Conversion of non-Muslim places of worship into mosques

Conversion of non-Muslim places of worship into mosques
Hagia Sophia, an Eastern Orthodox church converted into a mosque on after Fall of Constantinople and since 1943 it has been converted into Museum.
Cathedral–Mosque_of_Córdoba, Originally a Pagan worship place, first converted into church and then, the Umayyad Moors built a mosque half of the site.

Conversion of non-Muslim places of worship into mosques began during the life of Muhammad and continued during subsequent Islamic conquests and under the Muslim rule. As a result, numerous Hindu temples, churches, synagogues, the Parthenon and Zoroastrian temples became mosques.


The Mosque

A mosque is a place of worship for followers of Islam, which literally means a place of prostration. The word "mosque" in English refers to all types of buildings dedicated for Islamic worship although there is a distinction in Arabic between the smaller, masjids dedicated for daily five prayers and the larger masajid where the daily five prayers and the Friday congregation sermons are held (مسجد جامع, masjid jāmi‘), which is attended by more people and play more roles such as teaching Qur'an.

It is related of the Arab commander Amr ibn al-As that he performed the salat (prayer) in a church and Zayd ibn Ali says regarding churches and synagogues, "Perform thy salat in them; it will not harm thee", meaning that churches and synagogues can safely be performed as acceptable for salaat mosques.[1]


Location Saudi Arabia Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Branch/tradition Islam

In Islamic tradition, the Ka'ba was built by Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son. Others argue that the Ka'aba, located in Mecca, had always been a non-Muslim sanctuary. But by the time of Muhammad, the site had long been a pagan temple, which Muhammad converted into a mosque in January 630.

Before the rise of Islam the Ka'aba was revered as a sacred sanctuary and was a site of pilgrimage.".[2] At the time of Muhammad (CE 570–632), his tribe the Quraysh was in charge of the Kaaba, which was at that time a shrine containing hundreds of idols representing Arabian tribal gods and other religious figures. Muhammad earned the enmity of his tribe by claiming the shrine for the new religion of Islam that he preached. He wanted the Kaaba to be dedicated to the worship of the one God alone, and all the idols were evicted. The Black Stone (al-Hajar-ul-Aswad), still present at the Kaaba was a special object of veneration at the site. According to tradition the text of seven especially honored poems were suspended around the Ka'aba, but there is no contemporary evidence for this claim. Martin Lings' biography of Muhammad claims that even an image of the Virgin Mary had been displayed in the pagan shrine.

According to Islam, Muhammad's actions were not strictly a conversion but rather a restoration of the mosque established on that site by Abraham, who is considered to be a prophet in Islam. The Ka'aba thus became known as the Masjid al-Haram, or Sacred Mosque, the holiest site in Islam.[1]

Biblical holy sites

Mosques were regularly established on the places of Jewish or Christian sanctuaries associated with Biblical personalities who were also recognized by Islam. This practice was particularly common in Palestine.[citation needed] The Caliph Umar initially built a small prayer house, which laid the foundation for the later construction of the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, possibly by the Ummayyads Al-Aqsa mosque#Construction by the Umayyads. The Dome of the Rock, another Muslim mosque, was also built on the Temple Mount which was an abandoned and disused area. Upon the capture of Jerusalem, it is commonly reported that Umar refused to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.[3] for fear that later Muslims would then convert it into a mosque in spite of a treaty guaranteeing its safety.[4]

The mosque of Job in Ash Shaykh Sa'd, Syria, was previously a church of Job.[1] The Herodian shrine of Cave of the Patriarchs, the second most holy site in Judaism, was converted into a church during the Crusades before being turned into a mosque in 1266 and henceforth banned to Jews and Christians. Part of it was restored as a synagogue after 1967 by Israel.

In October 2000, during the Al-Aqsa intifada, the tomb of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph, and the yeshiva inside Od Yosef Chai, located in Nablus, was damaged by a Palestinian mob. During Palestinian Authority-organised repairs, the dome was painted green.[5] It was repainted white again following international protests and objections.[6]

Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples

The destruction of Hindu temples in India during the Islamic conquest of India occurred from the beginning of Muslim conquest until the end the Mughal Empire throughout the Indian subcontinent.

