Roughly one-quarter of the world is Muslim. With facades dressed in mosaics, glowing marble, crowning domes, and spiraling towers, mosques are awe-strikingly stunning from the outside. In off-prayer hours, wander inside these magnificent structures and you'll find exquisite prayer halls accentuated by gorgeous Persian carpets or valleys of chandeliers.
Also known as masjids in Arabic, mosques are places of prayer and worship in Islam, but they also function as much more. Often they serve as community centers with classes or as social places hosting events and holidays, like Ramadan.
Historically speaking, mosques were not always as ornate as some we see today, like the famous Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. In fact, the first-ever mosque was home of the prophet Muhammed in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Muhammed would stand in front of the wall his courtyard that faced Mecca and would preach to the followers that gathered together to hear him.
Since then, the spread of Islam from the Middle East has fostered the proliferation of mosques around the world. Reflective of where and when they were built, mosques showcase different styles or designs, but travelers should look for some key characteristics: A prayer hall with an ablutions area, where worshippers can clean themselves before prayer; mihrabs, or semicircles in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca; minarets, or towers, from which the call to prayer is announced five times per day; and domes that glow like orbs .
From Timbuktu to Washington D.C., these holy marvels provide incredible historic, cultural, and religious commentary, illustrating a city’s identity within the Muslim world and as a destination all its own. Travel across continents and countries with these photos from around the world, and whenever possible, make time to visit a mosque on your next trip.