Day 7: Minor Mosque

the gleaming white marble Minor Mosque was dedicated by the first President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, in October 2014

Situated along the left bank of the ancient Angor canal running through the center of Tashkent, the Minor Mosque is a brand new example of monumental architecture in the post-independence era of Uzbekistan.  The first President of the Republic, Islam Karimov, ordered its construction through an executive order that a mosque should be built within the Minor mahalla of central Tashkent.

Work began in the summer of 2013 and quickly progressed with a planned opening just one year later in time for the 2014 Eid al-Adha festival of sacrifice, which honors the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God’s command.  In Uzbekistan the festival is known as Qurbon Hayiti.  Of course we all know that Ibrahim didn’t actually go through with it, because God provided a goat for the sacrifice instead.  Families celebrating Qurbon Hayiti still traditionally sacrifice a domestic animal the meat from which is split into thirds.  One third for the family, one third for friends and relatives, and another third for the poor and needy.  City residents who don’t have animals to sacrifice, or where the practice is discouraged, instead make a contribution to charities who provide meals to those in need.

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flanked by two minarets, the vaulted iwan gateway with decorative muqarna should be familiar to anyone who has seen other religious monuments elsewhere in Uzbekistan

Minor Mosque was officially dedicated on the 1st of October 2014, the day before the Qurbon Hayiti festival.  President Karimov participated in the ceremonial opening, and since then, the gleaming white mosque on the canal has been the primary place of worship for residents of central Tashkent.  The unique style of architecture and convenient location also make the mosque a popular stop with tourists making their way around the various sights in the Uzbek capital, either with a group, guide, or on the hop-on hop-off bus.  Its location near the International Business Center, metro stop, and hotel complex between the Tashkent TV Tower and Amir Timur Square also put the mosque on the itinerary of business travelers looking to see a bit of the local culture and architecture on their visit to Uzbekistan.

Built in the Timirud style, the architecture will be familiar to those who have visited other religious monuments throughout Uzbekistan.  In contrast to the techniques of the past, however, the new mosque instead of being faced in baked brick, is decorated in gleaming white marble.  The vaulted iwan gateway arch is faced in intricate blue tiles typical of the Uzbek style, with the addition of white and blue decorative muqarna clinging to the underside of the vaulted entrance like stalactites.

the large central sahn (courtyard) provides space for additional worshipers

Upon entering the large central sahn (courtyard), beautiful carved wooden columns in the traditional Uzbek style support side galleries with space for additional worshipers when the interior of the mosque overflows.  The grand entrance to the mosque features a second vaulted iwan and opens up to a circular interior with room for 2,400 people.  The mosque’s turquoise dome exterior reflects a representation of the sky on the interior.  The entire complex is aligned with the mosque’s mihrab, decorated in gold leaf and calligraphy with passages from the Quran pointing the way to the Kaaba, 3,500 km away in Mecca.

Those wishing to visit the mosque as tourists need to understand that this is a working religious monument, and not a museum like most of the Timirud era architectural masterpieces in Samarkand and Bukhara.  The staff pay little attention to tourists who come in to the courtyards snapping photos, or take a peak into the prayer hall before moving on, but any lingering and you’re sure to be quickly scolded for not being appropriately dressed, or ladies for not being covered.  The prayer hall is strictly men only, but the main entrance is open for anyone who wants to take a look inside.  Unfortunately this means that a view of the beautiful interior dome is off limits to female tourists, who will also be unable to appreciate the gold-leaf mihrab except from a distance.

The white marble of the Minor mosque is blinding on a summer day.  Sunglasses are recommended just to look at it, but be sure to take them off if you go inside.  The plaza out front is typical for new Uzbek parks where any mature trees were of course cut down to plant tiny saplings that provide zero shade.  Behind the mosque the sprawling Minor cemetery offers a chance to stroll in a park-like setting back to the cool shaded promenade of the Angor canal, and the city center.  From here pedestrians can walk all the way back to the Turkistan Theater, Independence Square, and all the other monuments of central Tashkent.  Three years in, Minor mosque was a beautiful monument worth waiting for.

beneath the turquoise dome in the main prayer hall

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