In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Islam is one of the major world religions revealed by the Almighty at the beginning of 7th century through Prophet Mohammad (s.a.a.w.) who was accepted by all Muslims as the last messenger of Allah. Not surprisingly, the oldest mosque is located in the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w.) in Mecca, and each year millions of Muslims visit this holy city to make a pilgrimage to the Al-Haram Mosque built in 638. Inside the mosque there is the main shrine of Islam — sacred Kaaba, the first “house of God” and the first mosque on earth where people began to offer their prayers to God.
Baku is one of the brightest and most interesting cities of the world in terms of architecture. But among the great variety of ancient buildings, the amazingly beautiful structures constructed in various Eastern and European styles, I would like to talk about the mosques of Baku which represent not only architectural but also spiritual value. Mosques for Muslims are a symbol of faith and worship, a place where words of a prayer fill our souls with sublime love and a sense of oneness with the Almighty. Azerbaijani architects inspired by faith have for centuries erected mosques, translating their vision of the beauty of the Islamic faith and the worship of the Almighty Allah into these sacred creations.
About 2,000 mosques were built on the territory of Azerbaijan before the 1917 revolution. Unfortunately, the Soviet power ruthlessly fought religion, destroying not only mosques but also other religious temples – the Bibi-Heybat Mosque, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Catholic church and many other churches were blown up. But particular cynicism of the Soviet government consisted in the fact that religious buildings accommodated museums at best. In other cases they served as warehouses, restaurants, workshops… By 1989, there were only 36 mosques in all of Azerbaijan, or 50 times less than before the establishment of Soviet power when there were about 40 mosques in Baku alone!
One can talk for hours on end about Baku mosques, because each of them contains the work of hundreds of craftsmen and the genius of creative thinking of Azerbaijani architects, pious souls of the rich and influential patrons, and sincere faith…
One of the oldest Islamic buildings of Baku is the minaret of the “Sinig Gala” mosque. This transpires from inscription discovered on the wall of the mosque. It was made in 471 AH or 1078 – “the construction of this building of the mosque was ordered by Ustad al-Rais Muhammad ibn Abubakr”. According to this inscription, the official name of the mosque is considered the “Mosque of Muhammad”. However, it is believed that the stones of which the mosque was built are much older than the inscription, because the old building was destroyed and Ustad al-Rais Muhammad ordered the construction of a new mosque on the site. Only the minaret has been preserved in its original form…
The name of the “Sinig Gala” mosque, or “Ruined Tower”, relates to a historical event that took place during the reign of Peter the Great. In 1722-1723, the Russian emperor carried out the Persian campaign, which resulted in the first joining of Caspian lands to Russia. However, the people of Baku refused to obey the tsar, and in retaliation for that Baku was exposed to artillery fire from the Russian fleet for four days in 1723. The firing damaged and destroyed many buildings, including the minaret of the “Sinig Gala” mosque. Even today, the destroyed part of the minaret stands out by a lighter color of its stones.
The minaret of the “Sinig Gala” mosque deserves a separate discussion. The point is that it belongs to a unique type of medieval minarets which can only be found in Shirvan, Derbent and North Ossetia. Only three such minarets have survived to the present time – Khanagah (Hajigabul district), Derbent in the north-west of North Ossetia. Another one was located in the Bibi-Heybat mosque, but it was brutally destroyed in 1937…
The minarets of the Shirvan type were designed by outstanding architect from Baku Mahmud ibn Saad. Over time, the Shirvan type improved, but unfortunately only a few of such minarets have survived to this day. Fortunately, two minarets of the second third of the 15th century have survived in Baku proper, in Icheri Sheher – one of them is close to the “Juma Mosque” and the other is near the Palace of the Shirvan Shahs. These minarets have played an important role in the architecture of Baku and its settlements. The simplicity and harmony of the silhouette, the grace of the balconies, the style of the stalactites, and the elegant ligature of inscriptions have attracted the attention of many architects. Therefore, when a “boom” of the construction of mosques in Baku began 400 years later, many architects used this style in their works. As architectural historian Shamil Fatullayev wrote, Baku architects of the time used the achievements of European and Oriental architecture, but this was never the case with minarets, which followed the model of the minaret from the Palace Shirvan Shahs!
