A referee’s whistle pierces the air. A player dribbles a ball down a lane; goal! Cheers erupt.
These are the familiar sounds of Australian life. Children howl with laughter. The barbecue sizzles. The muezzin calls the faithful to prayer.
Opened in 2022, Melbourne Grand Mosque and Werribee Islamic Center offers a range of facilities that connect with the multicultural community of Tarneit, 25 kilometers west of Melbourne’s CBD.
Grand mosques mark the urban space of major historic cities such as Mecca, Medina, Cordoba and Tunis. More recently, these buildings have been built in cities such as Algiers and Abu Dhabi.
The idea of a “grand mosque” has been shaped by the mosque’s location, scale, and historical importance.
But what makes a large mosque ‘great’?
Build the great mosques
Historically, ruling and social elites such as religious leaders, monarchs, princes and princesses funded and built mosques for their communities.
This charitable act was an important legacy, and mosques also reflected the powers of dynasty.
There was great community involvement in the mosque, mainly through attendance at daily prayers. But mosques also provided civic, educational and cultural spaces to ensure extensive community involvement. These buildings were intellectual, scientific and literary centers important role in Arab-Islamic civilization.
The idea of a ‘citizen mosque’ dates back to the early days of Islamic civilization, with universities attached to mosques, such as the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco.
The most famous mosque in the world is the Great Mosque of Mecca, or al-Masjid al-Ḥarām. Located in Saudi Arabia and first built in 638 AD, it can be called a great mosque because of its historical significance, its capacity of 2.5 million and the way it crosses the global Muslim community.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a center of science and knowledge that can accommodate 40,000 worshippers. The largest mosque in the UAE, its design incorporates references from Pakistani, Egyptian, Moorish, Arabic and Indo-Islamic architecture.
Completed in 2019, Djamaa El Djazair, in Algiers, Algeria, is the third largest mosque in the world, with a capacity of 120,000 worshippers.
A ‘great mosque’ need not have a capacity of tens of thousands. With a capacity of 1,000 worshippers, the Grande Mosquee de Paris is the largest in France and the third largest in Europe.
Built in the 1920s, the mosque’s unique architecture and provision of social and communal spaces all testify to the important role Islam plays in Paris’ diversity.
Through a combination of scale and architectural design, these grand mosques leave their mark on the urban landscape.
Read more: French feud over mosque isn’t just about state funding – it runs deep into Islamophobia and French secularism
An Australian Grand Mosque
Muslims first contact with Australia dates back to the 18th centurywhen fishermen from Macassan traveled to the Kimberley region and Arnhem Land to collect sea cucumbers.
From the 1860s, Muslims began to settle in Australia, working largely as cameleers and pearl makers. The first mosque in Australia was completed in 1882 in Maree, 600 kilometers north of Adelaide. Since then, mosques have been built in cities, towns and suburbs across Australia.
Now Australia has its own great mosque.
The Grand Mosque of Melbourne opened its doors last year.
Planning, fundraising and community building are pillars of the new design processes and identity of mosques in Australia. The prayer hall can accommodate 2,000 worshippers. The building also includes a sports center, a community house and a nursery.
Built at a cost of A$8.5 million, the community raised the funds to realize their vision over a ten-year period. The community wanted to make a grand architectural statement that would meet the spiritual and social needs of the Australian Muslim community.
In the long term, the complex will include a library, sports facilities, childcare, teaching rooms and catering.
Architecturally, the mosque respects the traditions of a central dome above the prayer hall, which brings light into the most sacred space. However, the dome is smaller than in traditional mosques and is set back in the building, so it does not dominate the streetscape.
This allows the building to play a social role in a suburb that is home to multiple religious groups of similar size.
A mosque for the community
The “grand mosque” is not just about the scale of architectural features – the minarets, arches and calligraphy.
The grand mosque of today is about community: their involvement in the design processes and its openness as a hub for diverse communities of the 21st century.
Grand mosques have long interrupted urban space in major cities. Today, the realization of a grand mosque like the one in Melbourne transforms the idea of ’grand’ to a level of social interaction and community aspirations.
Read more: Graffiti, arson, death threats: New investigation finds widespread violence against Australian mosques