Islamic design
menu for this section of the site
References – addendum
menu for notes relating to this section on Islamic design

Additional background to these notes

Prayers being held in Doha’s old Grand Mosque

There may be a considerable amount of information not given in these notes which would be useful to those with an interest in this subject. It is difficult to know what to add or leave out, but it might be of benefit to set out here some basic information regarding the religious background of the area. In addition there is a small amount of information relating to areas which may not have been covered in the references or glossaries that form some of the pages of these notes.

What is placed here is not intended to be in any way exhaustive. Should further explanation be required, there are many sources which can be looked at either online or in books and elsewhere.

go to top of page


There are five obligations for a Muslim. He or she must

  • recite the shahada – the statement of belief in God,
  • pray to God five times a day,
  • fast for the holy month of Ramadhan,
  • give zakaat, or alms to the poor, and
  • make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime

go to top of page


The importance of prayers in the Muslim’s world can not be overestimated. A Muslim must pray five times a day, preferably congregationally, in a local mosque unless he or she has a good reason not to.

The prayers are led by an Imam facing the direction indicated by the qibla – the prescribed direction of the ka’ba at Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Notice of the prayers, adhan, is given from the mosque immediately prior to the time for the prayers and is a familiar sound in Muslim countries.

Prayers, in their formal sense given below, together with more informal expressions to Allah, are common as Muslims go about their daily tasks. For instance, very few initiatives are begun without a quick recitation of ‘In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful’ – the phrase which begins every verse of the Holy Quran but one.

The timing of prayers is governed by the lunar calendar and the movements of the sun. Prayers are:

early morning prayer – salat al-fajr
which can be offered over a total period of about two hours beginning about an hour before dawn when the first glimmerings of dawn appear, and is generally considered pre-dawn prayers;
mid-day prayer – salat al-dhuhr
which is offered after work for the day has begun and is particularly aimed at seeking Allah’s guidance, prayers preferably made in conjuction with others at prayer. It begins from the time the sun begins to decline from its zenith to mid-way to its setting;
mid-afternoon prayer – salat al-asr
which is taken as a break from work to remember Allah. It runs from directly after the al-dthur prayers to sunset;
sunset prayer – salat al-maghrib
which is taken directly after sunset, as the day moves to its end, and extends until the glow of the sun disappears from the horizon; and the
evening prayer – salat al-isha
which last from the end of the al-maghrib prayer to the salat al-fajr.

Friday is the holy day for Muslims. It is the day that there is an increased need if not requirement for communal prayer, and salat al-dthuris the time which seems to be the most important communal event of that day.

As mentioned above there are certain conditions under which a Muslim does not have to pray, generally these are related to sickness, pregnancy and travel when the al-dthur and al-asr as well as the al-maghrib and al-isha which may be taken together.

The purpose of the prayers is to join a Muslim to Allah throughout the day, linking the social and religious aspects of life and asserting the continuity there is in this relationship.

The practice of praying together strengthens the social bonds of the local community. Once a week, on Fridays, all work ceases and the people of the larger community meet together to pray at the central mosque. This draws together the whole town and affords the opportunity for all citizens to come in contact with each other.

At Eid, twice a year, prayers are said outside the town in a large area enabling both the townspeople and those from the neighbouring communities to come together in prayer. It is strongly believed that regular, congregational worship promotes social relations in an atmosphere of equality and love, and is a crucial device for purifying and unifying the human race.

The prayers are performed facing the direction of the qibla in Mecca, and the Muslim goes through a sequence of prayers standing, bowing and kneeling. There is nearly always a prayer mat kept for individuals to use in prayer, and often the direction of Mecca is marked within the area used for prayer.

Prayers are not always given in the mosque and individuals are free to worship at home: in fact, the women of the house normally worship at home where they have the additional responsibility of instructing their children in prayer from an early age. When more than one person prays within a house they generally line up, shoulder to shoulder, in a suitably large space facing the qibla with, sometimes, a single person in front to lead the prayer.

There are a large number of resources on the Internet and elsewhere which I recommend you read to obtain a better understanding of the importance of prayer in the daily life of the Muslim. As you will see in the notes I’ve made in these pages, this relationship is central to the organisation of the Islamic house and planning.

go to top of page


Muslims carry out a ritual ablution, wudhuw’, before praying as required by Sura 9 of the Quran.

When ye rise up to prayer, wash your faces and your hands and arms to the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles.

Before praying, whether in private or public, all Muslims wash themselves as they are required to be clean for prayer, this form of prayer being demonstrated to them by Muhammad at Mecca and Medina. First washed are the hands, then the mouth, nose, face, the arms – first the right and then the left – up to the elbow, and then the hair is wetted. When that is finished the feet are washed – again the right and then the left – up to the ankles.

