Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islamic Architecture
Posted by alqossam86 pada 7 Mei 2009
08/04/2009 01:30:00 PM GMT
Brief: Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) viewed architecture as neither a sheer religious ceremony nor a completely and solely secular business.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islamic Architecture
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Jalan Gombak, 53100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
In this paper, I shall discuss the contributions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the evolution of the identity of Islamic architecture. What he did, by and large, amounts to sowing the seeds whose yield was harvested later during the Umayyad and Abbasid epochs and beyond. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) laid the foundation of Islamic architecture by introducing its invisible conceptual and ideological aspects that were later given their different outward appearances dictated by different contexts. The aspects contributed by the Prophet (PBUH) to Islamic architecture signify both the quintessence of Islamic architecture and the vitality that is woven through its each and every facet and feature. Thus, the permanent and most consequential side of Islamic architecture is as old as the Islamic message and the Islamic community but which at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) could take no more than an austere and unsophisticated physical form.
It thus can be concluded that the first signs of Islamic architecture clearly existed during the Prophet’s time, though its physical expressions were extremely rudimentary and unrefined. Prophet Muhammad’s time represents the first and certainly most decisive phase in the evolution of the identity of Islamic architecture, as it is known today. The paper is divided into five following sections: (1) Islam and society; (2) The Qur’an and the Prophet’s sunnah (traditions) as the foundation of Islamic architecture; (3) Islam and the categorization of building activities; (4) Prophet Muhammad’s attitude towards architecture; (5) The Prophet’s mosque as an epitome of the Prophet’s contribution to the evolution of the identity of Islamic architecture.
• Islam and society
So concerned is Islam about quenching man’s thirst for socializing and interacting with others that some people could not help observing that the Islamic ideals have a preference for the sedentary over the nomad and for the city dweller over the villager. This assertion is not totally baseless, though. To be sure, Islam’s treatment of human settlements and the standards and values that nurture and sustain them is such as no other religion or ideology is able to parallel it. Islam in its capacity as the only religion in the sight of God (Alu ‘Imran, 19) carefully strikes a balance between its precepts and values meant for the personal and family realm, on the one hand, and such as are meant for the whole society (humankind), on the other. While a number of them govern each of the two poles, a big portion of the tenets of Islam is still shared by both. Unless propounded at the societal scale, Islam, a universal way of life and a religion that came to raze people’s erring living patterns and furnish them with those based upon the tawhidic paradigm instead, will, therefore, fail to materialize as such. Its real colors will thus be granted no adequate ground to exhibit their glow and aptitude, and people will be left short of perceiving and experiencing fully the excellence, beauty and pragmatism of its worldview and value system. It stands to reason, therefore, that some of the goals of Islam, direct or indirect, are the creation of civilization, society and its establishments, towns, cities and built environment.
Joel Kotkin also observed: “From its origins in the 7th century, Islam has always been a profoundly urban faith. The need to gather the community of believers required a settlement of some size for the full performance of one’s duty as a Muslim. The Prophet Muhammad did not want his people to return to the desert and its clan-oriented value system. Islam virtually demanded cities to serve as ‘the places where men pray together’. This urban orientation came naturally for a religion that first sprang to life in a city of successful merchants.”
For this reason, no sooner had the Prophet (PBUH) migrated from Makkah to Madinah than a shift in the focus of divine revelation occurred, from that dealing with the issues concerning faith (iman) and individual spiritual upbringing, as witnessed in Makkah, to that of creating a solid community and all the issues related thereto, as witnessed in Madinah. Having thus changed the milieu, from that dominated by his foes and the foes of the truth in Makkah to that dominated by his supporters and the supporters of the Islamic cause in Madinah, some of the things that attracted much of the Prophet’s energy and efforts were the urbanization and development of Madinah, the prototype Islamic city.
As another example of this societal and urban nature of Islam, we can recall the very commencement of Prophet Muhammad’s mission. Before becoming cognizant of a divine appointment that he is the final messenger of God to mankind, and prior to the commencement of his mission, Muhammad (PBUH) used to spend much of his time in retirement meditating and speculating over all aspects of creation around him. This meditative temperament caused him to frequently head for the hills and ravines in a neighborhood of Makkah. One of these in particular was his favorite resort, a cave named Hira, in the Mount al-Nur. Finally, in his third year of solitude in the cave of Hira, Muhammad (PBUH) received the first revelation that heralded the beginning of his assignment. At the same time, however, the beginning of this undertaking signified the end of the era of solitude and retirement. The goals of Islam, i.e., culture and civilization that translate into ensuring people the good of both worlds, are not to be achieved through segregation and isolation but through relationships and involvement, and not through retirement and withdrawal but through interaction and socialization. As a result, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) never returned to the cave of Hira. He did not have any reason to do so. This called for the establishment of towns, cities, and all types of communal settlements that would serve as the frameworks as well as the ground for the functioning of the Islamic community, urbanism, built environment, culture and civilization. When the urban context of the city of Makkah proved unable to meet these requirements, other alternatives were considered.
Allah says about Bedouins and their character and culture in the Qur’an: “The dwellers of the desert are very hard in unbelief and hypocrisy, and more disposed not to know the limits of what Allah has revealed to His Messenger; and Allah is Knowing, Wise. And of the dwellers of the desert are those who take what they spend to be a fine, and they wait (the befalling of) calamities to you; on them (will be) the evil calamity; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing. And of the dwellers of the desert are those who believe in Allah and the latter day and take what they spend to be (means of) the nearness of Allah and the Messenger’s prayers; surely it shall be means of nearness for them; Allah will make them enter into His mercy; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Al-Tawbah, 97-99)
“The dwellers of the desert say: We believe. Say: You do not believe but say, We submit; and faith has not yet entered into your hearts; and if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not diminish aught of your deeds; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Al-Hujurat, 14)
In his exegesis of the Holy Qur’an, Ibn Kathir, while commenting on the first set of verses, presents some evidence on Islam’s apparent preference for the settled and organized over the nomad lifestyle: “Allah states that there are disbelievers, hypocrites and believers among the Bedouins. He also states that the disbelief and hypocrisy of the bedouins is worse and deeper than the disbelief and hypocrisy of others. They are likely to be most ignorant of the commandments that Allah has revealed to His Messenger…Imam Ahmad narrated that Ibn `Abbas said that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘He who lives in the desert becomes hard-hearted, he who follows the game becomes heedless, and he who associates with the rulers falls into Fitnah (trial).’…Since insensitivity and rudeness are the qualities of Bedouins, Allah never sent a prophet from among them. Prophets were only from among the folk of the townships. Allah confirms this: ‘We have not sent before you but men from (among) the people of the towns, to whom We sent revelations. Have they not then traveled in the land and seen what was the end of those before them?’ (Yusuf, 109) The Prophet once had to give a Bedouin man many gifts because of what he gave him as a gift, until the Bedouin became satisfied. The Prophet said, ‘I almost decided not to accept a gift except from someone from Quraysh, Thaqafi, the Ansar or Daws.’ This is because these people lived in cities, Makkah, Ta’if, Madinah and Yemen, and therefore, their conduct and manners are nicer than that of the hard-hearted Bedouins.”
• The Qur’an and the Prophet’s sunnah (traditions) as the foundation of Islamic architecture
Concerning the area of architecture, the role of both the Qur’an and the Prophet’s sunnah is to provide the Muslims with an inspired outlook on life, in general, and on those issues that are pertinent to architecture, in particular, and with some broad rules of morality and guidelines of proper conduct which may or may not be directly related to architecture. Upon such a divine outlook and general principles and guidelines Muslims are invited to establish architectural theories, systems and styles that are consistent with both their religious preferences and the requirements of their diverse eras, geographic regions, cultures and other practical needs. Islamic architecture is a symbiosis between constancy, which is represented by the constant innate inclinations of essential human nature and the heavenly guidelines and rules meant for it, and inconstancy, which is necessitated and controlled by the time and space factors. It is the latter that changes while the former is continual and remains firm.
Indeed, this is the thrust of Islamic architecture’s powerful identity. Due to it, Islamic architecture was able to rise above the precincts of the geographic and cultural contexts in which it was planted. Due to it, furthermore, Islamic architecture was able to transcend the restrictions of the historical moments during which it was fashioned outliving the generations of its engineers, craftsmen and users. Islamic architecture with the ideals that it personifies dominates its people and their thinking patterns. It is never the case that the people subjugate to their wishes and control the world of Islamic architecture. When that happens, that spells out a drastic degeneration of Islamic architecture that can lead to its end.
Islamic architecture likewise enlightens and inspires. Some of its facets can be inspired by a fine and purified vision, philosophy and thought approved by the Islamic consciousness which are then fully Islamized and made subservient to the same Islamic consciousness. However, no segment of Islamic architecture that can be inspired by such ideas and attitudes that stem from the sources that are contradictory to the source from which Islamic architecture originates, that is, revelation in the forms of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Such would be a blasphemous act and an act of gross injustice towards the Muslim users of the concerned segments of architecture.
Islamic architecture declined struggling to retain its conspicuous identity only when its two defining aspects were traded, that is, when the sacred in Islamic architecture became compromised and was regarded as a transient and man-generated legacy, and when either a building system or a style of an age or a geographic region became excessively venerated and was regarded as a sole inspiration and guidance, or when a complete detachment from the religion of Islam and its civilization occurred and an inspiration and guidance were sought from foreign sources. It follows that successfully reviving the real meaning and vigor of Islamic architecture depends on properly conceptualizing its basic notions and its ideological framework, which then must be followed by finding and actualizing appropriate strategies and methods for it.
The roles of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah in shaping the identity of Islamic architecture are as follows:
1. The Qur’an and Sunnah afford a perfect guidance on how Muslims are to perceive creating, using and possessing architecture. Such is an integral part of the total Islamic worldview. The two holy sources also educate on the importance of architecture and its purpose in life. The goals of architecture are seen as closely linked to man’s life purpose and goals, and are treated as such. The two in fact complement each other.
2. The Qur’an and sunnah afford sets of general values and principles which are central to the body of Islamic architecture: from the ideological and abstract aspects concerning the philosophy of Islamic architecture to the practical and tangible ones concerning the functions of many of its components. If one expects to find in either the Qur’an or the Sunnah a concrete formula for designing a dwelling or a mosque, for example, one is then seriously misguided.
3. The Qur’an and Sunnah with their approach to architecture serve as an everlasting source of inspiration and a catalyst for matchless ingenuity. And the two notions: inspiration and ingenuity are fundamental to every successful architectural story. For instance, the Qur’an and Sunnah do not speak about how to design a house entrance and windows, but they speak about the issues that are pertinent to the subject of the house entrance and windows. Nor do they speak how to organize inner spaces inside a house, but they speak about many issues that are related to that particular subject. Nor do they speak about the ways mosques are to be designed, but they speak about mosque activities and many other issues that are pertinent to the mosque and so must be considered when designing mosques. Nor do they speak about how to make buildings environment friendly, but they are very much eloquent about the meaning and significance of the environment and our many duties towards and rights over it. Nor do they speak about how to make buildings perfectly safe, secure and clean, but they are categorical in establishing safety, security and cleanliness among the most important principles in Islam.
These are only some examples where the contents of the Qur’an and Sunnah can function as the sources of inspiration and the catalysts for creativity. This however is to be seen as just a starting point from where a Muslim architect sets off to express himself architecturally and create such architectural forms that he deems most suitable insofar as his spiritual inclinations and life interests are concerned, using the same divine guidance as a point reference for authorization whenever an architectural accomplishment is made. This divine arrangement renders the idea of Islamic architecture ever alive and applicable. It also signifies God’s acknowledgment of the talent and potential possessed by man, God’s vicegerent on earth, which, after all, are God-given.
