Conversion of non-Islamic places of worship into mosques

Hagia Sophia, an Eastern Orthodox church converted into a mosque after the Fall of Constantinople; in 1935 it was converted into a museum.

The conversion of non-Islamic places of worship into mosques occurred during the life of prophet Muhammad and continued during subsequent Islamic conquests and under historical Muslim rule. As a result, Hindu temples, Jain temples, churches, synagogues, the Parthenon and Zoroastrian temples were converted into mosques. Several such mosques in Muslim or former Muslim lands have since reverted or become museums, such as the Hagia Sophia in Turkey and numerous mosques in Spain. Conversion of non-Islamic religious buildings into mosques has influenced distinctive regional styles of Islamic architecture.


Kaaba mirror edit jj.jpg
LocationMecca, Saudi Arabia

Before the rise of Islam the Ka'aba, and Mecca (previously known as Bakkah), were revered as a sacred sanctuary and was a site of pilgrimage.[1] Some identify it with the Biblical "valley of Baca" from Psalms 84 (Hebrew: בָּכָא‎).[2][3] At the time of Muhammad (AD 570–632), his tribe the Quraysh was in charge of the Kaaba, which was at that time a shrine containing hundreds of idols representing Arabian tribal gods and other religious figures. Muhammad earned the enmity of his tribe by claiming the shrine for the new religion of Islam that he preached. He wanted the Kaaba to be dedicated to the worship of the one God alone, and all the idols were evicted. The Black Stone (al-Hajar-ul-Aswad), still present at the Kaaba was a special object of veneration at the site. According to tradition the text of seven especially honoured poems were suspended around the Ka'aba.

According to Islam, Muhammad's actions were not strictly a conversion but rather a restoration of the mosque established on that site by Abraham, who is considered to be a prophet in Islam. The Ka'aba thus became known as the Masjid al-Haram, or Sacred Mosque, the holiest site in Islam.[4]

Biblical holy sites[edit]

Mosques were regularly established on the places of Jewish or Christian sanctuaries associated with Biblical personalities who were also recognized by Islam. The Caliph Umar initially built a small prayer house, which laid the foundation for the later construction of the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, possibly by the Umayyads. The Dome of the Rock was also built on the Temple Mount which was an abandoned and disused area.[5] Upon the capture of Jerusalem, it is commonly reported that Umar refused to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre[6] for fear that later Muslims would then convert it into a mosque in spite of a treaty guaranteeing its safety.[7]

The mosque of Job in Al-Shaykh Saad, Syria, was previously a church of Job.[4] The Herodian shrine of the Cave of the Patriarchs, the second most holy site in Judaism, was converted into a church during the Crusades before being turned into a mosque in 1266 and henceforth banned to Jews and Christians. Part of it was restored as a synagogue after 1967 by Israel.

Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples[edit]

The destruction of Hindu temples in India during the Islamic conquest of India occurred from the beginning of Muslim conquest until the end of the Mughal Empire throughout the Indian subcontinent. In his book "Hindu Temples - What Happened to Them", Sita Ram Goel claimed to have produced a list of 2000 mosques that he alleges were built on Hindu temples.[8] The second volume of the book excerpts from medieval histories and chronicles and from inscriptions concerning the destruction of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples.

In Indonesia, where popular conversion from Hinduism to Islam was slower, it is believed that the minaret of the Menara Kudus Mosque, in Java, was originally part of a Hindu temple according to Goel.[8]

Menara Kudus Mosque[edit]

Minarets are not traditionally an architectural feature of Indonesian mosques, instead the Menara Kudus Mosque employs a Hindu-Buddhist temple-like structure for a drum used to call prayer.[9]

One of Indonesia's most famous mosques, Menara Kudus has retained much of its former Hindu character.

Ram Janmabhoomi[edit]

Ram Janmabhoomi refers to a tract of land in the North Indian city of Ayodhya which is claimed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), after conducting excavations at the site, filed a report which stated that a temple stood at the site before the arrival of the Mughals, who constructed the Babri Masjid at the site.[10] Critics of the report state that the "presence of animal bones throughout as well as of the use of 'surkhi' and lime mortar" that was found by ASI are all characteristic of Muslim presence, which they claim "rule out the possibility of a Hindu temple having been there beneath the mosque".[11] From 1528 to 1992 this was the site of the Babri Mosque. The mosque was constructed in 1527 on the orders of Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, and was named after him. Before the 1940s, the mosque was also called Masjid-i-Janmasthan, translation: ("mosque of the birthplace").The Babri Mosque was one of the largest mosques in Uttar Pradesh, a state in India with some 31 million Muslims. Numerous petitions by Hindus to the courts resulted in Hindu worshippers of Rama gaining access to the site.

