Dr Ahmad Sanusi Hassan
School of Housing, Building and Planning
Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia
 Tel: 60-4-653-2835; E-mail:


Health is one of the most important factors in Islam. Based on a translation from Surah Al-Baqarah (verse 222) (Note 1) “Truly, Allah loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves”. From a Hadith (translation) narrated by At-Tarmizi, Rasulullah said that nothing is more preferred by Allah subhanahuwataala other than health. Concern on healthcare by the local authority is emphasised since the glory of Islamic civilisation. According to Syrakoy and Athena (2007, 184), cities in the pre-modern Islamic world had equipped with hospitals. Hospital is known as ‘maristan’, (Note 2) which means places of administering the sick. The building was divided into different sections for men and women and housed a variety of medical specialities including surgery, ophthalmology, gynaecology and a pharmacy. This shows as evidence that health becomes an important factor in Islam, and the Muslims should acquire healthy body when fulfilling the religious orders (ibadah).


There are 5 Islamic laws of Obligation (Wajib), Desirability (Sunat), Simple Permissibility (Harus), Undesirability (Makruh) and Prohibition (Haram). These five laws are termed as Ahkam Khamsah. (Note 3) Regarding to the Syariah Laws on health, whatsoever act done by the Muslim in this world which could bring harm and cause illness to human beings, animals and unloving things (environment) is considered as sinful (haram). Therefore, design based on the Islamic Laws plays a crucial role in architecture. The architects must acquire the knowledge associated with health factors when designing the buildings so that they can design buildings which can boost healthy condition to the occupants. The good design will be able to hinder the occupants (and for the public users) from gaining illness and diseases. Knowledge about health associated with building design becomes a principal element in Islamic architecture. Acquiring this knowledge is compulsory (wajib) by the Muslim architects, and application of this knowledge will be rewarded in day’s afterlife (akhirat). Reward is also given for additional contributions (sunat) beyond the requirements because of creating something beneficial and good. If the building leads the occupants to unhealthy feeling, uncomfortable and illness condition, it is considered as sinful by the responsible Muslim architects. Due to this poor design, they are accounted as committed sin, and responsible to carry this offence in day’s afterlife.

Health Factors in Building Design

Health is commonly associated with comfort level. In architecture, comfort level can be achieved by application of passive and active design elements. In contrast to active design, passive design is sustainable to the social, cultural and environmental perspectives (Eben Saleh 1999; Abu-Ghazzeh 1997), which offers healthy condition, and the design does not rely on mechanical system (Moujalled, Cantin & Guarracino 2008). It uses resources from the natural surroundings which are associated with three basic natural elements – sun, wind and water. The presence of the sun, wind and water influences the geography of the region. The climate varies from one region to another depending on sunlight’s intensity, wind’s velocity and amount of rainwater, which give influences to environmental parameters – air-temperature, radiation, humidity and air-movement (Sekhar 1995). The purpose of the environmental oriented building design is to protect the occupants from direct sun’s heat, solar radiation and luminosity, rainwater leakages. The design can improve indoor air temperature and humidity, day lighting fixtures and air quality and hinder the presence of polluted substances like germs, bacteria and funguses. In case with the tropical region, the passive design elements focuses on natural lighting, rainwater discharge and wall openings.

Natural lighting

The purpose of design on natural lighting is to tackle the problem of solar heating and glare to the interior building from direct sunlight. Sun shading and indirect sunlight are two primary factors under natural lighting category. Design with excellent natural lighting or day lighting is important to gain the comfort level for healthy environment. The design with appropriate building orientation avoids problems of solar heating and direct sunlight (Moujalled, Cantin & Guarracino 2008). To gain comfort means to have efficient use of natural energy resources.

Sun shading

Providing shade from sunlight is necessary in tropical design. The purpose as noted by Binggeli (2003) is to avoid heats from sunlight to the building’s interior, and poor design will increase the indoor temperature. Direct sunlight penetrates sun’s (solar) heat with it, creating poor thermal comfort. The overheating indoor temperature causes uncomfortable to the occupants; as a result, this condition creates unhealthy indoor air environment. Direct sunlight exposure should be avoided in a warm and humid climate in a tropic; the design should integrate shading devices (Binggeli 2003) to gain passive cooling. Primary factors to achieve excellent sun shading are building orientation, roof shade, attached roof shade, screen louver and window louver. Without this roof shade, the building materials will expose to direct sunlight, which gain the sun’s heat. These building materials will reradiate the heats to the indoor area, and consequently this radiation increases the indoor temperature.