4. The Qur’an and Sunnah, apart from being a divine guidance, also serve as a powerful restraining force every time people develop a tendency to lose their way and start using architecture as both a means of and field for committing certain evil practices. Since architecture is a powerful and effective medium for expressing ideas, status, reputation, personal and social achievements, etc., it has a potential to be both abused and misused at the hands of its designers, patrons, builders and users, proportionately to the extent of their deviational tendencies. Hence, in Islam such wrongdoings as squandering and extravagance, showing off, arrogance, ungratefulness, greed, jealousy, corruption, discriminating against people and immoral competition, all of which can easily find a breeding ground in an erroneous architectural vision and style, are regarded as grave sins punishable by severe punishments on the Day of Judgment.
5. The Qur’an and Sunnah speak of many examples of some past nations’ experiences in relation to quite a few aspects of architecture, thus furnishing us with many invaluable lessons. Those examples cover virtually the total human history from the first man and prophet on earth, Adam, to the events related to the prophetic mission of the second last prophet, ‘Isa (Jesus). The examples of past nations’ experiences at times focus on believers and at other times on the wicked. The two threads are interwoven into what is called the historical aspect of the Qur’anic mu’jizah, the miracle or sensation. The Qur’an proclaims: “There is, in their stories, instruction (lesson) for men endued with understanding. It is not a tale invented, but a confirmation of what went before it, a detailed exposition of all things, and a guide and mercy to any such as believe.” (Yusuf, 111)
6. The sunnah and to a much lesser extent the Qur’an shed light on how the Islamic broad vision of architecture, and the notion of development in general, was translated onto reality when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the first generation of Muslims developed the city of Madinah, the prototype Islamic city, from an oasis with a few loosely interrelated settlements to a cohesive and dynamic city. Undoubtedly, this is the most comprehensive and at the same time emphatic dimensions of the Sunnah and somewhat the Qur’an in their capacity as the foundation of Islamic architecture. In it, one can find something on virtually every aspect of the true character of Islamic architecture, either explicitly or implicitly. This was the case because notwithstanding its simplicity, the physical form of the city of Madinah presented to the Prophet (PBUH) and the first Muslims the first physical locus of the first actualization of the Islamic message. The experiences of the Prophet (PBUH) and those around him thus overflow with lessons on a wide selection of issues relating to architecture. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a universal personality and so must be taken as an excellent example in all matters: “You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the Final Day, and who remember Allah much.” (al-Ahzab, 21)
The roles of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah in shaping the identity of Islamic architecture can be summarized in the following concepts: education, guidance, inspiration, thrust, point of reference and contentment. It follows that any recipe for reviving Islamic architecture must address firstly the subject of the Qur’an and sunnah as the conceptual base, which will then be followed by mastering the building technology and engineering of the day, and by duly answering the requirements of the general circumstances of a given age and a geographic zone.
• Islam and the categorization of building activities
Generally, based on the contents of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah, the scholars of Islam divide building activities into four categories:
1. Wajib or obligation
“Wajib buildings” means those building activities and buildings without which the wellbeing of Muslims will become jeopardized one way or another. Building required mosques, private houses and those structures that are aimed at ensuring people’s safety and security, such as city walls and military citadels in the past, are of the buildings that are placed under this category. For erecting these buildings, people are abundantly rewarded by God. Neglecting them is a serious offense in the sight of God.
2. Mandub or recommended
“Mandub buildings” means recommended building activities and buildings, like building markets, factories, schools and other learning facilities, governmental buildings and institutions, bridges and recreational facilities. Though these are very important for the good and overall interests of Muslims, people’s survival does not really depend on them, and if necessary, they can always find some other alternatives for housing the activities that those buildings normally accommodate. People are invited, not obliged, to build these and other similar in importance buildings. For doing so, they are rewarded by God. Neglecting them does not inevitably lead to an offence. Things are generally judged against the backdrop of the extent the interests of Muslims are tied to the buildings in question. Architectural elements that enhance greatly the serviceability of the buildings under the first category, like minarets in mosques and courtyards in houses, are also regarded as mandub or recommended.
However, a difference ought to be made here between certain buildings in this category and the activities that they normally accommodate. While such buildings are classified as mandub or recommended, their functions could be classified as high as obligatory. For example, education is one of the greatest individual obligations upon Muslims, but building schools and other educational institutions is not necessarily an obligation. This is so because education does not depend solely on the existence of schools and other learning institutions. Houses and mosques, for example, serve as educational centers as well, and, if necessary, some other built environment components can likewise be activated to function as such.
Apart from schools and the notion of education, the same reasoning applies to a number of other building types under the mandub category and to their diverse functions, such as factories and production, markets and business activities, governmental buildings and institutions and the administration of society. While erecting the buildings that accommodate those activities is mandub or recommended, many of the activities are themselves obligatory as the wellbeing of society depends on them.
3. Mubah or religiously neutral
‘Mubah buildings’ means building activities and buildings that are neither forbidden nor recommended. They are religiously neutral, as they do not contain any immediate religious value or significance. An example of this type of buildings is when a person builds an extra house for himself for the purpose of extra comfort. Moderately beautifying the buildings under the first two categories can also be placed under this category. Moreover, mubah are those architectural elements with which cities and villages are aesthetically enhanced, such as gardens, fountains and permitted monuments. However, if gardens, fountains, etc., exceed in importance the parameters of sheer aesthetics, then they become easily promoted to the category of mandub or a recommended sector of built environment.
4. Haram or prohibited
‘Haram buildings’ means prohibited building activities and buildings such as those that facilitate or promote sins like gambling, alcohol, prostitution, lewdness, corrupt economic practices, etc. It is also prohibited to build on public and stolen or confiscated land, to build mosques and to a lesser extent other memorials over the graves of certain people, and to build for the purpose of sowing, aiding or spreading any form of transgression. Doing any of these amounts to a serious offence punishable by God.
Since architecture is seen as a process that involves many phases and brings many parties onto the stage, all kinds of evil and unethical practices that Islam prohibits are to be shunned at all times and by everyone involved. Surely, the more of unethical practices are committed in the process of an architectural undertaking, and the more severe they are, the more spiritually faulty its net results become. So therefore, because they can seriously defile the process of a building enterprise, the following sinful and unethical deeds, for example, have no place in Islamic architecture although their effects are not always evident on the physical aspects of buildings: cheating, corruption, bribery, greed, dishonesty, fraud, jealousy, showing off, haughtiness, discrimination against people, unhealthy competition, lack of hygiene, causing harm to people or the environment, creating unsafe buildings, creating hardships to users by failing to make the form of a building support and facilitate its projected function, creating unsustainable architecture, creating environment and users unfriendly architecture, constructing and infusing fallacious concepts and ideas into architecture, superstitions, deliberate mediocrity, apathy, poor execution of work, insincerity, failure to satisfy the necessary requirements, including the spiritual ones, of the client, failure in upgrading necessary knowledge and skills, wasting time, money, efforts, energy and resources while practicing architecture and designing buildings in such a way that their users will be compelled to do the same, failure to integrate in architecture the concept of enjoining good and forbidding evil (al-amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar), subscribing to, personifying and promoting the damaging dimensions of the philosophical theories and ideas which are incompatible, partly or totally, with the Islamic worldview and its belief system, but which are integral to some contemporary architectural schools of thought which are widely adopted and articulated, such as: materialism, consumerism, nihilism, hedonism, naturalism, deconstructionism, humanism and modernism.
Some of these problematic deeds are conceptual, some educational, some spiritual and some are purely technical. All levels and dimensions of architecture must be addressed while curbing it from bad ideas and practices. Some of those problematic deeds, furthermore, are related to architects, some to patrons and sponsors, some to building engineers, and some to users who often are the general public. For creating an excellent built environment, it follows, the phenomenon and process of architecture must be targeted by a valid comprehensive and universal vision, from its conception till the end, and by those who epitomize such a vision in their thinking and living paradigms.
However, sometimes there might be a building activity, style, idea or an innovation which is not haram but which, at the same time, seems to be problematic and is shrouded in a doubt or a confusion as it obviously is not a neutral (mubah), recommended (mandub) or a required (wajib) thing either. In this case, it is strongly recommended that a person stays away from such things because in so doing one will be ensured that he will stay completely clear of doing something which is haram. Whereas committing dubious and suspicious things brings one ever closer to committing haram and that he will stay completely clear of it is not guaranteed. The things existing in this gray area are called doubtful or mutashabihat things. The Prophet (PBUH) said about this: “The halal is clear and the haram is clear. Between the two there are doubtful matters concerning which people do not know whether they are halal or haram. One who avoids them in order to safeguard his religion and his honor is safe, while if someone engages in a part of them he may be doing something haram, like one who grazes his animals near the hima (the grounds reserved for animals belonging to the King which are out of bounds for others’ animals); it is thus quite likely that some of his animals will stray into it. Truly, every king has a hima, and the hima of Allah is what He has prohibited.”
Yusuf Qaradawi said about the principle that doubtful things be avoided: “It is Allah’s mercy to human beings that He did not leave them in ignorance concerning what is lawful and what is prohibited. Indeed, He has made explicit what is halal and explained what is haram, as He says: …He has explained to you what He has made haram for you…. (6:119) Accordingly, one may do what is lawful and must avoid what is prohibited insofar as he has the choice. However, there is a gray area between the clearly halal and the clearly haram. This is the area of what is doubtful. Some people may not be able to decide whether a particular matter is permissible or forbidden; such confusion may be due either to doubtful evidence or because of doubt concerning the applicability of the text to the particular circumstance or matter in question. In relation to such matters, Islam considers it an act of piety for the Muslim to avoid doing what is doubtful in order to stay clear of doing something haram. This is similar to what was discussed earlier concerning the blocking of the avenues which lead to what is haram. Such a cautious approach, moreover, trains the Muslim to be farsighted in planning and increases his knowledge of affairs and people. The root of this principle is the (above mentioned) saying of the Prophet (pbuh)”
• Prophet Muhammad’s attitude towards architecture
Since architecture is indispensable to life and to man’s fulfillment of the vicegerency mission on earth, it occupies a remarkable place in Islam. It is an obligation. Islamic architecture is not an end in itself; it is a means by which another end embodied in a set of cosmic goals is to be achieved. Thus, when making use of and judging an architectural expression, our interactive experiences with it must take into consideration not only what can be seen and felt by the five senses but also an architecture’s intelligent and spiritual sides which are discernible only by a sixth sense. Architecture is not only to be looked at, it is also, and that is more important, to be experienced, felt and emotionally attached to.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) viewed architecture as neither a sheer religious ceremony nor a completely and solely secular business. In fact, it is a combination of both, in that Islam is a complete way of life and there is no human activity in Islam that is ever devoid of a spiritual connotation, as well as in that there is no religious ritual that is directly linked to any architectural activity. Hence, based on the Prophet’s legacy the following seems to be an appropriate assessment of how Islam looks at the subject of architecture.
In Islam, building activities, in principle, can be classified as permissible, warranting their executors no reward or penalty. However, no sooner does the same become misconstrued and mishandled, violating, in turn, some of the divinely prescribed norms and principles, then it becomes either recommended against (makruh) or prohibited (haram), depending on the severity of the contravention. In contrast, if observing the objectives of Islam and its message is meant foremost to be realized through architecture, the whole thing then becomes highly commendable and thus rewarding. In other words, erecting buildings becomes an act of worship (‘ibadah) whereby one duly discharges some of the duties entrusted to him as a vicegerent on earth. It follows that architecture in Islam is valued based on its function, a vision and mission that it exemplifies and the impact that it makes on people.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said and done a lot of things that can be related to architecture, explicitly or implicitly. He did so in different contexts and under different circumstances. He did so at times as an educator and leader, at other times as an ordinary citizen and user, and yet at other times as an active protagonist and participant in the field. He sometimes wanted to advise a person, not the whole community, and at other times he wanted to establish a principle which was binding then and upon everyone without exception, and which will be binding forever. He often and in matters concerning religion and his duties as a prophet acted under the divine guidance of revelation, in which case he was unquestionably infallible and his actions and judgments perfectly flawless, but at times and in some sheer worldly matters he acted using his own discretion in isolation from the revealed word, in which case the Prophet’s infallibility and the flawlessness of his actions and judgments have not been absolute.
