A significant identity marker

April 28, 2024

Islamabad’s iconic symbol balances architecture, serenity, religious fervour and connection to international politics

A significant identity marker


aisal Mosque is a significant identity marker for Islamabad and Pakistan for various reasons, including its architecture, serenity, religious fervour and connection to international politics. Two less-known facts are that this site is a centre for high-quality research impacting national politics and a point of interest for diplomats. The Iqbal Institute of Research and Dialogue, the Islamic Research Institute, the Sharia Academy, the Dawah Academy and the IRD Guest House are located right behind the mosque’s courtyard.

The IRD initiates informed debates on current affairs, inviting experts nationwide. Its well-maintained book racks and library provide deep insights into global affairs. Similarly, the IRI, the country’s premier research body, has been a bulwark in developing Paigham-i-Pakistan, an initiative to foster an inclusive society and counter extremism. The IRI has produced numerous books and research papers on Islam and politics.

A significant identity marker

The place attracts many researchers and decision-makers from around the world. However, very few people from among those visiting the Faisal Mosque consider exploring the facilities and contribution of these institutions. Recently, the recreational attraction of the monument seems to have overshadowed its academic relevance. It is sad to see some of the visitors litter, take selfies and shoot videos, neglecting the serenity of the setting. The pavements are often congested with vehicles parked haphazardly by some visitors, and public transport vehicles and buses provide a stark contrast with the picturesque backdrop of the Margalla Hills.

Asad Bukhari and his family, having recently relocated from the US to Islamabad, were taken aback by the congestion and the disregard shown by some visitors to the Faisal Mosque. Bukhari, a business executive at a multinational company, recalled: “This place used to be a symbol of dignity in the 1990s. The building has withstood the weather and not been affected by the years. However, the behaviour of the visitors seems to have changed,” he noted.

A significant identity marker

Unlike the Badshahi Masjid and some other historical sites in Pakistan, the administration of Faisal Mosque prioritises maintaining cleanliness and discipline.

Designed by Turkish architect Vedat Dalokay, Faisal Mosque was once the largest mosque in the world. The mosque and the road leading to it are named after the late Saudi King Faisal.

The mosque is situated at the foot of the Margalla Hills, where many photographers climb to capture better shots. There are varying reports regarding the grant from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its construction. The prevailing account states that it was $120 million.

At the time of its construction, the uniqueness of the mosque’s design, which lacked traditional domes and arches, stood out prominently. “The mosque has an area of 5,000 square metres (54,000 square feet). Its design resembles a desert Bedouin’s tent.

The mosque’s roof, shaped like a truncated pyramid, is complemented by four giant minarets at its corners. While the eight-sided main hall of the mosque draws inspiration from Arabic culture. The stunning minarets reflect Turkish architectural influences,” says a report.

The mosque’s international fame attracts ambassadors from Muslim countries, European nations and the US. During Friday and Eid prayers, many dignitaries and government officials from Islamabad attend.

Unlike the Badshahi Masjid and some other historical sites in Pakistan, Faisal Mosque is free from extortion, exploitation or other anti-social activities. The mosque administration prioritises maintaining cleanliness and discipline.

The prayer mats and chandeliers in the mosque are of fine quality and enhance the ambience. The structure of the building and the stones used keep it cool even during hot summers. The effect is complemented by central air conditioning in the halls.

A significant identity marker

During Ramazan, large numbers of people come to perform Aitekaf at the mosque. Free registration for Aitekaf begins well before Ramadan, ensuring organised participation. Additionally, training sessions are held to promote the message of peace and the teachings of Islam, with a special focus on peaceful coexistence.

Due to its proximity to some sensitive locations, the area around the mosque is heavily guarded. Police have placed barricades on Faisal Avenue, primarily focusing on stopping motorcyclists and preventing disturbances caused by hooliganism. This highlights the need for innovative security solutions for such important sites.

The Islamabad Wildlife Management Board has restricted movement on the trail behind the mosque leading to the Margalla Hills. This restriction reflects an unprofessional and authoritarian approach by the board in managing this national park.

Freedom of movement in this area should be jealously guarded as it belongs to the people of Pakistan. Some wildlife professionals argue that while wildlife conservation is crucial, the actions taken recently are not in the best interest of public access or environmental stewardship.

The writer teaches data journalism and public diplomacy at the IIUI

A significant identity marker