When suitably clean water is not available it is permissible to use dust, sand or stone or a clean, dry material in order to carry out the necessary ritual cleansing procedure. This is known as tayammum and is carried out in a similar manner to that using water, the hands being placed on the sand or stone, rubbed together to remove any loose material, and then the process of moving the hands over the arms and feet followed in a specific manner as noted above.

go to top of page


Muslims fast during the Holy month of Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. Complete abstinence from food and drink during daylight hours is required during this month. The purpose of fasting is to remind Muslims of their sympathy for the needy and the poor, to teach restraint from excesses of food and drink, and to curb the more animal side of man for which additional prayers are prescribed to bring him nearer to God by abstemption from evil deeds and desires.

go to top of page

Alms giving

Women waiting for the distribution of alms, November 1975

The practice of alms giving – zakaat – was established as setting apart one fortieth of a Muslim’s annual savings in money or kind. zakaat was then used to benefit the poor and needy, employees, slaves, debtors, those who struggle in the cause of God, strangers stranded on their way and anybody having a claim to charity. It is not considered as a tax but rather as a loan to God which He will repay many times over.

go to top of page


Buses waiting on feriq al-Salata, 1973, to take pilgrims on the hajj

It is the duty of every Muslim to travel to Mecca once in his life – provided that he has the means to do so – and this is preferably accomplished on an important occasion such as one of the Eids. The main Eid – Eid Al Adha or Eid Al Kabir – is that which is preferred for the major pilgrimage, and a minor pilgrimage is performed preferably during the Eid Al Fitr.

The ceremonies are actually carried out between the seventh and tenth days of the month of Dhul Hejja and consist of:

  • a circuit around the ka’ba in Mecca,
  • running between the two small hills of Safa and Marwa,
  • assembling on the ninth day at the hill of Arafat twelve miles to the east of Mecca, and
  • offering sacrifices at Mina on the way back to Mecca.

For these activities all Muslims dress in two unsewn white sheets to signify that they are all created equal in the eyes of God, and must abstain from luxuries and gratification of the senses. During this period they are required to indulge in prayer, the praise of God, and self-examination. It can be noticed that, in the periods immediately before and after the Eids, the practical outlook of Muslims towards Islam are reinforced, and this is particularly so with those who make the pilgrimage to Mecca.

go to top of page

Islamic calendar

The Muslim calendar comprises twelve, lunar months:

  • muharram
  • safar
  • rabi’ al-awwal
  • rabi’ al-thani
  • jamaadi al-awwal
  • jamaadi al-thani
  • rajab
  • sha’baan
  • ramadhan
  • shawwaal
  • dthuw al-qa’dah
  • dthuw al-hijjah

The 1st Muharram 1 AH corresponds with the 16th July 622 AD and is the date of the Prophet’s hijra from Mecca to Yathrib which, later, became known as Medina.

At the end of the holy month of Ramadhan there is the holiday of Eid Al Fitr which falls on the 1st Shawwal, and this is followed approximately seventy days later by the Eid Al Adha which is celebrated on the 10th Dhul hajja.

Because the months are lunar, the Islamic year is approximately eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar used in the West. The significance of this is that the seasons enjoyed in the West are not reflected in the Islamic year – each of the Islamic months will fall within a Gregorian season approximately once every thirty-three years. All the months and, notably, Ramadthan – the month of fasting during daylight hours – will fall within the long, hot summer months between two and three times during the average person’s lifetime, and a similar number during the shorter, cold winter months.

The beginning of the Islamic month is not properly understood by some Western observers. Although Arabic astronomy was expert long before the West, and the calculations for lunar risings can be accurately calculated, in accordance with fiqh tradition, the beginning of a lunar month depends essentially on physical factors, particularly the actual sighting of the moon. Hence the difficulty in establishing an Islamic calendar which is accurate around the Islamic world.

Islamic/Gregorian calendar conversion

There are a number of resources on the Internet such as this and this which enable dates to be converted between Gregorian and Islamic calendars. Be aware that these are usually approximations and that there may be a day’s discrepancy between them due to the manner in which they are programmed to make the calculations.

go to top of page


Detail from an old brass weight with Municipality proof marks

I should like to add a note on measurements. Today measurements in the Gulf are made using the Imperial or Metric systems. Where countries have a strong north American influence it is still common for measuring to be in feet and inches, however many countries have adopted the Metric system, influenced by their links with Europe which uses the Metric system. The use of Letter or A4 paper sizes is where the system chosen can usually first be spotted on a site, but specification of materials can be quite complex with inconsistencies between items created by the coexistence of both systems.

Feet and inches was used as measurement in Qatar for some time. The qadm and busa were the customary method of measuring until the European standards based on metric systems were introduced. However the old Imperial system continued and, to some extent, still does with the older generations reinforced by the new north American influences in the region.