Thus, if one studies the Prophet’s, i.e., Islam’s, attitude towards architecture, one must be very careful taking into account and scrutinizing all the issues mentioned above. The plain spiritual is not same as the plain secular. An action of the Prophet (pbuh) in his capacity as the Messenger from God is not like an action in his capacity as an ordinary human and citizen minding his own business and the business of his household. A counsel for a person in a situation is not necessarily always a counsel for everyone in all situations. The temporary is not equal to the permanent, and the absolute is not equal to the relative. Indeed, anything short of a universal and systematic approach to studying the Prophet’s life, both his words and actions, would mean a recipe for failure that is bound to trigger a confusion and myriad misconceptions. This does not apply only to the theme of architecture but also to any other cultural and civilizational sector. Perhaps therein lies a secret of why there is such an amount of confusion and misunderstandings among so many people when it comes to understanding the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The following features and experiences of the Prophet (pbuh) concerning the building pursuit typify his attitude towards architecture as explained earlier:
1. Building mosques for Allah,
2. Mosque decoration,
3. Building activities over graves,
4. Building houses,
5. Some of the Prophet’s disapproving traditions on building
1. Building mosques for Allah
The Prophet (pbuh) has said: “He who built a mosque for Allah, Allah would build a house for him like it in Paradise.” Based on this and many other traditions, plus the Prophet’s personal practices, building mosques, thus seeking the pleasure of Allah so that people’s collective worship is facilitated, is one of the most desirable and so rewarding activities. Mosques vary in size and function: from simple places meant for a small group of people to perform collectively their daily prayers to large and impressive masterpieces that function as both the catalysts and centers for the development of community.
Building mosques out of societal needs falls within the category of wajib or obligation. It is an Islamic dictum that if an obligation (wajib) cannot be performed without something, the latter then becomes an obligation (wajib) as well. Undeniably, an obligation is providing Muslim communities with places for collective worship and other beneficial communal activities. Without them, Muslim communities would be unable to assert themselves and perform their expected roles.
Building mosques is also considered as an act of lasting charity (sadaqah jariyah), that is to say, he who builds or takes part in building a mosque will have his good deeds being recorded even after his demise, as long as the effects of his actions in the form of the mosque built and its functions are extant on earth. The Prophet (pbuh) spoke a lot about the concept of the lasting charity (sadaqah jariyah). In a tradition of his, he referred among other things to building mosques and houses for travelers as forms of the lasting charity.
Since the dawn of Islamic civilization, Muslims hastened to build mosques whenever even slight needs arose. As a result, mosques with their minarets and domes emerged as the most dominant elements in the skyline of Muslim urban and rural settlements. The language of Mosque architecture likewise emerged as the most prevailing in the total organization of Islamic architecture. In fact, the language of mosque architecture came first into being as most complete, which then was modified and incorporated as much as possible into the rest of Islamic built environment’s elements.
Certainly, due to this significance of the mosque institution, the first thing that the Prophet (pbuh) did upon migrating from Makkah to Madinah was building a mosque, the Prophet’s mosque. Such was the first initiative in the Prophet’s Madinah urbanization scheme. Everything else, such as building houses and providing a market for Muslim business activities, had to be put on hold till the completion of the Prophet’s mosque that functioned as a community development center. No wonder then that while building his mosque in Madinah with his companions, the Prophet (pbuh) praised the involvement of every individual promising them a handsome reward for that. He, for example, even assured a companion ‘Ammar b. Yasir a double reward for carrying in the process two bricks at one time: one for himself and the other one for the Prophet (PBUH), while others carried one.
The Prophet (PBUH) directed his companions to create mosques in their quarters and to cleanse and odorize them on special religious occasions. He even consented to the idea of his companions earmarking some spaces meant for worship in their houses. Such spaces served symbolically as private mosques, places of prayer and other forms of worship. The Prophet (PBUH) is said to have graced some of such places by personally praying in them. Of the first instructions that the Prophet (PBUH) used to give to the visiting tribes that professed Islam was to build, liven up and maintain mosques in their respective communities.
The mosque institution is the nucleus of believers’ existence. It is a reflection of their attachment to the ideals that the mosque exemplifies, which are the ideals of Islam. Throughout the history of mankind, the mosque constituted an epitome of the never-ending struggle for supremacy between good and evil. The notion of administering and preserving the position and mission of the mosque institution and who is best qualified for the task is comprehensively encapsulated in the following Qur’anic verses: “It is not for such as join gods with Allah, to maintain the mosques of Allah while they witness against their own souls to infidelity. The works of such bear no fruit: in Fire shall they dwell. The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish regular prayers, and pay Zakat, and fear none (at all) except Allah. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance.” (al-Tawbah 17-18)
2. Mosque decoration
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said that Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. It is for this that the whole of Allah’s creation has been designed and created according to the highest heavenly standard of splendor, beauty and order impossible to be ever emulated by anyone. Man, the vicegerent on earth, is beautiful too. He has been created “in the best of moulds.” (al-Tin 4) Creating and appreciating beautiful objects and experiences is a passion instinctive to man. Given that Islam is a natural and logical religion, it opposes neither artistic creativity nor the enjoyment of beauty. On the contrary, it “blesses the beautiful and promotes it. It sees absolute beauty only in God and in His revealed will or words.”
However, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) not only totally overlooked the subject of decoration in buildings during his life while building and overseeing others doing the same, but also he at a first glance denounced the matter of mosque decoration especially in several of his hadiths (traditions). Obviously, due to the mosque’s position in both society and every true believer’s life, the Prophet (PBUH) was concerned about the subject of mosque decoration more than about the other aspects of Islamic built environment. In one of such traditions, he is reported to have said that whenever a people’s performance (‘amal) weakens they then start decorating their mosques.
In another tradition, the Prophet (PBUH) said that one of the signs of the Day of Judgment’s imminence would be when people start vying in boasting with one another with regard to mosques, including planning, construction, decoration and everything else that can be related to it.
The Prophet (PBUH) also disclosed that he was not directed (ma umirtu) to erect (tashyid) monumental mosques. The narrator of this hadith, ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abbas, commented: “You shall certainly end up adorning your mosques as both the Jews and Christians did.” Surely, ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abbas did not say this on his own; rather, he just paraphrased a hadith in which the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have uttered the same.
Nonetheless, the Prophet (PBUH) in the mentioned traditions of his did not mean to prohibit mosque decoration altogether. The whole thing must be studied carefully taking into consideration a number of religious and socio-economic factors. No tradition of the Prophet (PBUH) or a verse in the Qur’an that clearly and utterly prohibits mosque decoration. And it is the nature of Islam that when it prohibits something it does so in such a way that no ambiguity or a room for any doubt is left.
Certainly, the Prophet’s traditions (hadiths) in question have been uttered in the context of the status of the mosque institution in society and what kind of relationship between it and men ought to exist. The mosque is the nucleus of the believers’ existence. Throughout the history of mankind it epitomized the never-ending struggle for supremacy between good and evil. For the mosque to play the role of a center for the development of communities is a paramount priority, which must remain, unchanged, despite the developments that societies constantly go through. Other valid societal roles could be attached to the authority of the mosque institution, but they all must remain second to the topmost role for which the mosque had been instituted, further promoting and enhancing it.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) apparently wished to warn his followers as to the consequences that will inevitably occur supposing they set out to neglect the real functions of mosques and become more interested in their physical appearance instead. Should that happen, the followers of Islam must not live under the illusion that they by some “innovative” means defend and advance God’s religion. On the contrary, they must be aware that the phenomenon of excessive and meaningless mosque beautification and decoration is but a disease endemic only in places where a people’s faith has drastically declined and total submission to the Almighty has no longer remained a priority. That means, furthermore, that the objectives of the Islamic Shari’ah (Law) have been forsaken and other alternatives have been pursued instead.
How serious the problem at hand can become illustrates the fact that some people, if left unimpeded and their erroneous perceptions about mosques not corrected on time, would reach the point where the actions of theirs will resemble those of the Jews and Christians, who have drawn on themselves the wrath of God with myriad acts of dishonesty, distortions and deception. About the latter the Prophet (pbuh) once said, after he had been told of the beauty of a church in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and how wonderful its paintings are: “Those people, when a pious man among them dies, on his grave they construct a mosque (a place of worship) which they paint with those pictures. They are the worse creation before Allah.” Hence, the Prophet (PBUH) sternly warned Muslims of imitating the Jews and Christians in matters pertaining to decorating the places of worship.
Relinquishing and burying the true position and role of mosques also means relinquishing and burying the tasks that man has been assigned to carry out on earth. In that case, some of the first definitive steps towards abandoning the Islamic paradigm and welcoming those that are alien to the Islamic world-view instead would be introduced. Thus, one of the Prophet’s mentioned traditions suggest that of the signs of the Day of Judgment’s nearness is when people start decorating their mosques without using them for the purposes for which they had been ordained by heavenly decrees. It is not by chance that this message of the Prophet (PBUH) came after his words on neglecting the injunction of enjoining good and forbidding evil (al-amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar). It looks as though the Prophet (PBUH) thus wanted to communicate that the relationship between the two phenomena is a causal one, the former being the cause and the latter the effect, and so the people must be watchful.
Ali b. Abi Talib is also reported to have said that of the signs of the Day of Judgment’s nearness is: “decorating mosques, raising minarets and skipping congregational prayers”. Here too, like what has been mentioned earlier, by decorating mosques it is meant that people show more interest to the outer appearance of mosques while neglecting its spiritual dimension. For this reason, certainly, did Ali b. Abi Talib cite mosques’ decoration and lofty minarets alongside congregational prayers. Without the latter, which exemplifies the core of the projected position and function of mosques, the former not only becomes a worthless exercise but also generates God’s displeasure and more than a few grave sins.
Without a doubt, Islam prohibits extravagant mosque beautification and decoration, more so when the same is done for advancing certain people’s personal interests, or for any other reason that may cause even a slightest harm to the well being of Muslims and their community. This verdict can easily be deduced from the Islamic strict and unequivocal prohibition of wastefulness, injustice, causing harm, wealth misappropriation, haughtiness, ostentation, and so on. Not only on private but also public property does this ruling apply, as both are from God who bestows His gifts of sustenance more freely on some of men than on others in order that He may test them as to which of them are best in conduct. (Al-An’am 165)
Although the Prophet (PBUH) did not prohibit meaningful and moderate mosque beautification and decoration altogether, yet he did not explicitly permit it either. Whether decorating mosques is permitted or prohibited is thus conditioned chiefly by people’s intentions and goals, as well as by the roles both mosques and their decorative styles and elements play. Surely, decorating mosques is a sensitive and double-edged thing that must be handled cautiously and wisely. If mismanaged and the goals of beautification in Islam ignored or not realized, the same can easily be turned into an objectionable activity (makruh) and even in an outright transgression (haram).
3. Building activities over graves
The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have forbidden that the graves should be plastered, or that they be used as sitting places (for the people), or that a building should be constructed over them. However, a piece of stone or wood is allowed to be placed on the graves for the sake of sheer identification. In this regard, the Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have himself deposited a stone on the grave of a companion Uthman b. Maz’un, on the side where his head was, saying: “With it I shall know the grave of my brother, and the members of my family could be buried next to him.”
The Prophet (PBUH) once ordered that the elevated and elaborate graves, which had been built out of arrogance or for the purpose of glorifying someone and his status, should be leveled to the ground, as narrated by ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.
Taking graves and graveyards as places of worship and erecting mosques over them is strictly forbidden. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Do not ever make graves mosques, I hereby forbid you to do that.”
