Pakistan has had two of the biggest mosques in the world, with both the Badshahi Mosque of Lahore and the Faisal Mosque of Islamabad holding the top position at some point in history. Badshahi Mosque actually held the title first and did so for over three centuries, but was ousted from its rank by the newer Faisal Mosque, which held on to the top position until 1993. 2012 has seen it being ranked as only fourth in size due to new mosques having been built in other countries, but it is still among the biggest mosques on the globe as well as one of the most striking, both due to its stunning mountain backdrop and the singularity of its design. For one thing, this mosque’s minarets are not topped with the traditional onion-shaped bulbs of Islamic architecture but rise straight and taper to spear-like points; furthermore, the mosque does not even have domes.
The credit for this unusual style goes to one of the most renowned of Turkish and Islamic architects: Vedat Ali Dalokay. Endowed with some impressive credentials-he studied in Istanbul Technical University and the Sorbonne-he also had under his belt several national awards for his work. Dalokay was also internationally recognised, both for the Islamic Development Bank in Riyadh and the Faisal Masjid (Mosque) later on.
Dalokay was one of the many architects who submitted proposals for the mosque when a competition was held to see who would produce the best plans for the intended national masjid. A great deal of the impetus for the project actually came from King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (who is known for having abolished slavery in Saudi Arabia, aside for having initiated several policies of modernisation in his own country). King Faisal was the source of a good part of the funding for the project, and when he was assassinated by his nephew, the mosque was named after him.
Dalokay’s proposal beat 42 other proposals and was selected despite its decidedly unconventional direction. Dalokay claimed to have had some sense of abstract representation of the Ka’ba (the great cube in Mecca) as his inspiration, as well as the shape of a Bedouin’s tent. The sharp angles of the mosque are a great departure from the usual style of Muslim architecture-although certain building elements, like the presence of four minarets and the façade of marble, are still present-and there were actually controversial protests over the design from conservative elements at first.
It became very difficult for dissidents to complain about Faisal Mosque upon its completion, however, given the majesty of the finished product. Not only was it one of the most distinctive mosques in the world, it was also the largest at the time and even boasted the tallest minarets in all of South Asia, pegged at about 80 metres in height each. Its sheer size meant that it could accommodate 200,000 persons in its grounds alone and could be seen from a great distance, not least because of its elevated position. As such, the Faisal Masjid took on a more iconic, nationally-esteemed reputation over time, and is now one of the places to visit in Pakistan.