometimes used as landmark providing a sense of direction for travellers as the case of the minaret of Mujda.
These minarets also had a symbolic significance in that they expressed the prominent role of the mosque in the Abbassid society as well as a public display of the power of the Islamic Caliphate.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque
The earliest major mosque construction undertaken by the Abbassids was the rebuilding of Al-Aqsa. The mosque was originally built by Hazrath Umar (RA) (the second Caliph) in 634, but extended and improved upon by a number of Umayyad Caliphs especially Al-Walid. After its destruction by the earthquake of 747-748 the Abbassid Caliph al-Mahdi (775-785) rebuilt it in 780 and according to Creswell (1959) the mosque retained this plan to present times.
The mosque had a building lofty central nave leading to the Mihrab and covered by a trussed timber roof. The nave had a width measured by 15 places of worshippers. In front of the Mihrab, the space was covered by a great dome of bigger diameter than today’s and had four minarets projecting high in the sky.
On the sides of the nave there were 14 aisles, seven for each side divided by arcades each consisting of eleven pointed arches. The access to the nave was on the main gate on the north, as well as from numerous secondary doors (7 doors on left and right sides of the nave, and 11 on its eastern side). The major Abbassid addition was the introduction of the arcaded portico in the northern, western and southern side to protect the faithful from winter rain and summer heat as well as sheltering the poor and travellers.
The other feature introduced by the Abbassids was the unusual shape of its plan by running the aisles of the sanctuary from North to South parallel to the central nave and intersecting them with the qibla in the Mihrab area forming a T shape. This space configuration was also adopted in North Africa in Quairawan Mosque (Tunisia) (836) and later in mosques of Samara; Al-Mutawwakil Mosque (848/849) and Abu-Dullaf (860).
There are suggestions which consider this spatial arrangement to be derived from the Christian cross plan of the church but there is a little evidence of that especially if we knew that the spread of cross as well T planned churches took place only since the 11th and 12th century Romanesque and later Gothic Europe.
(Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation. Info@fstc.co.uk)