Based on these and other similar traditions (hadiths) of the Prophet (PBUH), Islam proscribes building edifices over graves for whatever reasons, more so if the edifices built are meant to commemorate the dead or serve as places of worship (masjid). Even to mark graves with some discernible features in absence of a valid justification is deemed too detrimental to be admissible. Architecturally venerating the dead is much more strongly proscribed in public burial areas than in areas belonging to private individuals, because in doing so apart from squandering time and depleting resources, the availability of space for other graves is trimmed down, and the free movement of such as come to visit graves can also be affected.
More than a few reasons for this unyielding Islamic position could be given, the most important of which, certainly, is the close relationship between exalting and architecturally glorifying graves and rearing the causes that lead to associating other deities with Almighty Allah (shirk). Other reasons are: wasting space, resources and efforts; promoting the notion of bid’ah sayyi’ah (harmful invention); reducing or even denying the graves and graveyards their original role, that is, to remind people of death and to remember the dead through legitimate ways; paving the way for superstitions and other misconceptions about Islam to flourish; paving the way for harming the Islamic notion of unity and brotherhood, or for promoting schism; weakening people’s relationship with God.
4. Building houses
Islam pays so much attention to the issues of the house and housing. This is so because in Islam, the house is seen as an institution, not just a shelter. It is a place to rest, relax the body and mind and enjoy legitimate worldly delights. In the house we are to be surrounded with privacy, protection and security. Within the house realm we also worship, teach, learn and propagate the message of Islam. The house is one of the fundamental rights that must be enjoyed by every Muslim. Allah, be He exalted, says in the Qur’an: “It is Allah Who made your habitations homes of rest and quiet for you…” (Al-Nahl, 80)
Thus, there are four terms given in Arabic for the house. Firstly, the house is called dar, which is derived from an Arabic verb dara which means, among other things, to circulate, to take place, to go on, to be held, to center on or around, etc. The house is called dar because it is the physical locus of the family institution and its manifold activities that take place or circulate in the house. It is the family development center.
The house is also called bayt, which is derived from an Arabic verb bata, which means, among other things, to spend or pass the night, to stay overnight, etc. The house is called bayt because when the bustle of the day starts fading away with the arrival of the night, man, just like most of the terrestrial creatures, hasten to withdraw to his sanctuary (the house) so as to take rest, enjoy tranquility and seek refuge from the disadvantages, and even perils, associated with the night and its drawbacks. However, the significations of the word bayt (the house) must be viewed from a much wider perspective. Bayt does not imply just a place where one takes refuge overnight. Rather, it implies a place where one takes refuge whenever necessary from all the hazards of the outside world.
The house is also called manzil, which is derived from an Arabic verb nazala which means, among other things, to come down, to disembark, to make a stop at, to camp at, to stay at, to lodge at, to settle down in, to inhabit, and so on. The house is called manzil because it shows that one has started to, or has already settled down in a community, and in this worldly life taken as a whole. It symbolizes, furthermore, that one is perfectly clear as to his role, orientation and life goals. The house is a station, or a center, from which one ventures into life and to which one returns, having successfully dealt with the challenges of the outside world, or having just decided to take a break before finally prevailing over them.
And finally, the house is also called maskan, which is derived from an Arabic verb sakana which means, among other things, to calm down, to repose, to rest, to become quiet and tranquil, to feel at ease with. Hence, the words sukun and sakinah mean calmness, tranquility, peacefulness, serenity, peace of mind, etc. The house is called maskan or maskin because it offers its inhabitants a chance to take a break from the demands and pressure of the outside world and concentrate on doing that which leads to a physical, mental and even spiritual recuperation. The Islamic house is a retreat, sanctuary and one’s source of rest and leisure.
The Islamic house is a microcosm of Islamic culture and civilization in that individuals and families bred and nurtured therein constitute the fundamental units of the Islamic Ummah. The house institution, therefore, has a potential to take up the role of an educational and training center able to produce, in concert with other societal establishments, individuals capable of transforming the whole communities they belong to. Thence, the same persons would contribute, somehow or other, their decent share to making this earth a better place for living.
By the same token, if misconstrued and its role perverted, the house has a potential to become a breeding ground for virtually every social disease, which if left unchecked could one day paralyze entire communities and drug them to the bottommost. In this case, the only remedy for the predicament will be the restoration of the position and role of the house in society and with it the position and role of every individual as well as the family institution. On the word of Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, the family is indispensable for the fulfillment of the divine purpose. “Regardless of which is cause and which effect, civilization and the family seem to be destined for rising together and falling together.”
The Prophet (PBUH) has said that of man’s happiness are a good wife, a spacious house, a good neighbor, and a good mount. He used to pray to God to forgive him, make his house more spacious and bless his sustenance. Once a companion Khalid b. al-Walid complained to the Prophet (PBUH) that his house was too small to accommodate his family. At this, the Prophet (PBUH) asked him to build more rooms on the roof of the existing house and to ask God for abundance.
When the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah was completed – the mosque was the first building the Prophet (PBUH) and the Muslims had built in Madinah following the migration (hijrah) — then private houses started clustering around it under the Prophet’s supervision. Due to the possible long-term impact of housing on society, the Prophet (pbuh) himself was involved in allotting and marking out many dwellings. Some historians supply quite a long list of such dwellings, both their locations and owners. Likewise, the Prophet (PBUH) might have been involved in some way in planning and building some houses as well.
Not all Madinah houses during the Prophet’s time were the same. By and large, several notable features, the most important one of which perhaps was their adequate spaciousness, characterized most houses. As we are absolutely sure that loftiness was not their trademark, we are likewise in no doubt that spaciousness, as much as needed and in line with the standards of the day, was their underlying quality.
However, the Prophet (PBUH) and his household remained indifferent to the prospects of erecting and possessing more than that which was extremely rudimentary and really necessary. Such was the case throughout his life, even after the economic situation of the Muslims had notably improved. Some of the most often referred to furnishing elements in the Prophet’s houses were: a bed, a mat, a blanket, and curtains of black-hair cloth. The Prophet’s austere living was such that when Umar b. al-Khattab one day paid a visit to him he was moved to tears. The Prophet (pbuh) asked: “Ibn Khattab, what makes you weep?” Umar answered: “The Messenger of Allah, why should I not shed tears? This mat (which ‘Umar found the Prophet (PBUH) lying on) has left its marks on your sides and I do not see in your store room (except these few things) that I have seen. Persian and Byzantine sovereigns are leading their lives in plenty whereas you are Allah’s Messenger, His chosen one, and yet that is your store!” The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Ibn Khattab, aren’t you satisfied that for us is the prosperity of the Hereafter and for them the prosperity of this world?”
Nevertheless, the houses of the Prophet (PBUH) — many of them, if not all — were bigger and roomy than what appears to many people who erroneously perceive them as small huts or no more than mere tiny rooms rather than adequate houses, for most of such houses must have had — at least and in accordance with the standards and norms of the day, of course — a bathroom, a kitchen, a sleeping room, a room (place) for visitors, a storage, etc. All these are necessities not only desirable for normal and decent living, but also necessitated by some religious tenets, such as privacy protection, neatness and cleanliness. When Umar b. al-Khattab visited the Prophet (PBUH), as in the aforementioned hadith, though he was moved to tears by the simplicity of the Prophet’s living, yet he reported that he found the Prophet (PBUH) in one of his houses in his attic to which one must climb by means of a ladder made of date-palm. At the end of the ladder the Prophet’s servant, Rabah, through whom Umar had obtained beforehand the Prophet’s permission to enter, was sitting. After the visit Umar climbed down with the Prophet (pbuh). While Umar had to do so catching hold of the wood of the palm-tree, the Prophet (pbuh) did the same with such ease that he seemed as though he was walking on the ground; he needed not hold anything for support.
If truth be told, had the Prophet’s houses been as small and as inconvenient as alleged by some people, his life and that of his household would have been seriously disturbed and interrupted, as there were always those coming to him for various purposes: to serve him, to visit him and his family, to learn from him, to ask questions, to seek counsel from him, etc. It would have been especially so during the early years when scores of hospitality manners, plus general rules of cultured social ethics, were yet to be consolidated in the hearts and minds of many individuals. In reality, every period of the Prophet’s mission was pretty much susceptible to this kind of discomfort for him, sometimes more and sometimes less, because scores of people from different places in the Arabian Peninsula never ceased to throng Madinah (the trend actually kept intensifying as time was passing by) accepting Islam and offering their allegiance to the Prophet (PBUH). Before the doors of the Hijrah became closed after the conquest of Makkah, some people would habitually seek to settle themselves in Madinah having embraced Islam and pledged their allegiance, whereas the others, after spending some time as the Prophet’s guests and the guests of the state, would return to their respective tribes and communities henceforth maintaining strong relationship with the center.
A partial description of the Prophet’s houses is given by Ibn Sa’d in his al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, due to a narrator named ‘Abd Allah b. Yazid, who saw them just before they were knocked down by the order of the caliph al-Walid b. ‘Abd al-Malik from Syria in the year 707 AC /88 H who wanted to enlarge the Prophet’s mosque. “There were four houses of mud brick, with apartments partitioned off by palm branches plastered with mud, and five houses made of palm branches plastered with mud and not divided into rooms. Over the doors were curtains of black hair-cloth. Each curtain measured 3 by 3 cubits. One could touch the roof with the hand.” Several other eyewitnesses have given similar accounts on the matter, which are recorded elsewhere.
In his book “History of Madinah Munawwarah”, Muhammad Ilyas asserted that each of the Prophet’s houses had a residential part as well as a tiny backyard: “The backyard was enclosed by the branches of palm trees and unbaked bricks. Blankets of hair were thrown on them to ensure privacy in the yard. The door of each Hujrah (apartment) was not built from an expensive wood. Each door had a rough blanket hanging there for privacy. Hence each Hujrah reflected humbleness and modesty. The dimension of each Hujrah was approximately 5 meters by 4 meters and the backyard was 5 meters by 3 ½ meters. A person standing in a Hujrah could touch the ceiling with his hand. Hasan Basri said, ‘I had not yet come of age and I used to visit the Hujrah. I could touch the ceiling with my hand when I was standing in a Hujrah’.”
Normally, Madinah houses during the Prophet’s time were divided into several sections, each section functioning differently. A typical house was big enough to have a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom, a room for visitors, a storage for food, weapons, firewood, and other necessary items, a stable for some domestic animals (horses, donkeys, or camels) serving as a mode of transportation as well as a source of sustenance. The houses that belonged to extremely poor families, or to such as were bent on out-and-out asceticism, had fewer rooms and, as such, had to be multi-functional.
The Prophet’s storage had to be big enough to accommodate as many dates as would cover the needs of his family for a whole year, in addition to other food articles which had to be stored therein sporadically, such as grain, meat, etc. The Prophet (pbuh) used to order during hard times that the meat of sacrifices (qurban) be consumed by means of feeding others within the first three days of the ‘Id festival. However, if the situation of the Muslims was better, he would then ask them to eat of their meat, feed others of it, and store of it and eat later on, i.e., after the three days of the ‘Id festival.
Some households had their own wells, while others had to share bigger public ones. Even some businesses were conducted in certain houses.
The external walls of Madinah houses were generally built of mud bricks. Rooms were partitioned of by palm branches plastered with mud. Mud bricks may have been used for this purpose as well. The ground was covered with mats made of date-palm branches. In some instances – rare though – carpets were used. It was not odd if some portions of a house were bare or strewn with pebbles. Stone must have been used as a building material in various situations and in different degrees, as it was plentiful and had some desirable technical advantages, such as resisting weathering, firmness and durability.
In the main, roofs were made of palm-leaves. Mud must have been added in order to mitigate rain dripping onto the ground, something that could be a hazardous inconvenience during the cold rainy season. Some roofs might have been made even of timber or any other strong and permanent material, and were designed in such a way as to be utilized for other benefits, such as sleeping during hot nights, drying dates, etc. It seems as though towards this end is, in part, the Prophet’s counsel against sleeping on an exposed and unsafe surface, alluding thereby to the significance of both privacy and safety.
