Some Lessons From Prophet Muhammad (SAW) In Architecture: The Prophet’s Mosque In Madinah


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia


This paper discusses some lessons in architecture that can be gleaned using the Prophet’s Mosque in Madīnah as a case study. The paper deals with the following main themes: the meaning and significance of Islamic architecture; function–form relationship; respect for the environment; cleanliness; comprehensive excellence; promoting just social interactions; safety; and the relationship between the indigenous and foreign influences in the spheres of Islamic architecture. Every theme discussed signifies a permanent feature of Islamic architecture which derives its strength and merit from the Prophet’s experiences. Hence, a close analogy is always drawn in the paper between those architectural features and the Prophet.


Keywords: Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Madīnah, the Prophet’s mosque, Islamic architecture


Introduction: what is Islamic architecture?

Islamic architecture is architecture whose functions and, to a lesser extent, form, are inspired primarily by Islam. Islamic architecture is a framework for the implementation of Islam. It facilitates, fosters and stimulates the ‘ibādah (worship) activities of Muslims, which, in turn, account for every moment of their earthly lives. Islamic architecture only can come into existence under the aegis of the Islamic perceptions of God, man, nature, life, death and the Hereafter. Thus, Islamic architecture would include not only the facilities but at the same time would be a physical locus of the actualisation of the Islamic message. Practically, Islamic architecture represents the religion of Islam that has been translated into reality in the hands of Muslims. It also represents the identity of Islamic culture and civilisation.

Ibn Abdun, an Andalusian judge from the 12th century, is reported to have said, as quoted by Bianca (2000): “As far as architecture is concerned, it is the haven where man’s spirit, soul and body find refuge and shelter.” (p. 22). In other words, architecture is a container of people’s lives.

Also, Ibn Qutaybah, a Muslim scholar of the 9th century, compared the house, as quoted by Bahnassi (2003), to a shirt, saying that just as the shirt should fit its owner, the house too should suit its dwellers. That is to say, the aesthetic and utilitarian ends of the house must correspond to the needs and capabilities of its users. The two must perfectly suit each other.

Central to Islamic architecture is function with all of its dimensions: corporeal, cerebral and spiritual. The form, divorced from function, is inconsequential. This, however, by no means implies that the form plays no role in Islamic architecture. It does play a prominent role, but its relevance is a supportive one supplementing and enhancing function. The form is important but in terms of value and substance it always comes second to function with its wide scope. There must exist the closest relationship between the ideals that underpin the form of buildings and the ideals that underpin their function, with which the users of buildings must be at ease. A rift or conflict between the two is bound to lead to a conflict of some far-reaching psychological proportions in the users of the building. Therefore, the roles of form are equivalent to the roles of function.

Islamic architecture promotes unity in diversity, that is, the unity of message and purpose, and the diversity of styles, methods and solutions. Certainly, this is what renders Islamic architecture so relevant and dynamic, and so consistent and adaptable. It is such a fascinating subject to study, for doing so is not about sheer art and architecture. It is more than that: it is about beholding the Islamic ideology and creed at work. It is about witnessing a microcosm of Islamic society, civilisation and culture. Islamic architecture is about Islam in a manifest form.

The identity and vocabulary of Islamic architecture evolved as a means for the fulfilment of concerns of Muslim societies. Islamic architecture was never an end in itself. It was the vessel of Islamic culture and civilisation, reflecting the cultural identity and the level of creative and aesthetic consciousness of Muslims. Architecture, in general, should always be of service to people. It is never to be the other way round, that is to say that architecture should not evolve into a hobby or an adventure, and in the process impose itself on society while forsaking, or taking lightly, people’s identities, cultures and the demands of their daily struggles. Architecture, first and foremost, should remain associated with functionality. It should not deviate from its authentic character and stray into the world of excessive invention and abstraction (Bianca, 2000).

Frazer, as reported by Beg (1981), said about the fundamental nature of Islamic architecture: “The architecture of Islam is the expression of a religion and its view of the world rather than that of a particular people or political or economic system” (p. 16).

Burckhardt (1976) wrote that it is not surprising, nor strange, that the most outward manifestation of Islam as a religion and civilisation reflects in its own fashion what is most inward in it. The same author further remarked, “If one were to reply to the question ‘what is Islam?’ by simply pointing to one of the masterpieces of Islamic art such as, for example, the Mosque of Cordova, or that of Ibn Tulūn in Cairo, or one of the madrasahs in Samarqand….that reply, summary as it is, would be nonetheless valid, for the art of Islam expresses what its name indicates, and it does so without ambiguity.” (p. 1).



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