In his book "Hindu Temples - What Happened to Them", Sita Ram Goel included a list of 2000 mosques that it is claimed were built on Hindu temples.[7] The second volume of the book excerpts from medieval histories and chronicles and from inscriptions concerning the destruction of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples.

In Indonesia, where popular conversion from Hinduism to Islam was more voluntary and peaceful, it is believed that the minaret of the Menara Kudus Mosque, in Java, was originally part of a Hindu temple.[7]

Ram Janmabhoomi

A view of the "Janmasthan (Birthplace) Mosque"/ Babri Mosque, 1528-1992

Ram Janmabhoomi refers to a tract of land in the North Indian city of Ayodhya which is claimed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama. Archeological Survey of India (ASI), after conducting excavations at the site reported that prior to 1528, filed a report that stated that a temple stood at this site before the arrival of Mughals who constructed Babri Mosque at its present site.[8] Critics of the report claim that the "presence of animal bones throughout as well as of the use of 'surkhi' and lime mortar" that was found by ASI are all characteristic of Muslim presence, which they claim "rule out the possibility of a Hindu temple having been there beneath the mosque".[9]

From 1528 to 1992 this was the site of the Babri Mosque. The mosque was razed in December 6, 1992 by a mob of some 150,000 nationalist Hindus supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP),[10][11] after a political rally developed into a riot[12] despite a commitment to the Indian Supreme Court by the rally organisers that the mosque would not be harmed.[13]

The Sangh Parivaar, along with VHP and the main Indian opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, sought to erect a temple dedicated to Lord Rama at this site. Nobel Laureate novelist V. S. Naipaul has praised Hindu nationalists for "reclaiming India's Hindu heritage". Naipaul added that the destruction of Babri structure was an act of historical balancing and the reclaiming of the Ramjanmabhoomi was a "welcome sign that Hindu pride was re-asserting itself".

The 1986 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica stated that "Rama’s birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babar in 1528 on the site claimed of an earlier temple".[14]

Archaeological excavations at the site by the Archeological Survey of India reported the existence of a 10th century temple.[8] " The report stated that scientific dating indicated human activity at the site as far back to the 17th century BC.[15]

On 30 September 2010, Allahabad High Court ruled that the 2.7 acres disputed land in Ayodhya, on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on December 6, 1992, will be divided into three parts: the site of the Ramlala idol to Lord Ram, Nirmohi Akhara gets Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabutara, Sunni Wakf Board gets a third. The court also agreed with the ASI report, and considered the mosque to have been predated by a massive Hindu religious structure which was demolished by Babur. This decision paved the way for reconstruction of a temple dedicated to Lord Rama.

Krishna Janmabhoomi (Mathura)

Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple sharing wall with mosque built by Aurangzeb

The great temple of Keshava Rai at Mathura was built by Bir Singh Deo Bundela during Jahangir’s time at a cost of thirty-three lakhs of rupees. The Dehra of Keshava Rai was one of the most magnificent temples ever built in India and enjoyed veneration of the Hindus throughout the land. Prince Dara Shukoh, who was looked upon by the masses as the future Emperor, had presented a carved stone railing to the temple which was installed in front of the deity at some distance; the devotees stood outside this railing to have ‘darshan’ of Keshava Rai. The railing was removed on Aurangzeb’s orders in October 1666.[16]

The Dehra of Keshava Rai was demolished in the month of Ramzan, 1080 A.H. (13 January – 11 February 1670) by Aurangzeb’s order. “In a short time, by the great exertion of the officers, the destruction of this strong foundation of infidelity was accomplished and on its site a lofty mosque was built at the expenditure of a large sum”. To the author of Maasir-i-‘Alamigiri, the accomplishment of this “seemingly impossible work was an “instance of the strength of the Emperor’s faith”.[16][17]

Somnath Temple

Somnath temple ("today"; as reclaimed by Hindus), Somnath, India

A century later the third temple was constructed in red sandstone by the Pratihara king, Nagabhata II.