Before the advent of Islam, entrances in the whole region of Arabia often had no doors; there were only curtains. Yet, seeking permission prior to entering a house was nonexistent in the culture of the Jahiliyyah Arabs. Seldom was somebody seriously concerned about the subject of privacy, as a result of which anyone running into a husband and wife indulged in some intimate affairs was frequent. The most that one was expected to say upon entering was “I am in”, or “Here I am”, and the like. This is nothing of peculiarity, though, if we bring to mind that some pilgrimage rituals of some Arab tribes, including the Quraysh, entailed circumambulating the Ka’bah in a state of nakedness whistling and clapping the hands. However, following the arrival of the Islamic code of life, which lays special emphasis on honoring human privacy, appropriate entrance screenings were bound to be introduced shortly to Madinah houses. Securing not only doorways but also the rest of house openings against the acts of privacy invasion was further promoted by the commandment of seeking permission prior to entering anybody’s house: “O ye who believe! Enter not houses other than your own, until ye have asked permission and saluted those in them: that is best for you, in order that ye may heed (what is seemly). If ye find no one in the house, enter not until permission is given to you: if ye are asked to go back, go back: that makes for greater purity for yourselves: and Allah knows well all that ye do.” (Al-Nur, 27-28)
The most common furnishing components found in Madinah houses were: cupboards, leather dining sheets, leather mats, mats made of palm leaves, leather bags, pillows and cushions (made of leather or any other suitable material which on occasion was decorated), trays, plates, jugs, vessels, utensils, baskets, beds (some of which were very strong and raised of the ground), covering sheets or blankets, benches and sometimes even dining tables, lamps (even though many a house for quite sometime might have been illuminated by burning up fronds), cooking stoves, hooks on the walls for hanging different objects, etc. Having carpets could have been a normal thing in rich families, because when a companion Jabir b. Abdullah got married, the Prophet (PBUH) asked him whether he had gotten one. Jabir replied that he was so poor that he could not afford it. At this, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “You shall soon possess them.”
Although the emergence of the courtyard inspired by the Islamic vision of life and the reality needed some time to materialize, yet some instances of the courtyard in Madinah houses could be tracked down. In spite of some of the courtyards having been created much earlier prior to the advent of Islam, nevertheless, no sooner had the Islamic world-view illuminated the land of Madinah, and the minds and souls of its people, than the Islamization of the courtyard function got under way. The Prophet (pbuh) is not reported to have had a courtyard per se, but the house of his Egyptian slave-girl (surriyyah) Mariya, the mother of his son Ibrahim, is said to have been positioned in the midst of gardens on the eastern side of Madinah. Next to the house he had a loggia or terrace where he used to sit during summer. The Prophet (pbuh) was very much fond of walking and relaxing in gardens, such as in that which belonged to the companion Abu Talhah called Bairuha. Once he visited the garden of one of his companions Jabir b. Abdullah where he ate of ripe fresh dates. Next, he asked for a bed to be spread out for him in a hut in the garden, whereupon he entered it and enjoyed a nap.
5. Some of the Prophet’s disapproving traditions on building
There are several traditions (hadiths) of the Prophet (PBUH) in which he appears to have demeaned and condemned the building enterprise. He did it in different situations and in no ambiguous terms. Although the authenticity of some of those traditions can be easily questioned, yet the sheer quantity of the Prophet’s utterances and deeds concerning the subject matter and the variety of contexts in which they have been executed, plus a few traditions which are reasonably authentic and the Prophet’s overall ascetic outlook on building and that of a majority of his companions, all this grant a sufficient credibility to the messages behind the traditions in questions, provided they are properly grasped and understood. The messages must be carefully dealt with and applied, and the circumstances in which they have been conveyed must be properly conceptualized.
Those traditions are as follows:
1. “Every building is a misfortune for its owner, except what cannot, except what cannot, meaning except that which is essential.” The Prophet (PBUH) uttered these words in the following situation. Narrated Anas ibn Malik: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) came out, and on seeing a high-domed building, he said: “What is it?” His companions replied to him: “It belongs to so and so, one of the Ansar.” The narrator said that the Prophet (PBUH) said nothing but kept the matter in mind. When its owner came and gave him a greeting among the people, he turned away from him. When he had done this several times, the man realized that he was the cause of the anger and the rebuff. So he complained about it to his companions, saying: “I swear by Allah that I cannot understand the Messenger of Allah (PBUH).” They said: “He went out and saw your domed building.” So the man returned to it and demolished it, leveling it to the ground. One day the Prophet (PBUH) came out and did not see it. He asked: “What has happened to the domed building?” They replied: “Its owner complained to us about your rebuff, and when we informed him about it, he demolished it.” Then the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Every building is a misfortune for its owner, except what cannot, except what cannot, meaning except that which is essential.”
2. “When God intends bad for a servant of His, He (as a mode of punishment) makes handling or molding bricks and the soil to be easy for him so that he could build.”
3. “When God intends humiliation for a servant of His, He (as a mode of punishment) makes him spend his wealth on making buildings.”
4. “He who builds more than what is sufficient for him, will be asked on the Day of Judgment to carry the extra of what he had built.”
5. The Prophet’s uncle al-‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Mutallib once built a compartment, however, the Prophet (pbuh) asked him to demolish it. When he asked if it is better for him to demolish it or to give it away as charity, the Prophet (PBUH) told him: “Demolish it.”
6. “Every act of kindness is a form charity. Whatever a person spends on his family is written for him as charity. Whatever a person does to safeguard his honor is written for him as charity. Whatever a person spends, if he leaves it to (if he does it for) God, God is the Guarantor, except for building and wrongdoing.”
7. “All wealth that is spent is for the sake of God, except (wealth spent for) building. In it, there is no good.”
8. “When a person raises a building more than seven cubits (3.5 m), he is called out: ‘O the most immoral one, where to…?”
9. ‘Atiyyah b. Qays reported that the main building material in the houses of the Prophet’s wives were date-palm branches. When once the Prophet (pbuh) went off for a military expedition, Umm Salamah, one of the Prophet’s wives who was wealthy, replaced date-palm branches with bricks. When the Prophet (PBUH) returned, he asked: “What is this?” She replied: “I wanted to protect myself against the people peeping at me.” At that, notably without asking Umm Salamah to pull down what she had built, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “O Umm Salamah, the worst thing for which the wealth of a believer could be spent is building.”
10. “…The Day of Judgment will not come to pass till people start competing in erecting high buildings…”
However, these and other similar traditions of the Prophet (PBUH), some of which are authentic and some of which are seriously questionable, do not represent his total or actual view of building. The Prophet (PBUH) did not regard building as intrinsically wrong. These traditions are conditional. They are meant for those building activities that are superfluous or are meant for a proliferation and competition rooted in bragging, showing off, materialism and jealousy. They are meant for building activities that are based on intentions and goals that go against the spirit of the Islamic message. They are meant for those building activities that are bound to bring their executors more harm than benefits.
This principle applies not only to all the types of building activities but also to all actions of men. It is for this, certainly, that people’s actions are judged solely on the basis of their intentions, as said by the Prophet (PBUH). A deed that stems from a wrong intention is always wrong no matter how it is presented or seemed on the exterior. In Islam, neither the end nor the means could vindicate a bad intention. For example, during the Prophet’s time, the hypocrites of Madinah built a mosque in Quba’, a suburb in Madinah, which the Qur’an refers to as the “Mosque of Mischief”, pretending to advance Islam but in reality they intended to cause harm to the Muslim nascent society and to break it up. However, God instructed the Prophet (pbuh) to destroy the mosque before it started to malfunction, confuse and mislead the people. The mosque was destroyed and a garbage site was created on its ruins. The Qur’an reveals on this: “And there are those who put up a mosque by way of mischief and infidelity – to disunite the Believers – and in preparation for one who warred against Allah and his Messenger aforetime. They will indeed swear that their intention is nothing but good; but Allah declares that they are certainly liars.” (Al-Tawbah, 107-108)
The benefits of legitimately erected buildings are to be maximized by all means. They are not to be diminished or obstructed by associating with buildings some damaging perceptions and functions. One’s wealth constitutes a major portion of what one has been assigned from this fleeting world, which is to be meticulously managed for the benefits of both worlds. Both wealth and built environment are to be perceived only as means; neither one represents an end in itself. If one possesses a positive perception about wealth and the notion of creating buildings, which, in fact, reflects one’s positive total worldview, one is then able to recognize that whatever wealth he has been granted is sufficient for him. He will, furthermore, easily understand how much and what type of built environment he needs so that the execution of his divinely inspired life engagements is supported and facilitated. Hence, a believer will always be content with unassuming buildings, above all if they are private ones, thus allowing him to make use of his wealth for some other wholesome purposes, both personal and communal. This way, restraining the tendencies towards the crimes of wastefulness, greed, jealousy, ill feeling, haughtiness, and so forth, in a person will become a much easier proposition. It goes without saying, therefore, that the biggest fault, as well loss, is that one exhausts all the resources and amenities that God has bestowed upon him for the momentary joy and pleasures of this world, while procuring nothing, or very little, for the Hereafter. Definitely, true believers are immune to this agonizing scenario.
Moreover, if superficially studied and wrongly understood, the implications of some of the mentioned traditions plainly contradict the mainstream practices of the Prophet (pbuh) and the practices of his companions and those who came afterwards. As they contradict the total body of the Islamic value system, which is unacceptable. This is an important thing because it is commonly accepted as an Islamic tenet that the Muslim community shall under no circumstances agree on an error. One of the Prophet’s companions, ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud, is reported to have said: “What Muslims end up regarding as a propriety, God too regards it that way; likewise, what they end up regarding as a sin, God too regards it as such.”
Without doubt, no Muslim, including the Prophet (PBUH), ever viewed building as an inherently wicked domain. On the contrary, every true Muslim, including the Prophet (PBUH), regarded building as an inevitable and if properly construed and applied a potentially useful thing. No civilized life on earth can be imagined without a built environment, and no fulfillment of man’s most noble purpose on earth without it would ever be possible. Just like many other life’s pursuits should building be regarded: challenging and tricky but innately innocent and susceptible to becoming either bad or good depending on how and for what reasons they are taken up. Hence, the mentioned traditions are to be examined against the backdrop of the contexts in which they have been presented, of the person or the persons who were the main protagonists in those contexts, of the Prophet’s linguistic styles, of the Prophet’s specific intentions and objectives, if it is possible to be ascertained, due to which he might have wanted to say something particular for a particular person and in a particular situation, and most importantly, against the backdrop of the general and universally agreed upon body of Islamic teachings and values and the words and deeds of the Prophet (PBUH).
In his book “Deterrents from Committing Big Sins”, Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad b. Hajar al-Haythami categorized building beyond one’s needs and in response to some other serious transgressions as the two hundred and eleventh (211th) big sin (kabirah). His argument is that although creating needed buildings is necessary and invited, the building activity can be adulterated with a number of major vices which renders it a big sin itself. The Prophet’s well-recorded reactions to such acts unequivocally indicate that he viewed them on a par with the other big sins. As a support for his thesis, Abu al-‘Abbas Ahmad b. Hajar al-Haythami quotes most of the Prophet’s traditions mentioned above.
• The Prophet’s mosque as an epitome of the Prophet’s contribution to the evolution of the identity of Islamic architecture
When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) arrived in Madinah from Makkah, the first task relating to the built environment that he embarked on fulfilling was building the city’s central mosque also called the Prophet’s mosque. When completed, the form of the mosque was extremely simple. It consisted of an enclosure with walls made of mud bricks and an arcade on the qiblah side (towards Makkah) made of palm-trunks used as columns to support a roof of palm-leaves and mud. There were initially three entrances that pierced the east, west and southern walls. The fourth, i.e., northern, wall was the qiblah side facing the al-Masjid al-Aqsa – the first qiblah that lasted about one year and a few months. However, as the qiblah was changed to face south towards Makkah, the southern entrance was subsequently bricked up and a new one on the northern side pierced. Before the qiblah change there was, in all likelihood, no roofed area in the mosque, but after the change an arcade on the southern side facing Makkah was created. There was no decoration of any kind within or without the mosque.
