Mihrab (in Persian مهراب or محراب, in Arabic ألمحراب pl. محاريب) is a niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla, i.e. the direction of Kaaba that Muslims should face when praying. The wall is called the qibla wall. The mihrab gives the impression of a door or a passage to Mecca. They vary in size but are usually ornately decorated. Mihrabs first appeared in the reign of the Umayyad khalif al-Walid I (705–715).
The etymology of the term is believed to come from the Persian word مهراب Mihrab which was used in pre-Islamic Persia to designate the niches in the Mithraistic houses of worship. Mihr in Persian means Mithra and Mihrab means Mithraeum. Others suggest that the root might be from Arabic حرب, "to fight" or "lead to war". As a noun it might be derived from "war", حرب and حربة , "lance". محراب is defined as a battlefield, in the sense jihād an-nafs (i.e. the fight against your own soul). Some say that it is also a word from Ethiopian or Hebrew חרבה, hurbah (beer) with a vague connection to the purchase to buildings. Both the latter gusses have less historical bearing and are les convincing than the first explanation.The mihrab is considered by both Muslim and Western scholars as an element taken from churches, an element added to the mosque of architectural reasons. The mihrab was probably introduced in the 3rd century of Islam, in the 9th century CE. Mihrabs can be made of wood, but is normally made out of masonry, and signified with pillars. Mihrabs very often are very ornamented.
See also: minbar