Man and Environment in Islam: Implications for Islamic Architecture

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer

Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design

International Islamic University Malaysia

E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

The skyline of the city of Lahore, Pakistan

The skyline of the city of Lahore, Pakistan

Introduction: The significance of the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture

 

The issues that form the cornerstones of the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture, by and large, are: tawhid (the idea of God’s Oneness), man as the vicegerent (khalifah) on earth and his relationship with environment, comprehensive excellence (ihsan or itqan), and Islam as the final and universal revelation to mankind. This conceptual framework renders Islamic architecture such a unique subject and vastly different from other architectural expressions and schools.

Studying the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture, which due to its anchoring on some of the most important Islamic tenets constitutes a foremost segment of the Islamic worldview, is vital. This is so for two chief reasons.

Firstly, by knowing and absorbing the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture, Muslim architects, and practitioners in built environment in general, will possess a solid base on which restoring and advancing the phenomenon of Islamic architecture will be easily and confidently established. If the tenets on which the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture rests, permeate an architect’s or an engineer’s thinking and behaving paradigms, the total behavior that originates from such a mentality is bound to be in agreement with Islamic values and belief system. An architecture that stems from such a mentality is bound to be genuinely Islamic too. And when it comes into existence, it does so spontaneously, unassumingly and sincerely, fitting perfectly into the matrix of Muslim life activities. It does so without any ado during the process of its conceiving and execution, without any ambiguities or confusion in its substance and function, and without any superficialities, peculiarities and showiness in its style and appearance.

 

Secondly, if Muslim architects, builders, engineers and even users are unfamiliar with and do not adhere to the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture, another alternatives will be sought instead. Such alternatives, surely, will be alien to and thus incompatible with the Islamic ethos and teachings. Some alternatives will be more incompatible and others less, but seldom will there be an alternative that will be fully harmonious with Islam and its worldview. This is so because no human action, let alone a living system, that is completely devoid of a philosophy or an ideology which clearly delineates one’s view of the world and all its constituents: life and its purpose, death, natural environment, man and his mission, time, space, history, and of course God and His relationship with man and the whole of universe. So therefore, if Muslim architects do not possess the Islamic worldview or ideology, another one will inevitably creep in, knowingly or unknowingly, and will hold sway over their thoughts and deeds. At the end, and in one of better scenarios, this will result in failed attempts towards reconciling the adopted worldviews and ideologies with Islam and its own philosophy and value system to which those architects will still be subscribing. However, an exercise of synthesizing Islam and some foreign and in most cases man-made worldviews and philosophies of life is a doomed task because such a synthesis is impossible in both theory and practice. That, as a result, might lead to as far as confusion, lack of confidence, dangerous compromises, laxity in religion, repulsion and even irreverence in Muslim architects’ mind which, in turn, will be extended onto the realm of built environment and will thus perilously affect both the mind and behavioral patterns of its users. The worst and most painful scenario that may result from this circumstance will be that Islam is discarded completely in favor of, or that it is made clearly inferior to, the adopted man-generated worldviews and ideologies. Unfortunately, many of today’s Muslim professionals in built environment suffer from both the maladies.

The concept of man and his relationship with his natural surroundings – in addition to the idea of Tawhid (the unity and Oneness of God) – signify the most important dimension of the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture. That is the focus of this paper.

 

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