Historically, the common unit of measurement was the cubit, a unit which has been in use for thousands of years. The reason for mentioning the cubit here is that it was specified by the Prophet and it is, therefore, important to know it’s size in relation to historical building.

The length of the cubit varies slightly due to a number of factors, mostly to do with the accuracy of standardisation and the large area within which the cubit was used. At it’s simplest, and depending upon which source you take, the cubit can be said to vary from approximately 450mm to 543mm. The lower figure of 450mm is given by Hakim and, perhaps, relates only to measurement in Tunisia. In Mesepotamia the cubit varied between 522mm and 532mm and, in Persia, between 520mm and 543mm.

The ‘standard’ cubit was determined in Egypt to be six (hand) palm widths. But there was also a ‘royal’ cubit of seven palm widths and the relationship between them is considered important. For the purposes of my work here, the royal cubit may be ignored.

go to top of page


ACC Arab Co-operation Council – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and North Yemen
AGCC Arabian Gulf Co-operation Council – alternative name for CCASG
AGFSC Arab Gulf States Folklore Centre
Ashghal Public Works Authority
ATO Arab Towns Organisation
CCASG Co-operation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf – United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia
CPGA Customs and Ports General Authority
CSO Central Statistics Office
EEC European Economic Community
EPC Environmental Protection Committee
ESD Engineering Services Department of the Ministry of Public Works
FAO Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations
GCC Gulf Co-operation Council – alternative name for CCASG
IDTC Industrial Development Technical Centre
IMF International Monetary Fund Centre
ISHP Intermediate Staff Housing Project
JICA Japan International Cooperation Agency
LDC Non-OECD countries excluding the USSR, Cambodia, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Laos, Mongolia, North Korea and Vietnam
LNG Liquefied Natural Gas
LPG Liquefied Petroleum Gas
MEW Ministry of Electricity and Water
MMA Ministry of Municipal Affairs
MPW Ministry of Public Works
NDOD New District of Doha
NLG Natural Liquefied Gas
NHA National Health Authority
NODCO National Oil Distribution Company
OAPEC Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries – Algeria, Bahrein, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates
OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – Europe: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and United Kingdom: and United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States.
OPEC Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which is a permanent, intergovernmental organisation, created at the Baghdad Conference on September 10–14, 1960, by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The five Founding Members were later joined by nine other Members: Qatar (1961); Indonesia (1962) – which suspended its membership from January 2009; Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (1962); United Arab Emirates (1967); Algeria (1969); Nigeria (1971); Ecuador (1973) – which suspended its membership from December 1992–October 2007; Angola (2007) and Gabon (1975–1994). OPEC had its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland in the first five years of its existence. This was moved to Vienna, Austria, on September 1, 1965.
Q-Chem Qatar Chemical Company
Q-Ship Qatar Shipping Company
QACENCO Qatar Clean Energy Company
QAFAC Qatar Fuel Additives Company – established 1991
QAFCO Qatar Fertiliser Company – established 1969
QAPCO Qatar Petroleum Company – established 1974
QASCO Qatar Steel Company – established 1974
QATARGAS Qatar Liquified Gas Company – established 1984
QCCI Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry – established 1963
QChem Qatar Chemical Company
QCS Qatar Construction Specifications
QFC Qatar Financial Centre – established 2005
QGPC Qatar General Petroleum Corporation
QGEWC Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation, formerly the Ministry of Electricity and Water, MEW, now known as Kahramaa
QGOSM Qatar General Organization for Standards and Metrology
QHDM Qatar Highway Design Manual
QIDB Qatar Industrial Development Bank
QIMCO Qatar Industrial Manufacturing Company – established 1990
QISC Qatar Iron and Steel Company
QMF Qatar Monetary Fund
QNB Qatar National Bank
QNC Qatar Nitrogen Company – established 1999
QNBS Qatar National Building Specifications
QNCC Qatar National Cement Company – established 1965
QP Qatar Petroleum
QSA Qatar Statistics Authority
QVC Qatar Vinyl Company – established 2001
RASGAS Ras Laffan Liquefied Natural Gas Company Ltd. – established October 1993
RLPC Ras Laffan Power Company Limited
SCENR Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Reserves
SCFA Supreme Council for Family Affairs
SED State Electricity Department, a part of the Ministry of Electricity and Water
SWD State Water Department, a part of the Ministry of Electricity and Water
SSHP Senior Staff Housing Project
UAB Union of Arab Banks
UNESCO United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
UPDA Urban Planning and Development Authority
WOQOD Qatar Fuel – established 2002

References   |    top   |    Links

Islamic design
menu for this section of the site

Search the Islamic design study pages