Daily prayer is a principal obligation of the Islamic faith. Five times a day, the devout Muslim prays while kneeling toward Mecca, Islam’s holy city and the site of Allah’s revelation to the prophet Muhammad. Thus the focal wall of every mosque, with its central prayer niche or mihrab, faces in this direction. The niche itself commemorates the spot where the prophet stood while leading his congregation in prayer.
The Cincinnati prayer niche is a magnificent example of such a mihrab, which originally formed part of a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century mosque in eastern Iran or central Asia. It is tiled in a mosaic tile technique, in which individually cut pieces of ceramic tile are assembled to form an elaborate composition. In a color palette typical of Islamic glazed tile work, the dominant background colors are cobalt blue and turquoise; details are highlighted in white, brown, and sage green.
In the frame surrounding the niche, a calligraphy frieze in cursive Arabic records an often-cited verse from the Koran, which refers (among other things) to piety and alms giving, important principles of Islam.