God is beautiful and He loves beauty

Technical Glossary


The house of God which is located in Mecca. Muslims face the Ka‘ba when they pray and this is the direction to which mihrabs point. It was Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Isma‘il who rebuilt the Ka‘ba as ordered by God. The Qur’an tells us that God ordered Ibrahim to build a sanctuary at a specific spot in Bacca (XXII:26), another name for Mecca. Ibrahim and Isma‘il were told that it should be a cube and around a celestial stone, which was preserved nearby a hill in Mecca and then given to Ibrahim by an Angel. This black stone was kept at the eastern corner of the Ka‘ba. God then informed Ibrahim to institute the rite of pilgrimage to Mecca.  


Stencil used in calligraphy. 


Turkish for portal or gateway.  


Practice sheet used by calligrapher. 


A term used in the literature written on Indian art and means the princely workshop of the Mughal court.  


Scribe, clerk or secretary. The root of this word katab means to write.  

Katib al-Shari‘a 

A secretary of an Islamic court. It literally it means 'scribe of the religious law'.  


Mamluk rank of executive offficer of the janissaries. 


Derived from Persian meaning a 'house with full amenities'. In Islamic architecture khan is used to describe the caravansaries found in Iran, Syria and Anatolia. An alternative name for khan is wikala or ribat. The basic plan consisted of an open court with a well and surrounded by rooms for storing and displaying merchants’ goods. Annexed there is usually an area that would function like a stable for housing the animals of the merchants, mostly horses. The upper floors of a khan are the accommodation areas, with single rooms, duplexes or triplexes for the travellers. The details of the plan differed from one province to the other. Khan can also refer to Turkish nobility, a term commonly used during the reign of the Saljuk and Mongol rulers.  


Persian for Sufi monastery. The idea behind a Sufi hospice started when Zayd ibn Sawkhan constructed during the caliphate of ‘Uthman ibn ‘Afan a house for ascetics. The first time the word khanqa is encountered was in the 10th century A.D. in Khurasan.  


Ground with ruins; ruined building.  


Above-ground opening of the well of the sahrij, water tank.  


Small carved wooden pieces used in the construction of geometrical window grilles.  


A wind-catcher on the roof of a building.  


Literally it means a line and is used in Egypt to mean street as well.  


Literally means 'marked out.' It was used in the early Islamic period with reference to marking out new settlements such as Kufa, Basra and Fustat. It also indicates the sense of one marking out a piece of land to claim its possession. 


An Arabized Persian word meaning a small wooden niche. It literally means the place where a king eats or drinks.  


Small room or chamber.  


The one responsible for the treasury of the Sultan.  




The title given to the sovereign ruling Egypt from 1867 until 1914 A.D. under the command of the Ottoman Sultan. The first Khedive was Isma‘il, son of Muhammad Ali.  


A small cell for meditation. The word root in Arabic khuluw means to become isolated, destitute or unoccupied.  


A wicket. A small door set in a larger one.  


In architectural terms it means a small piece of colored marble used for marble mosaic panels.  


A small cabinet or room for the storage of prepared food.  


An Arabized Persian term meaning a small kiosk. In Mamluk architecture it means a small shallow stucco dome with perforations in the form of geometric patterns. It was always used as a ceiling technique for toilets. A typical example is the one still found in the toilet in the house of Muhib al-Din al-Muwaqqa‘ in Bayt al-Qadi known as the waqf of Uthman Katkhuda.  


Literally means 'speech' or 'sermon', but generally refers to the Friday sermon. 


Rug of flatweave without knots. 


Turkish term referring to a small pavilion used for temporary residence. 


The black silk that covers the Ka‘ba, which used to be donated by Egypt.  


See Qit'a



Kufi (Kufic)  

One of the oldest types of Arabic calligraphy and the first calligraphic perfection of Islam. Its name derives from the Iraqi town Kufa, which was one of the earliest centeres of Islamic learning. Kufic has many derivatives; al-kufi al-farisi or al-kufi al-baghdadi and al-kufi al-maghribi. It is also the direct ancestor of all the calligraphic styles of Andalusia and of North-West Africa.  


Turkish for madrasa or a religious school where students reside as well as study. This term was used in Ottoman Turkey where this institution flourished. See madrasa.  


Turkish for free-standing mausoleum.  


Multicolored painting on a relief case.  


Narrow canopy above window, usually wooden. 


A decorative element (decorative brackets) that appeared in Egypt during the Burji Mamluk period. Usually made out of carved wood, it was used to decorate the springing of the arch into the area proper of an iwan. During the Ottoman period they became narrower and more elongated.  


The word means chair and in architecture it had several meanings. The most popular meaning is the chair that carries the mushaf (Qur’an) in a religious building. Qur’ans endowed to religious buildings were very big in size and were always kept on the kursi where the reader sits and recites from it. The lower part of the kursi is a closet to keep the Qur’an or its volumes (ajza’). A kursi was as lavishly decorated as any other part of the building. Exquisite geometric designs executed on wood can be seen on kursis. Another usage for the term is to mean toilet and in this context it is called kursi raha, kursi khala’, kursi mirhad. It also means the base of a minaret.  


A primary school where children learn how to read, write and recite the Qur’an, and is usually a charitable foundation. 


A wooden cupboard for the storage of books found in houses and religious buildings as well. Usually it is in the form of a recess in one of the walls that is covered by wooden doors.