Faisal Mosque: Breathtaking brilliance of Islamabad

Travel Contributor
Faisal Mosque
© Mrhighsky | Dreamstime.com

“This is a mosque? Are you kidding me?” Such was the reaction of one my former colleagues on seeing a picture of Faisal Mosque in my Islamabad album. I was not surprised at his reaction, for that exactly was my response too, when our protocol officer, Jaffar Qureshi, pointed to a unique dazzling white structure etched on the vista of the emerald green Margalla Hills, and said, “We shall soon be alighting in front of the fourth largest mosque in the world.”

Faisal Mosque and architectural brilliance

We were a band of ‘unlucky thirteen’. Journalists from India, visiting Pakistan. This was 2014. We were being given a guided tour of Islamabad, the nation’s capital. It took me a long while, standing in front of the huge building, to come to terms with the fact that I was indeed going to enter a mosque. This was for the first time I was seeing a mosque that did not have a dome. Indeed, in terms of architecture I do not believe there is any other mosque in the world similar to Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque.

On four corners of the architecture are four minarets, each a 295 Ft long. At the centre of it is the huge Aiwan, the main hall of the mosque. The height of the roof here is 141 Ft., and the area of the floor a hopping 54 thousand Sq.Ft. We were told around 10 thousand people could pray in the hall itself, and if the sprawling marble-floored courtyard is included, the number would be around 75 thousand.

Bedouin’s tent

Faisal Mosque, therefore, is a grand structure. I, however, do not remember it for its size. At the very first sight it reminded me of a huge tent, made of brick and mortar. I was glad to learn later that I wasn’t wrong. The architect of Faisal Mosque is the renowned Turkish architect Vedat Ali Dalokay. His design was chosen by the Pakistan government after an international call to submit plans for a grand mosque. That was 1968. In 1966 the then king of Saudi Arabia Faisal Bin Abdul-Aziz had pledged money for this initiative, and the mosque has been named after him.

Mr. Dalokay in an interview later told the media that the architecture of the mosque was ‘perfectly in harmony with the eternal image of the tent’. And there is more, he said, ‘I tried to capture the spirit, proportion and geometry of Kaaba in a purely abstract manner.’ And the typical Turkish ‘pencil’ minarets give the mosque a stunningly different look.

Outstanding Mihrab design

But then, this is all about the exterior of the mosque. The interior is no less breath-taking. Again, never have I seen such a Mihrab in any other mosque anywhere. It exactly resembles an open book. On the two open pages of the book has been inscribed the Al-Rahman Sura of the Holy Quran, etched in golden brass, in the ancient Kufic script. And on the spine of the book is written Allah in stunning blue lapis lazuli.

This beautiful Mihrab has been designed by noted artist Ismail Gulgi. And just above the Minbar is etched the Al-Fatiha Sura. Again, in dazzling lapis lazuli. But the real eye-catcher in the Aiwan is a huge mural just above the Muezzin Mehfili. It has been designed by arguably Pakistan’s finest painter, the late Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi. Then there are the chandeliers, hanging from the roof, and exquisite carpets spread over the floor.

When I finally leave the mosque, I am left with a feeling of deep, calming beauty.


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra) 

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