Promoting just social interactions
Islamic architecture must promote and at the same time be a field of equitable social interactions. In this way, realising some of the most prominent Islamic values and principles will be greatly aided. In this regard too is the Prophet (SAW) the best example to get inspiration from. Strengthening fraternity among the Migrants (Muhājirs) from Makkah and Helpers (Anṣār, 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 Madīnah depended on the strength of the relationship between the two sides. His planning and development pursuits in Madīnah, 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, building houses for the Migrants, including for the Prophet (SAW) himself, was 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 a stronger and warmer relationship, which later proved its value time and again while surmounting the challenges posed by the community. The Prophet (SAW) himself stayed in the house of a companion Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī till the mosque was completed.
While building the mosque, the Prophet (SAW) and the people used to chant, “O God, no good except the good of the Hereafter, so have mercy upon the Migrants and Helpers!” (Al-Samhūdī, 1997; p. 329).
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 Banū al-Najjār clan. The Prophet (SAW) sent for 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 (SAW) 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 (al-Bukhārī, 8: 420). Additionally, when the mosque proper was about to expand into an area used for drying dates which belonged to two youths, both orphans, named Sahl and Suhayl, the Prophet (SAW) asked them, too, to suggest to him the price of the place. However, when they said that they demanded no price for it, the Prophet (SAW) insisted that they name the price, since they were orphans and possessed little. Eventually, he paid them ten golden dinar. The money was Abū Bakr’s (Ibn Hishām, 1936).
It also should be noted that the mosque and with it the midpoint of the new urban marvel, Madīnah, 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 that Islam favours no person and no group, be it based on history, culture or socio-political and economic status and affiliation. Everyone would have a place in the forthcoming Madīnah urbanisation scheme, and everyone would be given an opportunity to make a contribution. Credit would be given to people only on the basis of their merit, god-consciousness and righteous contributions to society.
Since the mosque was established on a relatively uninhabited piece of land, the majority of the Migrants were honoured to be able to settle near it. This way, justice was done to them for all the services they had rendered earlier to the Islamic cause while in Makkah. 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 forestalled for sometime.
Nor were the Helpers held in contempt for not selecting the location of the mosque in any of their established settlements. The arrival of Islam and the Prophet (SAW) in Madīnah meant that each and every avenue to reviving the centuries-old and all-encompassing antagonism between the two major Arab tribes in Madīnah: the Aws and Khazraj was forever obstructed. Doing a favour to either the Aws or Khazraj, by positioning the mosque in the settlement of either side, could have triggered fresh antagonism, given the fact that faith was yet to conquer the hearts of many individuals from each of the two tribes. Certainly, not positioning the Prophet’s Mosque in the ambit of either the 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 (SAW) asserted that his mosque, and every other mosque, is blind to socio-economic rank and status. Mosques belong to everybody. Everybody is equally entitled to them and their services. Favouring a category of people in a mosque 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 there to inspire, monitor and oversee the rest of societal institutions insofar as realising equitable social interactions is concerned.
(The Prophet’s mosque today and some of its surrounding areas, seen from a nearby building. The size of today’s Prophet’s mosque, with all of its adjoining facilities and infrastructure, is approximately the size of what the core of the city of Madinah during the Prophet’s time was.)
“La ḍarar wa-lā ḍirār” (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 ḥadīth of the Prophet (SAW): “There is no inflicting or returning of harm” (Ibn Mājah, 14: 2331). The message of the ḥadīth is that everyone should exercise his full rights in what is rightfully his, provided that the decisions/actions that one makes do not generate harm to others (Besim, 1988). 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 their disputes peacefully. 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 wellbeing depends on how much of a conducive and constructive environments their architecture generates. If it is 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.
It is because of this that the objectives of the Islamic Sharī‘ah, whose task is to regulate and guide people’s actions, are preserving and sustaining 1) religion, 2) the self, 3) the intellect, 4) descendants, and 5) wealth and resources. Hence, every religious injunction has been tailored in such a way as to enhance the wellbeing of man and his surroundings. In the same vein, nothing did Islam forbid except those things which are capable of harming man – directly or indirectly – or can impede his spiritual, cultural and civilisational headway.
In many of his initiatives, while building and then enlivening his mosque, the Prophet (SAW) promoted the significance of safety and security in the arena of building as a whole. The 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 areas of life, 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 patronise 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 not to be carried out in it (Al-Samhūdī, 1997). The Prophet (SAW) went so far as to announce that those who have eaten beforehand of either garlic and onion will not be allowed admittance into the mosque, so that their strong smell does not disturb those who could not stand 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 came to maximum utilisation 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’ānic 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” (58: 11).
The Prophet (SAW) insisted that the mosques belong to everybody and that reserving certain places for certain people – like a camel which fixes its place – is not acceptable (Abū Dāwūd, 2: 861). 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 permitted. One was not allowed to enter the mosque unconsciously, talking and laughing loosely, as if one was not aware of the place where one actually was. 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 (Abū Dāwūd, 35: 5252).
In other words, virtually everything that could generate any amount and any type of harm – physical, mental and even spiritual – was 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 safety and security requirements such as these. Once created and occupied, buildings are to serve as a place of maximum safety and protection from both nature and man-made hazards. Buildings are to serve as the safe haven on earth for their occupants.