The following is a standard description of the Prophet’s mosque as given by most scholars: “In the construction method a stone foundation was laid to a depth of three cubits (about 1.50 meters). On top of that adobe, walls 75 cm. wide were built. Erecting palm trunks shaded the mosque and wooden cross beams covered with palm leaves and stalks. On the qiblah direction, there were three porticoes, each portico had six pillars. On the rear part of the mosque, there was a shade, where the homeless Muhajireen took refuge. The height of the roof of the mosque was equal to the height of a man, i.e. about 3.5 cubits (about 1.75 meters).”
It must be mentioned, however, that the notion of the mosque (masjid) was not instituted, nor were the mosques built, until the envisaged roles and position of the mosque institution in the forthcoming broad-spectrum development of the Muslim community were implanted into the hearts and minds of its custodians and users. The whole of the Prophet’s mission in Makkah, prior to the migration to Madinah where the first self-governing Muslim community was established, is to be seen in this light. That is to say, the Makkah period is to be seen as the laying of a foundation, as well as the setting up of a conceptual framework, for the Madinah period where the first physical manifestations of Islamic culture and civilization came to pass. Hence, using the following words Allah describes the Quba’ mosque and its patrons, the mosque which the Prophet (PBUH) had built in a suburb of Madinah while on the way from Makkah: “…There is a mosque whose foundation was laid from the first day on piety; it is more worthy of thy standing forth (for prayer) therein. In it are men who love to be purified; and Allah loves those who make themselves pure.” (Al-Tawbah, 108)
Notwithstanding its unpretentious and rudimentary structure, the Prophet’s mosque from the very first day served as a real community center quickly evolving into a multifunctional complex. It was meant not only for performing prayers at formally appointed times but also for many other religious, social, political and administrative functions. The main roles performed by the mosque were as follows: a center for congregational worship practices, a learning center, the seat of the Prophet’s government, a welfare and charity center, a detention and rehabilitation center, a place for medical treatment and nursing, and a place for some leisure activities.
If truth be told, the Prophet’s mosque was the nerve-center of the wide spectrum of the activities and aspirations of the fast emerging Muslim Ummah. The impact of the mosque complex on the development of Madinah was such that the core of the city eventually grew to be just about ring-shaped centering round the complex. Thus, the standard was set for every future Muslim city in terms of the role of its principal mosque(s), as well as its position vis-à-vis the rest of the city spatial components.
So eventful and bustling with life was the Prophet’s mosque that after several years of existence it started to show signs that it could no longer comfortably accommodate the ever-growing number of worshipers, especially on Fridays. It therefore had to be enlarged, which the Prophet (PBUH) did following the conquest of Khaybar in the 7th year after the Hijrah. At first the mosque measured about 35 m X 35 m. After the enlargement, it measured about 50 m X 50 m.
At the outset, the Prophet’s mosque was very simple because its initial roles were simple, and the mosque’s roles were simple because the Muslim community in Madinah was in its infancy slowly growing and its undertakings gradually expanding. In architecture, the three elements: people’s needs, the function and form, are inseparable, interlaced and in the same order they call for each other. However, as the people’s engagements and so their requirements were increasing, the functions of the mosque were multiplying in turn calling for some noteworthy improvements in the mosque’s original austere form. Thus, during the Prophet’s time his mosque evolved from a simple roofless and plain enclosure to a complex institution that featured, among other factors, a roofed section, a pavement outside one of its entrances, a minbar (pulpit) and a dakkah or dukkan (seat, bench) for communication purposes, lamps as a means for lighting up the mosque, several compartments that facilitated the various social functions of the mosque, a person or persons whose job was to keep the mosque clean, and so forth.
Because the Prophet’s mosque was the center of gravity in the wide-ranging affairs of the ever-expanding Muslim community in Madinah, its strength and stature epitomized the strength and stature of Islam and the Muslims. The mosque seemed to be accommodative of every beneficial activity concerning worship (‘ibadah), education, politics, economy, security and social relations that were able to help the nascent and ambitious society make some civilization headway. The Prophet’s mosque was the microcosm of the Muslim society in Madinah and its struggle. Thus, it would be appropriate to say that talking about the Prophet’s mosque during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) is to talk about the people who instituted and then made the most of it. In the same vein, to talk about the stages which the mosque institution went through during the Madinah period of the Prophet’s mission is to talk about the stages which the Muslim community and with it the Muslim mentality and spirituality went through.
While exemplifying the strength and eminence of Islam and the Muslims, the evolution of the Prophet’s mosque exemplified in no less remarkable terms the Prophet’s contributions to the evolution of the identity of Islamic architecture too. In fact, the origins of all the major principles of Islamic architecture can be traced back to the Prophet (pbuh) and his experiences while advancing the position of his mosque in Madinah from a simple unroofed enclosure to a multifunctional community development center. Such principles that are generally the principles of Islamic architecture could be summarized in the following:
1) Function-form relationship
2) Respect for the environment
4) Comprehensive excellence
5) Promoting just social interactions
6) “La darar wa la dirar” (There is no inflicting or returning of harm)
7) Indigenous versus foreign influences
1. Function-form relationship
The functions of buildings are to be optimized. Being at complete service to people, who are their users, is what buildings are created for. As a result of this principle, the Prophet’s mosque eventually evolved into a multifunctional community center catering to the spiritual, social, educational and political needs of the nascent but dynamic Muslim community.
Function is more important than the form. The role of the form is a supportive and complementing one to the functions of buildings. Thus, it is inappropriate that people get obsessed with the sheer form of buildings and treat it in isolation from the requisites of the functions and purposes of buildings. According to an incident, some Prophet’s companions from the ranks of the Helpers brought one day a considerable amount of money to the Prophet (PBUH) telling him: “How long shall we pray under these palm-leaves (referring to the simple conditions in the Prophet’s mosque)? Take this, build and adorn the mosque (zayyinhu) (that is to say, improve its physical condition).” The Prophet (pbuh) did not reprimand them and their proposal but retorted: “I have no intention to differ from my brother Musa (Moses); an arbor like the arbor of Musa”. The arbor of the prophet Musa is said to have been so low that he could touch the roof if he raised his hand. Or when he stood up, his head could touch it, as reported in another account.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the form in buildings, especially if the form is justifiable on the strength of the functions and purposes of buildings. If such is not the case, however, it is only then that the form becomes inappropriate. Whenever a genuine need called for improving the physical appearance of his mosque, such as in the cases of roofing the mosque, paving a section outside one of the mosque’s entrances, creating a minbar (pulpit) and a dakkah or dukkan (seat, bench), providing lamps, enlarging the mosque, and so on, the Prophet (pbuh) was very supportive. He never hesitated for a moment to sanction such initiatives that, in fact, were meant to facilitate the functions of the mosque and to help it realize its objectives. The mosque’s performance depended on such initiatives.
Let us now refer to the circumstances in which the introduction of the minbar (pulpit), the dakkah or dukkan (seat, bench), the roof and the lamps to the mosque’s fabric took place, and how the Prophet (PBUH) had reacted to them.
Firstly: the Prophet (PBUH) is said to have been delivering his addresses in his mosque leaning against a palm-tree, or a palm-trunk fixed in the ground. However, after the number of Muslims had grown, it became difficult for everyone to see and hear properly the Prophet (PBUH). The matter was compounded by the wish of the Prophet (pbuh) to have something to sit on in case he gets tired of standing while speaking. It was thus suggested to him to allow a pulpit (minbar) to be made and then placed in the mosque to which he, after consulting his nearest companions, consented. The minbar was like a chair consisting of three steps. On the third and the last the Prophet (PBUH) used to sit, keeping his feet on the second.
Secondly: in view of the Prophet’s mosque having been the seat of the Prophet’s government, messengers representing external tribes and communities would normally go straight away to the mosque finding most of the time the Prophet (PBUH) therein with his companions engrossed in a beneficial pursuit. However, the Prophet (PBUH) was so similar to others in both apparel and demeanor that strangers would as a rule find it quite difficult to recognize him. Thus, they had to ask some Prophet’s companions who the Prophet (PBUH) actually was. In order to avoid this inconvenience, some companions suggested that a dukkah or dukkan (seat, bench) be made in the mosque on which the Prophet (pbuh) would sit in public assemblies flanked by his companions. The proposal was consented to and a seat of clay slightly raised of the ground was built. The pillar that later stood there is called the Pillar of Delegations.
Thirdly: as said earlier, at the very beginning no section of the Prophet’s mosque was roofed. But after sometime, when the people complained about hot weather and to what extent it troubled them in prayers, a roof of palm-leaves supported by palm-trunks as columns on the qiblah side was built. Mud was later added so as to mitigate rain dripping onto the ground of the mosque. Certainly, rain too, especially during the cold season, contributed to the introduction of a solid roof so that its negative effects could be reduced. A companion Abu Sa’id al-Khudri once described the initial conditions of the mosque – most probably when it had only a simple roof of the branches of date-palms before mud was added to it, and before the mosque ground was strewn with pebbles: “A cloud came and it rained till the roof started leaking, and in those days the roof used to be of the branches of date-palms. Iqamah (signaling the beginning of prayer) was pronounced and I saw the Prophet (pbuh) prostrating in water and mud and even I saw the mark of mud on his forehead.”
Fourthly: originally the people used to light up the mosque by burning up fronds. Only sometime later lamps were introduced. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported that a companion called Tamim al-Dari was the first who lit up the mosque with lamps. The Prophet (PBUH) was delighted and his comment was: “You have lit up Islam, may Allah light up both this world and Hereafter for you.”
2. Respect for the environment
In architecture, utmost respect for the environment must be displayed. The way architecture is conceived, created and used must confirm that there is a peaceful coexistence between people and the environment, and between the realms of natural and built environments. Architecture must be an environment conscious enterprise, realizing and then inviting and accommodating nature’s advantages and also realizing and then repelling its disadvantages. In other words, architecture must be sustainable.
At the very outset of the mosque building process, the Prophet (PBUH) taught his companions a lesson in sustainable use of the environment. In a place earmarked for building the Prophet’s mosque there were graves of some pagans, and there were some date-palm trees in it. The Prophet (PBUH) ordered that the graves of the pagans be dug out and the unleveled land be leveled and the trees be cut down. The cut date-palm trees were not wasted. Rather, they were later reused as an alignment towards the qiblah of the mosque forming a wall.
We have already said that at first when delivering his addresses (khutbah) in the mosque the Prophet (PBUH) used to lean against a tree absorbed by building or just a palm-trunk fixed in the ground. However, some time later, he got a pulpit (minbar). On the first occasion when the Prophet (PBUH) resorted to the pulpit abandoning the palm-trunk, the latter yearned and even cried like an infant because it was sad and it missed the Prophet (PBUH) knowing that he does not need it anymore. Next, the Prophet (PBUH) descended from the pulpit, came to the trunk and rubbed it with his hands till the tree stopped crying. The trunk (tree) stayed where it was until the mosque was rebuilt and enlarged by the third caliph Uthman b. ‘Affan when it was either buried somewhere in the mosque proper or was taken away by the Prophet’s companion Ubayy b. Ka’b. The latter kept the trunk (tree) with him until woodworms ate it.
Also, at first, the ground of the mosque was bare. However, one night it profusely rained and the ground became too wet to be prostrated onto. As a result, some people brought along some pebbles to overcome the problem. After a prayer, having seen what some of his companions had done, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “This is a very good idea.” Afterwards, the whole area of the mosque was strewn with pebbles.