Indirect Sunlight

Design a building in a tropical country which uses indirect sunlight is necessary for efficient use of light energy. The concept of day lighting reduces the use of electric energy (Edwards & Torcellini 2002). The most unique way is to furnish diffused daylight into the building. This can be achieved by integrating sun shading devices as a part of the building design (Chella, Gentile & Zazzini 2007). These devices diffuse the direct sunlight to indirect sunlight into the building. Therefore this method limits the problem of luminosity. Building orientation, roof shade, attached roof shade, screen louver and window louver are primary factors to gain for indirect sunlight.

Rainwater Discharge

Discharging rainwater becomes a crucial factor because the rain is frequent. Peninsular Malaysia is one of the regions, which has the highest rainfalls in the world from the two annual monsoons, northeast and southwest monsoons (Robequain 1954). This region receives high annual rainfall at an average of 2500mm. Excellent building design will hinder problem of rainwater deflections and leakages to ensure the design for healthy environment.

Rainwater deflection

With frequent rain, the probability of rainwater deflection’s occurrences is high especially during torrential rains and when wind velocity is high. The roof works like a large umbrella as argued by the local architect Jimmy Lim (Powell 1993), and plays crucial role to ensure the rainwater discharged in efficient way to hinder the rainwater deflection from happening. Poor design will lead to rainwater penetration into the building and roof perimeters, which lead to fungous growth. Roof overhang, attached roof overhang, fascia board, screen louver and roof ridge board are important elements to block rainwater deflection from penetrating inside the building.

Rainwater leakages

Roof should have simplest design as possible that creates smooth rainwater flow from the roof discharged to the ground level. Design with roof form with complex roof ridges has high tendency of roof leakages. The rainwater will penetrated into the roof structures and then inside the building. The leakages cause dampness to the roof and building floor, which leads fungus growth, with germs and bacteria. The roof should work like a large single umbrella to hinder the building materials used in a construction of the building interiors from rainwater leakages and deflection. Simple pyramid roof form, roof overhangs and roof ridge board design are necessary for efficient rainwater discharged.

Wall Openings

Wall openings are crucial in tropical building design. These openings are doors, windows and their upper window openings, and roof window openings. The openings are for cross ventilation and stack effect for passive cooling of air temperature and humidity. In tropical region, high annual rainfall accelerates evaporation, which causes humidity. The vapour content has only a slight difference between day and night as well as throughout the year. The water vapour is normally from 19 to 24 grams per cubic metre which is twice that of England during the summer (Fisher 1964). Efficient indoor air ventilation creates ‘cross air movement and induced air flow’ reducing the air temperature and humidity level. This creates comfortable and healthy environment from sun’s heat and high humidity as well as removing funguses, bacteria and germs from the indoor building.

Cross air ventilation

Efficient natural ventilation is necessary for excellent indoor air quality by inducing outside fresh air into the indoor building. Maximum wall openings will maximise cross air ventilation. The openings allow an increase of indoor air speed (Moujalled, Cantin, Guarracino 2008). Wall openings like doors, windows and upper windows at the ground level, and windows at the roof levels are important factors for cross air ventilation. The purpose is to dilute the existing polluted indoor air. Poor air ventilation causes indoor air pollution in the building rated as sick building, unhealthy for occupancy (Allard, Santamouris, & Alvarez 1998). Brown and Deekay (2001, 182) argued that large wall openings with wind direction perpendicular to the openings (at its windward and leeward sides) has excellent cross air ventilation, creating high pressure at the inlet zone and low pressure at outlet zone (Melarango 1982, 321; & Stavrakakis, Zervas, Sarimveis & Markatos 2009). This air movement gives cooling effect to the indoor air temperature and humidity. With excellent design of cross air ventilation, it reduces the use of ceiling and wall fans.

Stack effect

Stack effect is upward and outward air flow due to induction of air pressure in the building. This condition occurs because the warm air is lighter that the cool air. The air pressure induces warm and polluted air to flow out through roof openings. As the warm air flow out, its absence is replaced by outdoor fresh cool air coming from the ground floor’s window and door openings. This air circulation ensures the building has comfortable and healthy indoor environment. According to Klote (1991), this excellent upward and outward air pressure occurs as the air intake outside the building is as minimised as possible while the indoor space has a height as great as possible. Similar to cross air ventilation, doors, windows and upper windows at the ground level, and windows at the roof levels are important wall openings to induce the stack effect.


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Note 1. Surah Al-Baqarah (verse 222), Al-Quran Al-Karim

Note 2. Māristān is an Arabic term meaning hospital which comes from the Persian word bimāristān.

Note 3. The Word Jurisprudence (Fiqh) in the Holy Qur’an and the Traditions by Martyr Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari from sourced by Dr Nizam bin Sahad, lecturer of Islamic Studies Department of School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

* Pahala means good and rewarding points which will be accumulated by Allah S.W.T for every good deed done by us.

** Dosa means bad and punishing points which will be accumulated by Allah S.W.T for every forbidden and bad deed done by us.

Note 4. Islamic calendar

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