Soon the temple regained its old glory and wealth, the descriptions of which were carried to the Middle East. In particular, the accounts of the Arab Al Biruni impressed Mahmud of Ghazni. In 1025 CE, Ghazni destroyed and looted the temple, killing over 50,000 people who tried to defend it.[18]The defenders included the 90-year-old clan leader Ghogha Rana. Ghazni personally broke the gilded lingam to pieces. He took them back to his homeland and placed them in the steps leading to the newly built Jamiah Masjid, so that they would be stepped upon by those going to the mosque to pray.[18][19]

Work on the fourth temple was started immediately by the Paramara King Bhoj of Malwa and the Solanki king Bhima of Patan and the temple was ready by 1042 CE. This temple was destroyed in 1300 CE. At that time Allaudin Khilji occupied the throne of Delhi and he sent his general, Alaf Khan, to pillage Somnath. The fifth temple was built by King Mahipala of the Chudasama dynasty.[19]

Converted Structure at the site of Somnath temple, 1869

Somnath was repeatedly attacked in the succeeding centuries. The last of these attacks was by the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb in 1701 CE. A mosque was built at the site of the temple.[19]

In 1783 CE queen Ahilyabhai Holkar built the sixth temple at an adjacent site. The temple still stands and worship is carried out there. After independence, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel pledged on November 13, 1947, that the seventh temple would be reconstructed. According to prescribed Hindu rituals, pledges are made by taking holy water in one’s fist. Leaders like Morarji Desai, Dr. Rajendra Prasad (the first President) and Kanhaiyalal Munshi joined in and the work was entrusted to the Sompura Shilpakars, whose ancestors rebuilt each new temple through the ages. The mosque built by Aurangazeb was not destroyed but carefully relocated. In 1951 Dr. Rajendra Prasad performed the consecration ceremony with the words “The Somnath Temple signifies that the power of creation is always greater than the power of destruction.”

The temple construction was completed on December 1, 1995, long after the demise of Sardar Patel. The then President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, dedicated it to the nation.

Kashi Viswanath (Banaras)

The Gyanvapi Mosque built by Aurangzeb on the original site of the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Kashi is one of the most sacred sites in Hindu India and the worship of Shiva as Vishveshvara goes back to ancient times. According to the Puranas, every step taken in Kashi Kshetra has the sanctity of making a pilgrimage to a tirtha. Lord Vishvanatha is regarded as the protector of Kashi and the belief is that one earns great religious merit by having a vision of the deity after having bathed in the Ganges.The temple was demolished several times by Muslim invaders, and was reconstructed again and again by Hindu kings.[20]After destruction of the original temple on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb's orders, a mosque was built which still stands.

Taj Mahal Mosque (Agra)

Taj Mahal Mosque
Taj Mahal Tomb

Taj Mahal is a UNESCO world heritage site located in Agra. It is generally believed by historians that the building was erected as a mausoleum by the 5th generation Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal and that the period of its construction was 1631-53 AD.

In the paper titled "The question of the Taj Mahal", authors P. S. Bhat and A. L. Athawale have questioned this widely held belief. [21] The Taj Mahal mosque adjacent to the main mausoleum is identical to another building facing eastwards leading to the speculation that the original purpose of the Taj Mahal mosque could have been something else. The authors also raise doubts about the origin of the Mogul architecture. They claim that it is possible for the bulbous dome architecture to previously exist in India prior to the Mogul era as is seen in the temples of Muktagiri and Sonagarh. This also raises interesting questions about the possible pre-existence of other buildings containing elements of bulbous domes such as Babri Masjid and Humayun's Tomb prior to the Mogul era. It will then imply that the previously existing dome shaped buildings(temples) were merely converted to Mosques and Tombs by removing the idols and doing Quranic inscriptions and not built by the Moguls as is widely believed.