A “copy” of this minaret appeared at the Bay mosque built in 1895. Then a similar minaret was erected at the “Kasim-Bay” mosque built by architect Mashadi Mirza Gafar Izmaylov in 1896-1899. His example was followed by other architects, including the first Azerbaijani architect with higher European education Zivarbay Ahmadbayov (the mosque of Hadji Ajdar-Bay Ashurbayov better known as the “Goy Mosque”). In the early 20th century, Ziverbay Ahmadbayov participated in the construction of the Taza-Pir mosque.
One of the oldest and most revered mosques of Icheri Sheher is the Juma Mosque built in the 12th century. But the building of the first mosque was completely destroyed due to adverse natural conditions. Therefore, a new mosque was built in the same place at the behest of Shah Abbas I in the 17th century. By the end of the 19th century, this building also fell into disrepair and became dilapidated, and the Juma mosque was built here in 1899 at the expense of patron and devout Muslim Haji Sheikhali Dadashov.
In general, Icheri Sheher accommodates a number of ancient mosques — “Goy Gubat” (12th century) which was destroyed in shelling of the Fortress in 1918, “Heybat mosque” (1791), “Molla Ahmad mosque”, “The Mosque of Haji Mirza Ahmad” (1345), “Gileyli mosque” (1309), “Mirza Ahmad mosque” (1347), “Molla Ahmad mosque” (1301), “Osman mosque or Gin mosque” (1375), “Seyid Yahya Murtuza mosque” (early 17th century), “Khidir mosque” (1301), “Shah mosque” (1441), “Sheikh Ibrahim mosque” (1415), “Haji Banu mosque” (1902) and, of course, “The Mosque of Ashura”. It was built by Najaf Ashur Bay in 1169. A special feature of this mosque is that it was built without a minaret. At the end of the 19th century, a large number of natives of Dagestan came to Baku to earn money, and “The Mosque of Ashura” was passed on to them for prayers. Therefore, it soon became known as the “Lezgin mosque.”
In late 19th and early 20th centuries, the construction of mosques began outside Icheri Sheher as well — “Bay mosque” (1895), “Gasim Bay mosque”, “Ittifak mosque” (built by architect Z. Ahmadbayov and funded by oilman Ajdar-Bay Ashurbayov in 1911), “Haji Soltan Ali mosque” and many others. The most monumental and significant of them is the “Taza Pir Mosque”, which was built at the expense of Nabat Khanum Goja-Bay Gizi Rzayeva, whose maiden name was Ashurbayova, in 1905-1914. Unfortunately, she did not live to see the construction end, and this noble undertaking was finished by her son Haji Abbas Gulu Rzayev after she had died in 1912. The building was designed by the first licensed Azerbaijani architect, graduate of the St. Petersburg Institute of Civil Engineering Zivarbay Ahmadbayov. Nabat Khanum and her son Haji Abbas Gulu are buried at the entrance to the mosque. Today, Taza Pir houses the Main Clerical Office of Muslims of the Caucasus.
A truly outstanding monument of Azerbaijani Islamic architecture is the “Bibi Heybat” mosque built by architect Mahmud ibn Saad on orders of Shirvanshah Abu al-Fath Farruhzada in the 13th century. Located near the mosque are tombs of the most respected people, including the grave of Ukeyma Khanum, who hailed from the family of Imam Ali and Fatima. This is why this mosque is sometimes called the “Mosque of Fatima”. This name was used by French writer Alexandre Dumas in his description of a visit to Azerbaijan in the 1850s.
The mosque was built over the tomb of the daughter of the seventh Shiite Imam Musa al-Kazim, who came to Baku fleeing from the persecution of caliphs, as evidenced by the inscription carved on the stone: “This is the burial of Ukeyma Khanum, descendant of Prophet Muhammad, granddaughter of the sixth Imam Jafar al-Sadig, daughter of the seventh Imam Musa al-Kazim, sister of the eighth Imam Ali al-Riz.” Also buried on the territory of the mosque is the servant of Ukeyma Khanum, Eybat. Hence the name of the mosque “Bibi Heybat”, or “Aunt of Eybat”. After the completion of construction, sheikhs began to settle around the mosque, and over time the whole area became known as Shikh from the word “Sheikh”.