The mosque was razed on 6 December 1992 by a mob of some 150,000 Hindus supported by the Hindu organisation as per USA records Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP),[12][13] after a political rally developed into a riot[14] despite a commitment to the Indian Supreme Court by the rally organisers that the mosque would not be harmed.[15] The Sangh Parivaar, along with VHP and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), sought to erect a temple dedicated to Rama at this site. The 1986 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica stated that "Rama's birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babar in 1528 on the site claimed of an earlier temple".[16]

On 30 September 2010, Allahabad High Court ruled that the 2.7 acres disputed land in Ayodhya, on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on 6 December 1992, will be divided into three parts: the site of the Ramlala idol to Lord Ram, Nirmohi Akhara gets Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabutara, Sunni Wakf Board gets a third.[17]

Kashi Vishwanath Temple[edit]

The original Kashi Vishwanath Temple was demolished by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque atop the original Hindu temple. Kashi Vishwanath was among the most renowned Hindu temples of India. Even today the pillars and the structure of the original temple can be clearly seen.

The original temple of Kashi Vishwanath with 'Gyanwapi' mosque standing atop.

Aurangzeb's demolition of the temple was motivated by the rebellion of local zamindars (landowners) associated with the temple, some of whom may have facilitated the escape of the Maratha king Shivaji. Jai Singh I, the grandson of the temple's builder Raja Man Singh, was widely believed to have facilitated Shivaji's escape from Agra.[18] The temple's demolition was intended as a warning to the anti-Mughal factions and Hindu religious leaders in the city.[19]

Bindu Madhav (Nand Madho) Temple[edit]

The Alamgir Mosque in Varanasi was constructed by Mughal Emperor Aurnagzeb built atop the ancient 100 ft high Bindu Madhav (Nand Madho) Temple after its destruction in 1682.

The structure of Alamgir Mosque standing atop the original site of Bindu-Madhav temple in Varanasi.

Other references[edit]

Intricate Hindu stone carvings on the cloister columns at Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque, Qutb complex, Delhi.

An inscription at the Quwwat Al-Islam Mosque adjacent to Qutb Minar in Delhi states:

"This Jamii Masjid built in the months of the year 587 (hijri) by the Amir, the great, the glorious commander of the Army, Qutb-ud-daula wad-din, the amir-ul-umara Aibeg, the slave of the Sultan, may God strengthen his helpers! The materials of 27 idol temples, on each of which 2,000,000 Deliwal coins had been spent were used in the (construction of) this mosque."[20]

An inscription of 1462 Jami Masjid at Malan, in Banaskantha District of Gujarat states:

The Jami Masjid was built by Khan-I-Azam Ulugh Khan. He eradicated the idolatrous houses and mine of infidelity, along with the idols with the edge of the sword, and made ready this edifice.He made its walls and doors out of the idols; the back of every stone became the place for prostration of the believer.[21]

Mughal Emperor Jahangir wrote in his Tujuk-i-Jahangiri:

"I am here led to relate that at the city of Banaras a temple had been erected by Rajah Maun Sing, which cost him the sum of nearly thirty-six laks of five methkaly ashrefies. ...I made it my plea for throwing down the temple which was the scene of this imposture; and on the spot, with the very same materials, I erected the great mosque, because the very name of Islam was proscribed at Banaras, and with God’s blessing it is my design, if I live, to fill it full with true believers."[22]

Zoroastrian temples[edit]

After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Zoroastrian fire temples, with their four axial arch openings, were usually turned into mosques simply by setting a mihrab (prayer niche) on the place of the arch nearest to qibla (the direction of Mecca). This practice is described by numerous Muslim sources; however, the archaeological evidence confirming it is still scarce. Zoroastrian temples converted into mosques in such a manner could be found in Bukhara, as well as in and near Istakhr and other Iranian cities,[4] such as: Tarikhaneh Temple, Jameh Mosque of Qazvin, Heidarieh Mosque of Qazvin, Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, Jameh Mosque of Kashan, Jameh Mosque of Ardestan, Jameh Mosque of Yazd, Jameh Mosque of Borujerd, Great Mosque of Herat as well as Bibi Shahr Banu Shrine near Tehran.