Other references

An inscription at the Quwwat Al-Islam Mosque in Delhi states: This Jamii Masjid built in the months of the year 587 (hijri) by the Amir, the great, the glorious commander of the Army, Qutb-ud-daula wad-din, the Amir-ul-umara Aibeg, the slave of the Sultan, may God strengthen his helpers! The materials of 27 idol temples, on each of which 2,000,000 Deliwal coins had been spent were used in the (construction of) this mosque.[22] However as the inscription depicts, the mosque was built from the material remnants of Hindu temples which was destroyed by muslims.

During the reign of Aurangzeb, tens of thousands of temples were desecrated: their facades and interiors were defaced and their murtis (divine images) looted.[17] In many cases, temples were destroyed entirely; in numerous instances mosques were built on their foundations, sometimes using the same stones. Among the temples Aurangzeb destroyed were two that are most sacred to Hindus, in Varanasi and Mathura. In both cases, he had large mosques built on the sites.[17][16]

Alberuni in his India[23] writes about the famous temple of Multan:

A famous idol of theirs was that of Multan, dedicated to the sun, .. When Muhammad Ibn Alkasim Ibn Almunabbih, conquered Multan, he inquired how the town had become so very flourishing and so many treasures had there been accumulated, and then he found out that this idol was the cause, for there came pilgrims from all sides to visit it. Therefore he thought to build a mosque at the same place where the temple once stood. When then the Karmatians occupied Multan, Jalam Ibn Shaiban, the usurper, broke the idol into pieces and killed its priests. .. When afterwards the blessed Prince Mahmud swept away their rule from those countries, he made again the old mosque the place of the Friday-worship.

An inscription of 1462 Jami Masjid at Malan, in Banaskantha District of Gujarat states: The Jami Masjid was built by Khan-I-Azam Ulugh Khan, who suppressed the wretched infidels. He eradicated the idolatrous houses and mine of infidelity, along with the idols with the edge of the sword, and made ready this edifice. He made its walls and doors out of the idols; the back of every stone became the place for prostration of the believer.[24]

Mughal Emperor Jahangir wrote in his Tujuk-i-Jahangiri:

"I am here led to relate that at the city of Banaras a temple had been erected by Rajah Maun Sing, which cost him the sum of nearly thirty-six laks of five methkaly ashrefies. ...I made it my plea for throwing down the temple which was the scene of this imposture; and on the spot, with the very same materials, I erected the great mosque, because the very name of Islam was proscribed at Banaras, and with God’s blessing it is my design, if I live, to fill it full with true believers".[25]

Zoroastrian temples

After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Zoroastrian fire temples, with their four axial arch openings, were usually turned into mosques simply by setting a mihrab (prayer niche) on the place of the arch nearest to qibla (the direction of Mecca). This practice is described by numerous Muslim sources; however, the archeological evidence confirming it is still scarce. Zoroastrian temples converted into mosques in such a manner could be found in Bukhara, as well as in and near Istakhr and other Iranian cities.[1]


The Great Synagogue of Oran was confiscated and turned into a mosque

The ancient synagogue of Katzrin was converted to a mosque in the Mamluk period.[26]

After the expulsion of all Jews from Algeria, the Great Synagogue of Oran was confiscated for use as a mosque.[27]

The practice today

The Aksa mosque in The Hague, Netherlands, was formerly a synagogue.

The conversion of non-Islamic places of worship into mosques has abated since no major territorial acquisitions have been made by Islam in recent times. However, some of the Greek Orthodox churches in Turkey that were left behind by expelled Greeks in 1923 were converted into mosques, and a number of synagogues were confiscated and converted to mosques after the expulsions of the Jews from Arab lands during the 1950s and 60's.

A relatively significant surge in church-mosque conversion followed the 1974 Turkish Invasion of Cyprus. Many of the Orthodox churches in Northern Cyprus have been converted, and many are still in the process of becoming mosques.[28][29] This practice has sparked considerable contempt in the Greek Cypriot community, and is likely to complicate reconciliation with the Turkish Cypriots.