The “Bibi Heybat” mosque enjoyed great popularity among Muslims not only as a place of worship to God, but also as a place where real miracles sent by the Creator to believing women occurred. This is how Alexandre Dumas described this amazing phenomenon in his book “The Caucasus”: “The mosque is a place of worship of infertile women. They come here on foot, pray and within a year gain the ability to give birth…” Dumas described well-known Azerbaijani poetess Khurshudbanu Natavan visiting “Bibi-Heybat” and giving birth to a long-awaited son less than a year later.
In 1911, architect Haji Najaf constructed a new building of the mosque and rebuilt the tomb at the expense of famous Baku millionaire and philanthropist Alasgar aga Dadashov.
In 1936 the Presidium of the Baku Council decided to close the mosque, and it was blown up. By the irony of fate, in the same 1936 it was decided in Moscow to “Preserve important architectural monuments, and Salamov, who issued the order to blow it up, was arrested and exiled to Siberia, where he spent 20 long years…
The “Bibi Heybat” mosque was restored thanks to an order of President Heydar Aliyev.
After Azerbaijan gained independence, the surviving mosques were returned to believers, and thanks to President Heydar Aliyev and then Ilham Aliyev, the construction of new mosques in the country began. In recent years, about 1,200 mosques have been built and refurbished in Azerbaijan. Among them, the “Heydar Mosque” deserves a special mention. In 2012, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on the construction of the mosque, and it was built in record time. On 26 December 2014, the official opening ceremony of the mosque was attended by the President’s family, representatives of different religious confessions of Azerbaijan and dignitaries from other countries.
The “Heydar Mosque” is built in the style of Shirvan-Absheron architecture. The mosque covers an area of 4,200 square meters, and a total of 12,000 square meters together with the adjacent territory. The height of each of the four minarets is 95 meters, and verses from the Holy Koran carved on the sides of the dome. The height of the main dome is 55 meters and of the second 35 meters. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev expressed his satisfaction with the fact that all historical mosques in Baku, as well as the largest “Heydar Mosque”, have been constructed by the state. He also said he had prayed for this in Mecca three times.
Apart from the official side, the history behind the “Heydar Mosque” is quite moving. As President Ilham Aliyev said in remarks at the opening ceremony: “Some years ago, I visited the holy Kaaba in Mecca, and prayed for the realization of our intention to build the “Heydar Mosque” in Azerbaijan. It would be the largest mosque built in honor of my father Heydar Aliyev… As a Muslim, I am glad to have achieved this, and at the same time, I am glad to have prayed three times in the Kaaba shrine.”
In January 2016, the “Heydar Mosque” hosted an unprecedented event for the Islamic world. For the first time ever, Muslims of different directions made a joint prayer – the Wahdat, or Unity prayer. And the initiative of Azerbaijani Muslims sent a message of spiritual unity of all brothers in the faith.
Prophet Mohammad (s.a.a.w.) said, “Blessed is the one who will build a mosque and read the Koran in it while standing or sitting. Such a person cannot be compared with those who only watch the work, fearing to make their clothes dirty…” These great words of the last of the prophets should be imprinted in the heart of every Muslim with golden letters, prompting everyone to be active on the path of faith. This is the least we can do… Learn the Holy Koran, perform the Hajj, be engaged in charity, visit mosques, the holy places of earthly worship. Pray, and you will be heard by Allah, because He is our best listener… You do not need to cry loudly because he can hear even the quietest whisper of a sincere prayer. Let the world given to us by the Almighty become dear to all of us. Let us always be accompanied by the Koran and the prayer we perform in the mosque. Only here, away from prying eyes and the madding crowd, can we spend a few minutes and lay our heads peacefully before God in a deep spiritual retreat…