Strewing the mosque ground with pebbles proved very advantageous as pebbles allowed rainwater to go through to the ground and once absorbed by it no muddy areas could thus be created inside the mosque. During dry spells, on the other hand, the ground without pebbles would have been rendered dusty and occasionally unpleasant for the mosque ambiance, as dust could be easily stirred and made fill the air. Since the mosque ground was covered with pebbles, it took a longer time to dry out after rain, or after any ground watering exercise, thus allowing for longer evaporation and cooling of the surface. In the winter, no matter how uncomfortably cold pebbles might have been, yet the condition was by far better than the one generated by bare and frequently wet ground. Also, the presence of pebbles was very helpful because generally some of the thermal qualities of many stone types are that they have a high level of resistance and a low level of thermal conductivity.
Since cleanliness — be it the cleanliness of the body, dwelling places, courtyards, streets, markets, rivers and the whole surroundings — constitutes a branch of faith (iman) in Islam, as declared by the Prophet (PBUH), Islamic architecture must be known for typifying and promoting it. The Prophet (PBUH) was very much concerned about the cleanliness of the whole of the city-state of Madinah, in general, and about the cleanliness of his mosque in particular. He also said that Allah is clean and loves cleanliness. Some people at the commencement of the Prophet’s mosque’s existence have not been totally cleanliness-conscious needing some time to develop certain manners — they were most likely of those who have freshly entered the fold of the new religion. Among other things, they had a habit to spit and expectorate phlegm inside the mosque without doing away with it afterwards or covering it up. The Prophet (PBUH) disliked the habit very much but the matter needed to be cured gradually and with a great deal of wisdom and goodly counsel. Thus, he advised such as were prone to doing this that phlegm be scraped off and the place be overlaid with saffron or crocus (za’faran) or anything else which is pleasant and fragrant. The Prophet (PBUH) himself on a couple of occasions scraped off some people’s spits after having seen that they had been left behind. He would likewise shower with praises those who did the same. Towards this end is a hadith (tradition) wherein the Prophet (PBUH) has said that whoever does away with a disturbance from the mosque, God will build a house for him in Paradise (Jannah). In the mosque, there always was a plenty of water meant for the cleanliness of the mosque as well as its users.
An Abyssinian (Ethiopian) woman later took up the chore of looking after the cleanliness of the mosque (some believe it was a man, though). So high regard did the Prophet (PBUH) have for her that he told her one day that a double portion of reward awaits her. When she died, however, some people treated her affairs as of little account and buried her without informing the Prophet (PBUH). But on discovering that she was missing, he asked concerning her. When told what had happened, he replied that they should have informed him. Then, he asked to be shown her grave where he prayed to her.
4. Comprehensive excellence
Islamic architecture with all its aspects must embody the notion of comprehensive excellence because of it being prescribed on Muslims in all situations and in all of their undertakings. The spirit of excellence and striving for it must be felt at every stage and in every aspect of the process of creating buildings: from choosing a site and conceptualizing and making a design, over a selection of building materials and quality of work, to the final execution of buildings and the activation of their function as environment friendly, energy efficient and as that which their users exactly need. Excellence is to be a culture; it is not to be reduced to a mere slogan. Excellence is to be seen, not just talked.
Striving for excellence is what Allah loves and what Islamic cultures and civilization ought to be famous for. However, deliberate mediocrity, or that which stems from routine negligence or indolence, is what Allah loathes and what ought to be alien to genuine Islamic cultures and civilization. Due to its both conceptual and practical connotations, the significance of the concept of comprehensive excellence had to be advocated during the earliest stages of the process of the Madinah community building. And that was exactly what happened. Building his mosque as the first urban element in the course of urbanizing the city of Madinah, the Prophet (pbuh) used that opportunity to educate the Muslims on many issues including that of comprehensive excellence.
It is reported that a man from Hadramaut in the southern Arabian Peninsula in course of building the mosque was expertly treading clay for making bricks of which the mosque was built. On seeing him, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “May Allah have mercy upon him who excels in his profession.” And to the man he said: “Keep doing this job for I see that you excel in it.”
Another man from al-Yamamah in the eastern Arabian Peninsula reported that he came to the Prophet (PBUH) when he was building his mosque with his companions. However, he realized that the Prophet (PBUH) did not really like how the people worked. The man said that he then took a shovel to tread the clay and the Prophet (PBUH) seemed to have liked how he was doing the job. The Prophet (PBUH) then said: “Leave al-Hanafi (the man’s name) and the clay alone, for I see that he is the most competent among you to handle the clay.” In another account, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Bring al-Yamami (another name for the man) closer to the clay because he is the most excellent among you in handling it.” The Prophet (PBUH) is also said to have called the man “the proprietor or lord of the clay, sahib al-tin”.
5. Promoting just social interactions
Islamic architecture must promote and at the same time be a field of equitable social interactions. In this way, realizing some of the most prominent Islamic values and principles will be greatly aided. In this regard too is the Prophet (PBUH) the best example to get inspiration from. Strengthening fraternity among the Migrants (Muhajirs) from Makkah and Helpers (Ansar, the natives of Medina) was at all times one of the major aims of the Prophet’s actions, fully knowing that the future of Islam and the Muslim society in Madinah depended on the strength of the relationships between the two sides. His planning and development pursuits in Madinah, with the erection of his mosque more than anything else, therefore, aimed to foster constructive and fair social interactions. While building the mosque following the migration from Makkah ahead of anything else, building houses for the Migrants including the Prophet (PBUH) was consequentially for a time deferred. During that period — approximately six or seven months — the Migrants stayed together with the Helpers sharing everything with them. While staying together the two sides developed stronger and warmer relationships, which later proved its value time and gain while surmounting the challenges posed by the community-building mission. The Prophet (PBUH) himself stayed in the house of a companion Abu Ayyub al-Ansari till the mosque was completed.
While building the mosque, the Prophet (PBUH) and the people used to chant: “O God, no good except the good of the Hereafter, so have mercy upon the Migrants and Helpers!”
Some of the underlying societal qualities and features of Islam, such as commitment to the established cause, justice, equality and mutual understanding and cooperation, have been underlined as early as during the exercise of determining the site of the Prophet’s mosque and marking out its boundaries. At the earmarked location there was a walled piece of land that belonged to some people from the Banu al-Najjar clan. The Prophet (PBUH) sent to them and asked them to suggest to him the price of the land. They replied: “No! By Allah! We do not demand its price except from Allah.” The Prophet (PBUH) accepted the offer and the occurrence typified as well as inaugurated, so to speak, a new phase of the unreserved keenness of the first Muslims to sacrifice whatever they possessed for the cause of strengthening Islam and Muslims. Additionally, the mosque proper was about to expand into an area used for drying dates that belonged to two youths, both orphans, named Sahl and Suhayl. The Prophet (PBUH) asked them too to suggest to him the price of the place. However, when they said that they demand no price for it, the Prophet (PBUH) insisted that they tell the price, since they were orphans and possessed little. Eventually, he paid them ten golden dinars. The money was Abu Bakr’s.
It also should be noted that the mosque and with it the midpoint of the new urban marvel, Madinah, was positioned in an area between the old settlements — virtually in the middle of them — rather than either too far away from them or within the ambit of any of them. Thus, the message was disseminated that Islam favors no person and no group based on history, culture or socio-political and economic status and affiliation. Everyone will have a place in the forthcoming Madinah urbanization scheme, and everyone will be given an opportunity to make a contribution. Credits will be given to people only on the basis of their merit, good-consciousness and righteous contributions to society.
Since the mosque has been established on a relatively uninhibited land, a majority of the Migrants were honored to be able to settle near it. This way, justice has been done to them for all the services they had rendered earlier to the Islamic cause while in Makkah. As this also meant that the Migrants at the same time were encouraged to work hard and become self-reliant and start a life on their own as soon as they could, thus becoming an asset to the modest and nascent community rather than a liability. Had the mosque been constructed somewhere within the ambit of any of the existing settlements and the Migrants had to settle elsewhere, there would have existed a real possibility of marginalizing some of them in certain aspects, making thereby their plight all the more difficult and with it the solicited integration and adaptation an intricate task. In this case, their initial stay with the Helpers would have been undeniably prolonged as well and both their self-sufficiency and contribution to satisfying the socio-political and economic needs of the city would have been somewhat forestalled for sometime.
Nor were the Helpers held in contempt by not selecting the location of the mosque in any of their established settlements. The arrival of Islam and the Prophet (pbuh) in Madinah meant that each and every avenue to reviving the centuries-old and all-encompassing antagonism between the two major Arab tribes in Madinah: Aws and Khazraj must be forever obstructed. Doing a favor to either Aws or Khazraj, by positioning the mosque in the settlement of either side, for example, while neglecting the other side, could have been one of such avenues, given the fact that Faith was yet to conquer the hearts of many individuals from each of the Aws and Khazraj tribes. Certainly, not positioning the Prophet’s mosque in the ambit of either Aws or Khazraj was one of the most constructive moves that could have been made under the circumstances.
Once the mosque was built and the people started using it, the Prophet (PBUH) asserted that his mosque, and every other mosque, is socio-economic rank and status blind. Mosques belong to everybody. Everybody is equally entitled to them and their services. Favoring in a mosque a category of people on the basis of their socio-economic position at the expense of another category of people is unacceptable. Being societal institutions that embody the profundity and strength of Islam, Mosques are to inspire, monitor and oversee the rest of societal institutions insofar as realizing equitable social interactions is concerned.
6. “La darar wa la dirar” (There is no inflicting or returning of harm)
One of the most important Islamic principles in architecture and in built environment in general is the one highlighted in a hadith of the Prophet (PBUH): “There is no inflicting or returning of harm.” The message of the hadith is that everyone should exercise his full rights in what is rightfully his providing that the decisions/actions that one makes do not generate harm to others. Likewise, none shall return injury in case it has been inflicted on him, intentionally or otherwise. People are instead encouraged to share both their happiness and problems, care for each other, respect the rule of law and settle peacefully their disputes. This way, they will secure sound and friendly relations, as well as a healthy environment conducive to all kinds of constructive human engagements.
Being a field of human interactions and undertakings, it is paramount for architecture to embody in all of its segments the notions of safety and security. Surely, people’s physical, psychological and even spiritual well-being depends on how much conducive and constructive environments their architecture generates. If it said that a healthy mind resides in a healthy body, it likewise could be freely asserted that both a healthy body and mind reside in a healthy and safe built environment.
Islam not only guarantees its followers the right to freely and honorably lives and act, but also does everything to ensure that they enjoy a decent, healthy, peaceful, joyous, prosperous and quality life, contributing in the process to sustaining the welfare of mankind and the universe as a whole. In Islam, the concepts of equality, justice, righteousness and decency are universal and immutable, permeating and governing every aspect of human existence. Not in the slightest can anything thereof be compromised for whatever reason and by anybody. These are the rights God has ensured man under the aegis of His religion Islam, and they stand for some of the vital ingredients needed for the successful accomplishment of man’s vicegerency mission. Such are not the objectives of man’s life, as it always turns out to be following man’s abandonment of the heavenly guidance and direction.
It is because of this that the objectives of the Islamic Shari’ah, whose task is to regulate and guide people’s actions, are preserving and sustaining 1) religion, 2) self, 3) intellect, 4) descendents, and 5) wealth and resources. Hence, every religious injunction has been tailored in such a way as to enhance the well-being of man and his surroundings. In the same vein, nothing did Islam forbid except those things that are capable of harming man — directly or indirectly — or can impede his spiritual, cultural and civilization headway. Vices that defy this outlook on life are abhorrent most to Islam. These same objectives of Islam are to be the objectives of every civilization pursuit in Islam, including Islamic architecture. Every concept as well as sensory reality that is preceded by an adjective “Islamic” must identify its purpose and objectives with the heavenly purpose and objectives of Islam.
