The venerable Brill Encyclopedia of Islam (EOI) entry on minarets makes plain that minarets are a political statement of Islamic supremacism. Interestingly, given current Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s provocative statement while mayor of Istanbul (the full statement was quoted in a NY Times story http://www.kurdistan.org/Washington/nyt.html by Stephen Kinzer from 2/16/1998: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets are our swords, and the faithful are our army”), cited by opponents of minaret construction in Switzerland—the observations from the Brill EOI about the Ottoman perspective on minarets are of particular note.
From the official Brill Encyclopedia of Islam entry on the minaret:
“It seems on the whole unrelated to its function of the adhān [q.v.] calling the faithful to prayer, which can be made quite adequately from the roof of the mosque or even from the house-top. During the lifetime of the Prophet, his Abyssinian slave Bilāl [q.v.], was responsible for making the call to prayer in this way. The practice continued for another generation, a fact which demonstrates that the minaret is not an essential part of Islamic ritual. To this day, certain Islamic communities, especially the most orthodox ones like the Wahhābīs in Arabia, avoid building minarets on the grounds that they are ostentatious and unnecessary. … It must be remembered, however, that throughout the mediaeval period, the role of the minaret oscillated between two polarities: as a sign of power and as an instrument for the adhān.”
[Re: Ottoman minarets]: “These gigantic, needle-sharp lances clustered protectively, like a guard of honour, around the royal dome, have a distinctly aggressive and ceremonial impact, largely dependent on their almost unprecedented proportions; the pair of minarets flanking the Süleymaniye dome are each some 70m. high.”
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