Mosque Monday is a month-long series through Ramadan where I am sharing some of the beautiful mosques that I have visited.
In 2017, my younger brother spent a year living and working in India. So naturally, despite having a new baby, my husband and I were certain to find a spare week to visit him. April (despite the crushing heat) presented an opportunity as my stepson was visiting with his mother and we would only have one child to bring in tow. So, we packed our bags, brought the necessities for our 13-month-old and hopped a flight to Delhi. Although nearly 85% of Indians are Hindu, there are significant Islamic roots in India, and Islam is the second most common religion.
While we did visit the Taj Mahal while in India (which is truly spectacular), my reason for not featuring it is not because I am trying to seem more offbeat or trendy, but rather because the Taj Mahal, is not a mosque. It is, of course, a stunning vision of Islamic art, but it is a mausoleum – a beautiful tomb from an emperor to his beloved wife.
Now, while there are any number of beautiful mosques in and around Delhi, we actually visited only one during our far-too-short week in India. And even that mosque you may not even realize is a mosque when you visit because it is in ruins. Despite its ruined state, however, the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque remains truly beautiful.
The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque was built in 1198 and is one of the oldest mosques in India. It was built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, a sultan that rose to great power, a far rise from his youth as a slave in Turkey. Qutb-ud-din Aibak took power after the death of Muhammad of Ghor, the Persian sultan of the Ghurid Empire. While Muhammad of Ghor brought Muslim conquest to India, Qutb-ud-din Aibak solidified Islam’s place in the country. While his garrison occupied Delhi under Muhammad of Ghor, Qutb-ud-din Aibak ordered the destruction of 27 Hindu and Jain temples to obtain the materials needed to the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque and its complex. In many instances, the stucco used to cover the Hindu carvings has worn away with time, and they stand proudly amongst the Muslim art and architecture.
Among the earliest remaining features of the The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque and its vast complex are the pillars that were repurposed from the destroyed temples.
Next to the ruins of Quwwat-ul-Islam is the Qutub Minar, a 239 ft high victory tower inspired by Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan. The Qutub Minar is the most famous feature of the complex that is commonly know as the Qutb Minar complex, after the tower’s fame. It’s construction took place in tandem with the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, though the Qutub Minar is believed to have been a stand-alone structure, which sets it apart from many of the more traditional minarets that are a common feature of mosques. There are 379 steps inside the tower, leading to the top, which offers views of the rest of the complex. Unfortunately, visitors are no longer allowed inside, so the view and the beautiful and intricate carvings inside the tower must go unviewed.
As men of power are known to do, a little over a hundred years later, a new Sultan, Alauddin Khilji set out to make a tower bigger in every respect to the Qutub Minar. Unfortunately, like many men of power so focused on size, he was unable to finish.
The complex also houses a number of additional arches, monuments and tombs, including the tomb of Imam Zamin, an Islamic cleric from the 16th century. Imam Zamin was a direct descendent of Muhammad. His mausoleum was built between 1537 and 1538, and he was laid to rest in it after his death in 1539. The tomb is breathtaking, with stunning carved marble around all sides. It is a site that is visited by Muslim pilgrims to this day, some of whom we were very pleased to get to meet (and whom we only have pictures of because they requested to have pictures with us on their own phones, so we did the same). Even though we did not speak the same language, we were able to share with each other our admiration for the beautiful architecture and details surrounding us.
Similarly stunning is the tomb of Iltutmish, a Sultan of Delhi that ruled from 1211 – 1236 AD. The central chamber is a square with squinches, which suggests that the structure originally included a dome, which has since collapsed. The most stunning aspect of the tomb of Iltutmish, however, is the intricate carvings along the walls.
Rife with history and beauty (but a bit lacking in shade), the complex surrounding the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque is a site that is not to be missed if visiting Delhi.
Be sure to check back in next Monday for my final Mosque Monday post, where I will celebrate another stunning mosque from my travels.