In many of his initiatives, while building and then enlivening his mosque, the Prophet (PBUH) promoted the significance of safety and security in the arena of building as a whole. Of those safety and security initiatives were: the Prophet’s lessons on peaceful coexistence with the environment, ensuring the highest standards of hygiene not only in the realm of the mosque but generally in all life’s departments, the Prophet’s concern about the needs and welfare of his companions to which the mosque significantly catered, the Prophet’s insistence that no unaccompanied children and madmen patronize the mosque, that the mosque be free from disputes and clashes, that swords are not to be brandished in it, and that even legitimate punishments are to be carried out in it. The Prophet (PBUH) went so far as to announce that no admittance to the mosque will be allowed for those who have eaten beforehand of either of the two plants: garlic and onion, so that their strong smell does not disturb those who could not withstand it.
Also, people were advised not to talk and recite their prayers loudly when inside the mosque and thus disturb the others. Furthermore, people were asked to cooperate with each other when it comes to maximum utilization of the mosque’s inner spaces. That some special attention has been given to public gatherings and the ways people should behave in them may be corroborated by the following Qur’anic verse: “O you who believe! When you are told to make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room: (ample) room will Allah provide for you. And when you are told to rise up, rise up: Allah will raise up, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge. And Allah is well-acquainted with all you do.” (Al-Mujadalah, 11)
The Prophet (PBUH) insisted that the mosques belong to everybody and that reserving certain places for certain people — like a camel that fixes its place — is not acceptable. The mosque was not allowed to be made a thoroughfare. When coming to and entering the mosque, the people were bidden to wear a sober, calm and dignified deportment. No running or scrambling was advised. One was not allowed to enter the mosque unconsciously, talking and laughing loosely, as if one was not aware of the place where he actually is. When coming to or leaving the mosque men and women were not to mingle freely in the road. They were asked to keep to different sides.
In other words, virtually everything that could generate any amount and any type of harm: physical, mental and even spiritual, were strictly forbidden in the mosque and elsewhere. Similarly, the initiatives that were able to bolster people’s overall wellbeing were encouraged and implemented. Hence, the ways buildings are designed and built must take utmost heed of the safety and security requirements. Once created and occupied, buildings are to serve as a place of maximum safety and protection from both nature and man generated hazards. Buildings are to serve as their occupants’ safe haven on earth.
7. Indigenous versus foreign influences
The Prophet’s mosque very much epitomized the nature of the Islamic message and the nature of Islamic civilization that was bound to stem from the former. The mosque promoted the notions of Islam’s finality and universality, as well as the notions of Islamic civilization’s universality and unity-in-diversity. The mosque was built not only as a communal place of worship but also in order to satisfy the growing needs of the Muslim community which the mosque was endorsing, facilitating their progress and further promoting their authenticity and worth. In other words, the mosque symbolized the message and struggle of Islam. Moreover, it symbolized the both sides of Islamic civilization: an absolute and thus constant, and a transient and thus fluctuating one.
Through its perception, philosophy, purpose and function, the mosque characterized the substance of Islam which is permanent and not subject to change, because it is based on permanent essential human nature and its needs, as well as on the permanent nature of the whole of existence and its needs. However, when it comes to inventing systems, regulations, views and attitudes so that people’s worldly life is duly comprehended and regulated in accordance with both the absolute substance of Islam and people’s different eras, regions and needs, it is there that the solutions and perceptions become transitory and fluctuate as they signify what people deduced from the fundamental principles and permanent values of life as their best practical solutions and answers.
As a result, the function of the mosque institution remains always the same, whereas its form changes, varies and evolves in response to the varieties of cultures, geographies and climates, and to the changes and developments in people’s socio-economic conditions. The form of the mosque institution is the physical locus of its functions. Hence, changes in the former are inevitable thus causing the mosques to function properly. Certainly, this principle applies not only to the mosque but also to all the other aspects of Islamic built environment. Since the changes in Islamic built environment are unavoidable and needed, innovations in the same field, it stands to reason, must be regarded as highly recommended and even obligatory in that the function of buildings depends on the appropriateness and effectiveness of their forms.
Having said this, the Prophet (PBUH) did not hesitate to add anything to the form of his mosque that could enhance its projected roles and stature. At the same time, however, he turned down those suggestions and prospects that could possibly get in the way of maximizing the performances of the mosque as the community development center, in both the spiritual and worldly sense of the term. While doing the former, that is, amplifying the mosque’s facilities so that its performances are enhanced, the Prophet (PBUH) was open not only to the indigenous resources, expertise and influences but also to the foreign ones including those from non-Islamic locales. We have already referred to the prominent roles played by two persons in the course of building the mosque: one from Hadramaut in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and the other from al-Yamamah in the eastern Arabian Peninsula, and how much the Prophet (PBUH) was delighted by their expertise.
When the oil lamps were introduced to the mosque for the sake of illuminating it at night, it should be pointed out that the lamps were brought by a companion called Tamim al-Dari from Syria which was a Christian land. The Prophet (pbuh) was so happy that he made a prayer for the man, and his servant who had set up the lamps in the mosque he named “Siraj”, which means “Light”.
Also, when the minbar or pulpit was introduced to the mosque’s fabric for communication purposes, it should be mentioned that the person responsible for making the minbar was, in all likelihood, again a companion Tamim al-Dari. While conversing with the Prophet (PBUH) about the issue, he clearly told him that he will make the minbar as he saw people in Syria making it. What inspired Tamim al-Dari to come up with the idea of the minbar and its design could well be a pulpit in a Syrian church. Yet, such was not a problem due to the universal appeal of Islam and its civilization, as well as due to Islam’s open-minded outlook on other people’s cultures and civilizations, with a sole condition that the foreign elements and influences do not collide with the worldview and law of Islam (Shari’ah), both outwardly and inwardly.
Towards this end, certainly, is the declaration of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that the people of stature and influence, or simply, the best ones (khiyarukum), during the time of ignorance (jahiliyyah), i.e., prior to the advent of Islam and prior to people’s acceptance of it, will remain the best with the best stature and influence after accepting Islam, provided they understood and adhered to it. In other words, people’s achievements, engagements, positions and ranks prior to Islam will not undergo dramatic changes after it as long as they do not entail elements that are at odds with the spirit and message of Islam, and as long as they make the objectives of Islam their own objectives and the objectives of their aspirations. What’s more, such people’s accomplishments, authority and social standings will be very much needed for the sake of championing and advancing the cause of Islam against its many challenges.
Without doubt, because of this nature of Islam and its attitude towards the cultural and civilization bequests of the world, customs (‘adat) and customary usage (‘urf) are regarded as a source of the rulings of the Islamic law (Shari’ah) where there are no explicit texts from neither the Qur’an nor the Prophet’s sunnah (tradition) specifying the rulings. It is also a requirement in making customs (‘adat) and customary usage (‘urf) a source of Shari’ah rulings that there are no contradictions between them and the contents of the Qur’an and Sunnah. About the meaning of custom and customary usage Muhammad Abu Zahrah said: “Custom is a matter on which a community of people agree in the course of their daily life, and common usage is an action which is repeatedly performed by individuals and communities. When a community makes a habit of doing something, it becomes its common usage. So the custom and common usage of a community share the same underlying idea even if what is understood by them differs slightly.”
And about the reasons why ‘adat and ‘urf are deemed the appropriate sources of Shari’ah, in absence of explicit texts from the Qur’an and Sunnah and when there are no conflicts between the ‘adat and ‘urf and the latter, Muhammad Abu Zahrah said: “Many judgments are based on ‘urf because in many cases it coincides with public interest… Another reason is that custom necessarily entails people’s familiarity with a matter, and so any judgment based on it will receive general acceptance whereas divergence from it will be liable to cause distress, which is disliked in the judgment of Islam because Allah Almighty has not imposed any hardship on people in His deen. Allah Almighty prescribes what normal people deem proper and are accustomed to, not what they dislike and hate. So when a custom is not a vice and is respected by people, honoring it will strengthen the bond which draws people together because it is connected to their traditions and social transactions whereas opposition to it will destroy that cohesion and bring about disunity.”
So strong is this source of Islamic Shari’ah that according to many Muslim jurists and most notably the Malikites, it makes the general specific and qualifies the unqualified. To what extent the three leading schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh): the Maliki, Hanafi and Shafi’i schools, accept ‘adat and ‘urf as a source of Islamic Shari’ah, Muhammad Abu Zahrah said: “Maliki fiqh, like Hanafi fiqh, makes use of custom and considers it a legal principle in respect of matters about which there is no definitive text. In fact it has an even deeper respect for custom than the Hanafi school since, as we have seen, public interest and general benefit are the foundation of Maliki fiqh in coming to decisions and there is no doubt that respect for a custom which contains no harm is one of the types of benefit. It is not valid for any faqih to leave it: indeed, it is obligatory to adopt it. We find that the Malikis abandon analogy when custom opposes it. Custom makes the general specific and qualifies the unqualified, as far as the Malikis are concerned. It appears that the Shafi’ites also takes custom into consideration when there is no text. If text dominates in its judgment because people are subject to and do it by way of familiarity and habit. Nothing can prevent them from adopting it except a prohibiting text. Where there is no prohibiting text, then it must be adopted. We find that Ibn Hajar stated that custom is acted on it when there is nothing in the custom contrary to a text.”
As a conclusion to this section on the validity, yet inevitability, of integration between indigenous and foreign influences in Islamic architecture, we shall quote Umar Faruq Abdullah who in his paper on Islam and cultural imperative elaborated on the Prophet’s attitude and the attitude of his companions towards the multifaceted cultural and civilization legacies of the world which they were set to inherit and weave its threads into a newly emerging all-inclusive and total Islamic culture and civilization: “The Prophet Muhammad and his Companions were not at war with the world’s cultures and ethnicities but entertained an honest, accommodating, and generally positive view of the broad social endowments of other peoples and places. The Prophet and his Companions did not look upon human culture in terms of black and white, nor did they drastically divide human societies into spheres of absolute good and absolute evil. Islam did not impose itself — neither among Arabs or non-Arabs — as an alien, culturally predatory worldview. Rather, the Prophetic message was, from the outset, based on the distinction between what was good, beneficial, and authentically human in other cultures, while seeking to alter only what was clearly detrimental. Prophetic law did not burn and obliterate what was distinctive about other peoples but sought instead to prune, nurture, and nourish, creating a positive Islamic synthesis.
Much of what became the Prophet’s sunnah (Prophetic model) was made up of acceptable pre–Islamic Arab cultural norms, and the principle of tolerating and accommodating such practices–among Arabs and non-Arabs alike in all their diversity–may be termed a supreme, overriding Prophetic sunnah. In this vein, the noted early jurist, Abu Yusuf, understood the recognition of good, local cultural norms as falling under the rubric of the sunnah. The fifteenth-century Granadan jurisprudent Ibn al-Mawaq articulated a similar outlook and stressed, for example, that it was not the purpose of Prophetic dress codes to impinge upon the cultural integrity of non-Arab Muslims, who were at liberty to develop or maintain their own distinctive dress within the broad parameters of the sacred law.
The Qur’an enjoined the Prophet Muhammad to adhere to people’s sound customs and usages and take them as a fundamental reference in legislation: “Accept (from people) what comes naturally [for them]. Command what is customarily [good]. And turn away from the ignorant (without responding in kind).” Ibn Attiyya, a renowned early Andalusian jurist and Qur’anic commentator, asserted that the verse not only upheld the sanctity of indigenous culture but granted sweeping validity to everything the human heart regards as sound and beneficial, as long as it is not clearly repudiated in the revealed law. For classical Islamic jurists in general, the verse was often cited as a major proof-text for the affirmation of sound cultural usage, and it was noted that what people generally deem as proper tends to be compatible with their nature and environment, serving essential needs and valid aspirations.”
At any rate, as a final remark, whatever can enrich culture, enhance civilization and bolster the wellbeing of people, barring any conflict with any of the Islamic principles and values as the precondition, Islam with its cultures and civilization warmly welcomes to its fold. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions were the best models to follow in this regard. In virtually all fields of their daily existence they did not hesitate to apply this Islamic principle, such as the fields of architecture, medicine, clothing, foodstuff, business, entertainment and art of war.
Satu Tanggapan to “Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islamic Architecture”
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