A mosque is a Muslim place of worship, where the faithful gather to pray, participate in community events, and to exchange information with each other. They can be found in a wide range of architectural styles in nations all over the world, including the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, one of the most sacred mosques in Islam, and the stunning Blue Mosque in Turkey, which was built by Sultan Ahmed I in Istanbul.
A few architectural features are common to all mosques, regardless as to whether they are built in the form of Chinese pagodas or modernist edifices. It always includes a mihrab, a niche in the wall that faces Mecca. The mihrab is used to orient the congregation as prayers are said, and it is often ornately decorated. Many also have a minibar, a pulpit, along with minarets, tall slender towers which are used to issue the call to prayer.
Most mosques also have a large common area which is designed to accommodate the congregation when they gather for prayers, and they have separate areas for men and women so that they can pray in peace. Commonly, it also has community facilities, allowing people to use the space for festivals, community meetings, dinners, and other social events. Much like religious buildings in other traditions, the mosque is the hub of community life.
Many mosques are attached to the hamam, or public baths, and they may have generously landscaped grounds as well. It is also common to attach a school for the education of the community's youth. When a mosque is especially large and designed to be used for community functions, it is known as a jama'a, or “Great Mosque,” while a smaller one that is used just for prayer is known as a masjid.
According to Islam, the first mosque was the Kaaba, in Mecca. Some other well known examples include the Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, the Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina, the Great Mosque of Paris, the Umayyad Mosque in Syria, the Jami Ul Alfar in Sri Lanka, and the Babri Mosque in India. Non-Muslims are welcomed in many mosques, as long as they are respectful. If a person wants to visit one, he or she should wear modest, simple clothing; women should cover their hair; and visitors should be prepared to remove their shoes at the door. During prayers, silence is expected so that people can concentrate.