Conversion of church buildings to mosques[edit]

Hagia Sophia[edit]

Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, "Holy Wisdom"; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya) is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who subsequently ordered the building converted into a mosque.[23] The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed and many of the mosaics were plastered over. Islamic features – such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets – were added while in the possession of the Ottomans. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularised. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.[24]


The Catholic church of Saint Nicholas (Shën Nikollë) was turned into a mosque. After being destroyed in the Communist 1968 anti-religious campaign, the site was turned into an open air mausoleum.


Following the Ottoman conquest of Anatolia, virtually all of the churches of Istanbul were desecrated and converted into mosques[citation needed] except the Church of St. Mary of the Mongols. In Anatolia outside of Istanbul, the following churches were desecrated and converted into mosques:

Armenian Apostolic


Following the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus, a number of Christian churches were desecrated and then converted into mosques.


Painting of the ruins of the Parthenon and the Ottoman mosque built after 1715, in the early 1830s by Pierre Peytier.

Numerous orthodox churches were converted to mosques during the ottoman period in Greece (turkocracy). Among them:

The Rotunda of Galerius in Thessaloniki, initially a Mausoleum of Roman Emperor Galerius, a Christian church (326–1590, then a mosque and again a church after 1912.
  • The Rotonda of Galerius in Thessaloniki, originally a Roman building of early 4th c., was consecrated as Christian church in 326 and converted to mosque in 1590. After 1912 was converted back to church but the minaret was preserved.


Following the Ottoman conquest of the Kingdom of Hungary, a number of Christian churches were desecrated and then converted into mosques. Those that survived the era of Ottoman rule, were later reconverted into churches after the Great Turkish War.

  • Church of Our Lady of Buda, converted into Eski Djami immediately after the capture of Buda in 1541, reconverted in 1686.
  • Church of Mary Magdalene, Buda, converted into Fethiye Djami c. 1602, reconverted in 1686.
  • The Franciscan Church of St John the Baptist in Buda, converted into Pasha Djami, destroyed in 1686.




Post-Colonial North Africa[edit]

A number of North African cathedrals and churches were confiscated and/or forcibly converted into mosques in the mid-20th century

Others were desecrated and later destroyed after the Christian congregants were expelled.


The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria converted a number of Christian churches into mosques after they occupied Mosul in 2014. The churches were restored into its original functions after Mosul was liberated in 2017.[25]

  • Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Ephraim in Mosul, Iraq; converted to the Mosque of the Mujahideen
  • Chaldean Church of St. Joseph in Mosul, Iraq


The practice today[edit]

The Aksa mosque in The Hague, Netherlands, was formerly a synagogue.

The conversion of non-Islamic places of worship into mosques has abated since no major territorial acquisitions have been made by Muslim-majority populations in recent times. However, some of the Greek Orthodox churches in Turkey that were left behind by expelled Greeks in 1923 were converted into mosques.

A relatively significant surge in church-mosque conversion followed the 1974 Turkish Invasion of Cyprus. Many of the Orthodox churches in Northern Cyprus have been converted, and many are still in the process of becoming mosques.

Churches, synagogues, & other buildings in non-Islamic countries re-arranged as mosques[edit]

In areas that have experienced Muslim immigration, such as parts of Europe and North America,[26][27] some church buildings, and those of other religious congregations, that have fallen into disuse have been converted into mosques following a sale of the property. In the U.S., this has been mainly been occurring in the American Rust Belt, where native born Americans have tended to move elsewhere for better economics leaving the population gaps in communities to be replaced by immigrant ones,[28] as well as the American Sun Belt, where both migration and immigration have been rising due to growing economic opportunities since the 1980s.[29]

United Kingdom (not a complete list)

United States (not a complete list)

Germany (not a complete list)[edit]

Influence on Islamic architecture[edit]

Conversion of non-Islamic religious buildings into mosques during the first centuries of Islam played a major role in the development of Islamic architectural styles. Distinct regional styles of mosque design, which have come to be known by such names as Arab, Persian, Andalusian, and others, commonly reflected the external and internal stylistic elements of churches and other temples characteristic for that region.[49]

Further reading[edit]

  • Narain, Harsh (1993). The Ayodhya Temple Mosque Dispute: Focus on Muslim Sources. Delhi: Penman Publishers.
  • Arun Shourie, Sita Ram Goel, Harsh Narain, Jay Dubashi and Ram Swarup. Hindu Temples – What Happened to Them Vol. I, (A Preliminary Survey) (1990) ISBN 81-85990-49-2

See also[edit]


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