In Iran, all holy places of the Bahá'í religion have been demolished. The House of the Báb in Shiraz was turned to rubble in 1979, soon after the Islamic Revolution, and a mosque dedicated to the Imam Mahdi was built on the site.

The defunct Hagia Sophia Church in İznik (ancient Nicaea) was re-converted into a mosque on the Eid al-Adha of 2011. The prayer session was attended by the ruling AK Parti deputies as well as an immense Muslim congregation.[30]

Churches and synagogues in non-Islamic countries re-arranged as mosques

In areas that have experienced Islamic immigration, such as parts of Europe and North America,[31][32] some church buildings, and those of other religious congregations, that have fallen into disuse have been converted into mosques following a sale of the property.

In London, the Brick Lane Mosque has previously served as a French Protestant chapel and a synagogue.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Hillenbrand, R. "Masdjid. I. In the central Islamic lands". In P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  2. ^ Britannica 2002 Deluxe Edition CD-ROM, "Ka'bah."
  3. ^ He was touring the Church and prayer time came around and he requested to be shown to a place where he may pray and the Patriarch said "Here".
  4. ^ Adrian Fortescue, "The Orthodox Eastern Church", Gorgias Press LLC, Dec 1, 2001, pg. 28 ISBN 0-9715986-1-4
  5. ^ Bat Ye'or (2002), p. 83
  6. ^ Hirschberg, Peter (2000-11-06). "Israel fears Palestinian mob damage at other West Bank holy sites". Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  7. ^ a b [1] Hindu temples- What happened to them
  8. ^ a b Proof of temple found at Ayodhya: ASI report Rediff News, August 25, 2003 19:35 IST
  9. ^ Ayodhya verdict yet another blow to secularism: Sahmat The Hindu, October 3, 2010
  10. ^ Babri Masjid demolition was planned 10 months in advance - PTI
  11. ^ Uproar over India mosque report: Inquiry into Babri mosque's demolition in 1992 indicts opposition BJP leaders Al-Jazeera English - November 24, 2009
  12. ^ Babri mosque demolition case hearing today. Yahoo News - September 18, 2007
  13. ^ Tearing down the Babri Masjid - Eye Witness BBC's Mark Tully BBC - Thursday, 5 December 2002, 19:05 GMT
  14. ^ 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1986, entry "Ayodhya", Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
  15. ^ The ASI Report - a reviewFrontline (October 25 - November, 07, 2003), published by The Hindu
  16. ^ a b c [2]Temples destruction by Aurangzeb
  17. ^ a b c [3] Destruction of Hindu Temples by Aurangzeb
  18. ^ a b [4] Destruction of Somnath Temple
  19. ^ a b c [5] Muslim invasion of Gujarat
  20. ^ [6] The scared complex of Kashi
  21. ^ [7]The question of the Taj Mahal
  22. ^ Epigraphia Indo Moslemica, 1911-12, p. 13.
  23. ^ Alberuni's India, Edward C. Sachau, (Translator and Editor)
  24. ^ Epigraphia Indica-Arabic and Persian Supplement, 1963, Pp. 26-29
  25. ^ Tujuk-i-Jahangiri Trans. David Price,
  26. ^ Ann Killebrew Reflections on a Reconstruction of Ancient Qasrin Village,The reconstructed past: reconstructions in the public interpretation of archaeology and history, John H. Jameson, Rowman Altamira, 2004, pp. 127-146
  27. ^ [8][dead link]
  28. ^ "Cyprus: Portrait of a Christianity Obliterated" (in (Italian)). Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  29. ^ "CYPRUS PROBLEM: Destruction of the Cultural Identity of the Occupied Area". Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  30. ^ "Ayasofya’da ibadet". Hürriyet. 2011-11-06. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  31. ^ Perlez, Jane (April 2, 2007). "Old Church Becomes Mosque in Uneasy Britain". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  32. ^ Applebome, Peter (August 18, 2010). "Utica Welcomes a New Mosque Replacing an Old Church". The New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2011. 

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