What is a Minaret?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A minaret is a tall, slender tower which is attached to a mosque, a Muslim place of worship. There are a number of uses for minarets, but perhaps the most famous is the traditional call to prayer, which is often issued from the balconies minarets. Many people associate minarets with Muslim culture and the Muslim world, and they are common features in the cityscapes of Muslim regions, where the horizon may be dotted with an assortment of minarets of all shapes and sizes.

Most minarets are attached to a mosque.
Most minarets are attached to a mosque.

Muslims actually consider minarets to be bid'a, or “innovations.” The first minaret was built long after the Prophet Mohammad died, and therefore minarets are not part of the traditional practice of Islam. Minarets also do not appear to have been built specifically for the purpose of issuing the call to prayer or adhan, which was initially issued from the roof of the mosque or called in the streets. Despite the fact that minarets are new, they have come to play an important role in Muslim society.

One thing a minaret does is make a mosque very identifiable. In Muslim cities, communities often arise around mosques, with people frequenting a specific mosque and viewing its minaret as a comfortable and familiar feature in the neighborhood. Travelers sometimes find themselves using minarets as orienting landmarks, since they often tower over surrounding architectural features, making them very easy to find. The competing calls to prayer blaring out from various minarets with the assistance of speaker systems can also be quite a thing to hear.

Many mosques have more than one minaret, and the minarets are often beautifully carved, painted, and tiled, making them works of art as well as functional architectural features. Just like Christian churches, mosques have subscription funds and hold fundraisers to restore their minarets and build new ones, and particularly wealthy Muslims may donate the construction of a minaret to their mosque as an act of faith.

In the hot desert countries which many Muslims call home, the minaret also helps to ventilate the mosque, acting as an air shaft to suck hot air out. These graceful spires are often latticed, promoting circulation, and topped with inventive domes and other architectural features to make them particularly distinctive. The practice of erecting tall spires on places of worship seems to be common to many faiths; you could view it simply as advertisement, and a desire to get closer to God.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I learned some real interesting things about the minaret from my history book on the Ottoman Empire.

Apparently the opening of the minaret was initially made for the Imam to go up to it and say the call of prayer loudly. Back then, there was no technology of course and the high tower of the minaret made sure that the call for prayer could be heard from far away. I think there are some Muslims today who feel that technology has no place in Islam and refuse to use microphones and speakers in the mosque. There are some mosques where the Imam still goes up to the minaret and calls out the call for prayer.

The minaret also calls out "salat." This is a prayer which is said when someone passes away. So the minaret announces a death to the neighborhood and locality as well.

I also learned that during the Ottoman Empire, the very rich were able to build mosques. These people held high statuses or positions in the Ottoman government. You could tell the status of the person by looking at the number of minarets of the mosque. The mosques with the highest number of minarets were the ones built by the Sultan.


I heard about the minaret for the first time when Switzerland moved to ban the building of minarets in the country. The ban was accepted and no additional minarets can be built in Switzerland. After reading this article, I wondered if the Swiss were troubled by the call of prayer from the minarets. But it turns out the ban has nothing to do with this. I read that the mosques in Switzerland were already not allowed to make a call for prayer.

The Swiss parliament decided to ban minarets because they felt that it symbolizes Islamic law which would be against the secular Swiss constitution. There is a lot of controversy now though because many people feel that this ban is alienating Muslims even more.

It's so interesting to me, to see an architectural structure creating such polarization in a country. I personally feel that minarets serve a structural and functional purpose. I don't really see a symbol of Islamic law in it. I understand that minarets are an innovation and did not exist in early Islam. But did the mosque appear before the minaret?

I always thought that the mosque and the minaret go together. In my opinion, if the minaret is a symbol, so is a mosque. Together, they are the place of worship.

What do you think? Are minarets an inseparable part of the mosque? Is it a symbolic structure?


Minarets don't just serve the purpose of holding the speakers which call out the ethan or make the mosque visible for the vicinity. There is also an opening in the minerat, kind of like a small door which faces towards Mecca.

You might have heard before that Muslims must face towards Mecca while praying. It can be hard to know the exact direction to face, especially if you move around a lot. Muslims can look to the minaret to see which direction the door is facing and will know that this is the direction of Mecca. So minerats are kind of like the compass of Muslims.

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