Nestled at the foot of the Margalla Hills, the Faisal Mosque is one of the most massive and essential structures in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Named after its benefactor Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the mosque is Pakistan’s largest and one of the country’s most popular and important tourist attractions.
Saudi King Faisal allocated a colossal $120 million grant for the construction of a mosque in Pakistan when he made a historic visit to the country in 1966. A competition for the design of the mosque was held, and Among 43 authentic proposals from 17 countries, Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay’s design for the mosque was deemed worthy of winning the competition.
Land near the base of Margalla Hills has been allocated by the Pakistani government for the construction of the mosque. However, the Saudi king was assassinated in March 1975 in Riyadh and the foundations of the building could only be laid a year later by his successor King Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Thereupon, the Pakistani government named the mosque and the road leading to the site after the late King Faisal.
Once considered the largest mosque in the world, the Faisal Mosque was designed as the national mosque of Pakistan. The mosque project was completed in 1986. The sacred construction building a few years ago housed the International Islamic University. But the university moved to a new campus in 2000.
The unusual design of the Faisal Mosque, planned without the domes and arches of most other mosques around the world, is revolutionary in terms of bringing the modern and the traditional together. It is the culmination of two modern architectures imbued with the traditional Pakistani art of decoration. This unconventional artistic design and structure elevates its popularity in South Asia.
The mosque covers an area of 5,000 square meters (54,000 square feet) and its design resembles a desert Bedouin tent. The tent-like roof of the mosque is a truncated pyramid with four giant minarets built on its four outer corners. While the eight-sided main hall of the mosque is inspired by Arabic culture, the magnificent minarets are inspired by Turkish architecture.
Unlike traditional mosques around the world, the Faisal Mosque is not supported by any dome or arch. The mosque is made of white marble and its interior is decorated with mosaics and stunning Turkish chandeliers. The interior design also bears gold tones, calligraphy, and abstract mosaics in multiple colors such as cerulean blue, cobalt blue, chrome green, deep rich olive green, lemon yellow, and yellowish-orange chrome. The west wall of the mosque features a mosaic pattern on which Kalimah (Islamic phrases often recited by Muslims) is written in Kufic script, repeated in a mirror image effect. The calligraphy and mosaic decoration, which enhance the aesthetic value of the mosque, were done by Pakistani artist Sadequain. Architect Dalokay once said of the mosque that he tried to capture the spirit, proportion and geometry of the Kaaba in a purely abstract way.
The four walls of the mosque building are placed in the form of isosceles triangles with a base of 215 feet and are constructed of steel and concrete. The mosque sanctuary measures 656.66 square feet while its roof is 131.24 feet above ground level. To the east is the main entrance to the shrine, which is divided into nine vertical concrete sections and filled with crescent patterns.
The outer walls of the mosque have different decorative patterns. A terrace 13 feet 4 inches above the ground level of the north courtyard is attached to the north wall. And a low wall 3 feet 6 inches high surrounds the terrace. The floor of the terrace is paved with gray granite which contrasts with the white color of the mosque.
Regarding the sloping roof of the Faisal Mosque, it is based on a pyramid shape but the lower part has a gable roof structure influenced by Greek architecture, while the sloping lines at the corners are inspired by the pyramid roof . Each junction of the angled triangular slab forms a gable point. This gable tip is 40 feet high from the floor of the portico. The front beams which form a gable point on top are connected to a solid 3D rectangular block measuring 4 feet high, 3 feet wide and 4 feet 7 inches long. The design formed by the different sizes of white Thassos marble covering the roof panel is visible from afar and gives a soft impression of a network of vertical and horizontal lines.
Over time, the minarets of the mosque have become a symbol of Islam. The design of minarets is also a combination of various features from different places including Arab countries, Iran and Turkey. A crescent-shaped gold-plated copper finial above the mosque accompanies the imagery of the minarets.
In terms of size and capacity, the Faisal Mosque can accommodate around 250,000 worshipers inside its sanctum and 100,000 worshipers outside in the courtyard at a time. The number of worshipers doubles during Ramadan, not only to offer prayers at this mosque, but to attend the special training lectures on the Quran and Hadith here.
Today, the mosque has become an intercultural symbol and represents a sacred symbol of Pakistani culture. Many people believe that the mosque represents the hopes and aspirations of the people of the country, therefore, it has become a national symbol of Pakistan. Due to its worldwide popularity, it has become a major tourist attraction and an influential piece of Islamic architecture. Foreigners and tourists from other parts of the country come to visit it. The Faisal Mosque is mentioned many times, even in the famous book “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.