Striking a Balance between Privacy and Guest Hospitality in the Muslim house: a case of the Katsina urban Hausa traditional house

Striking a Balance between Privacy and Guest Hospitality in the Muslim house: a case of the Katsina urban Hausa traditional house

Dr. Babangida Hamza

Department of Architectural Technology, Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Dutsin-ma Road, Katsina

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It has been argued that privacy provision for the family in a house affects the specifics of the house, spatial provision and quality in a Muslim house affects family privacy and that space and enclosures in a house are key determinants of the level of privacy. This paper examined the conception of hospitality and privacy in Islam and how a balance was achieved between the two in a Hausa traditional house through spatial organization. The paper identified visual and acoustics aspects of privacy that affect the womenfolk in the house, and relates them to the various spatial configurations employed to achieve them at various levels. Methodology employed for the study includes floor plan documentation, physical observation and interviews with household heads and key-informants such as local builders and community leaders. The result of the study showed that visual privacy for the womenfolk in the house was achieved by restricting reception and entertainment of unrelated male to the public zone, related males to the semi-public, and related or unrelated female to the most-private zone of the house. The understanding of the high preference of privacy consideration in the Hausa traditional house will serves as a basis to incorporate various design alternatives in contemporary architectural designs of Hausa house.



Keywords: Family privacy, Hausa, Hospitality, Traditional house



1.0 Family Privacy: an Introduction


According to the Oxford dictionary, the word privacy in its literal sense referred to ‘the state of being private or undisturbed ‘or freedom from intrusion or public attention (Oxford dictionary, 1996). The Webster’s dictionary 1993, defined the term as ‘the quality or being apart from the company or observation of others, and ‘isolation, seclusion, or freedom from unauthorized oversight or observation. Scholars studied privacy from different disciplines, for example, from sociological perspective (Fahey, 1995), Psychology (Newel, 1995) and from architectural perspective (Asiah, 2008, 2006; Ahmad, Zaiton & Sharifah, 2006). This paper presents the architectural aspects of spatial provision for privacy provision.

In Islam, family privacy is achievable in two ways; visual and acoustic consideration (Asiah, 2008; Hisham, 2004), and Akeel, 2007). The basis for this assertion is found in the al-Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). For example, in verses (24:27-28) and the Hadith below:


“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.‘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 God Knows well all that ye do. (Ali, 24:27-28)


“He who looks into a house without the occupants’ permission and they puncture his eye, will have no right to demand a fine or ask for punishment” Ahmad and al-Nisa’I via Abu Huraira ref. 3 vol II p. 576

‘On the day of resurrection, lead will be poured into the ears of anyone who eavesdrops on others who dislike him (al Bukhari)


The Hadiths cited above one could infer that the issue of achieving family privacy with respect to guest, visitors, and strangers in a Muslim house should be addressed through visual and the acoustic considerations. The visual type as the name suggests relates to protecting the family from unlawful “looking, sighting and observation” by unrelated men, while the acoustic type refers to protection of family especially the womenfolk from eavesdropping by unrelated men, and related or unrelated female guests, and strangers.  This study is based on the premise that privacy requirements spatial translation in the house varies according to cultures (Altman, 1977; Newell, 1995 and Fahey, 1995). Extant literature has also shown that privacy was one of the main factors which influenced the house forms around the world. In a Muslim’s house, providing privacy for the family is considered as the most important aspect of the house (Zaiton, & Ahmad, 2007; Omar 2006).


In general, family privacy could be accentuated in the neighborhood through the application of the Islamic building principles such as when locating public facilities such as shops (Hisham, 2004 p79), and encouragement of cluster living. The essential feature of privacy is the setting of social distance between and among family members of household, their visitors, guests, and strangers, (Ahmad, Zaiton, & Sharifah, 2006). This is with the aim of controlling all forms of formal interactions. Elsewhere the author had defined privacy as the isolation, seclusion and freedom of the inhabitants in a Muslim house e.g. wife, grown-up daughters and others from unauthorized oversight, observation, and eavesdropping from the non-related men.

1.1 Conception of privacy in other cultures

Because of the importance of achieving family privacy in a Muslim house, it became the most important aspect in the design of the house (Omar, 2006: Zaiton, & Ahmad, 2007).  Irwin, (1977) hypothesized that all cultures have evolved mechanisms by which members can regulate privacy and that particular pattern of mechanism may also differ across cultures. Accordingly, some cultures achieve a certain degree of privacy through behavioral mechanisms while others achieve it through physical mechanisms in form of spatial separation of male and female spaces and other forms of spatial organization. For example, extant studies indicated that in the house of the Muslim, privacy considerations had greatly influenced the extent of division of spaces and the level of enclosure within the house. This could be attributed to stronger preference of privacy of some cultures over other cultures (Zaiton, & Ahmad, 2007).

In the Saudi Arabian house, where the privacy consideration is high, it has become the determining factor in its design, (Omar, 2006). Accordingly, the Saudi house was spatially divided into two; the family’s private domain and the outdoor domain. In the family’s private domain privacy is achieved through the provision of restricted access to courtyard, quality of openings and the sealing of the outdoor to protect views from the outside. Houses in similar cultures such as in Southern Algeria (Arrouf, 2006), and Kuwaiti, (Anwarul, & Nawal, 2006) were shown to exhibits similar characteristics.  In the traditional Malay house, however, provision of privacy through physical mechanism was minimal. Family privacy seemed to be achieved through more of behavioral mechanisms; separation of female and male spaces, during social activities (Ismawi, (2005). This is indicated in the open plan layout of the traditional Malay house, where superficial elements such as screens and curtains are used to denote different family areas as opposed to use of more profound elements.

In the Malay house, the living area doubles up as the sleeping area at night, where elements such as screens and mosquito nets are used to achieve privacy. During the day these elements were rolled up and stored away from the sight of visitors (Ismawi, 2005). This is an indicator of low-level provision of privacy by way of spatial separation. Hence, behavioral mechanisms were given prominence in the Malay traditional house. The behavioral mechanisms require the “women and men to be separated in all formal social interaction, and entertained separately in which the places for social ties are marked differently, (AbdulHalim & Wan, 1994; Lim, 1987).



1.2 Guest Hospitality


Hospitality as a social concept has been defined variously. These definitions thus from different sources were similar in content. Two among these definitions were selected and presented for their relevance to this paper. Firstly, it was defined as “the cordial and generous reception and entertainment of guests or strangers socially or economically (Webster’s Dictionary, 1993).  The Oxford dictionary (1996), defines it as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests or strangers”. A further understanding of the concept lies in the recursive words; guests, strangers, and visitors in these and other definitions. In these sources, a guest was defined to mean ‘a person invited to visit another’s house or have a meal in it  at the expense of the inviter’ (Oxford Dictionary, 1996), ‘a person entertained in ones house or table’ (Webster’s Dictionary, 1993). A visitor was defined as ‘a person that goes to or stays at a place for a particular purpose’ (Webster’s Dictionary, 1993), ‘a person who visits a person or place’ (Oxford dictionary, 1996). Finally according to Oxford dictionary, 1996, a stranger ‘is a person who does not know or is not known in a particular place or company’.


The basis for sanctioning hospitality in a Muslim house could be found in the al-Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet; the two principal sources of the Shari’a. Muslims were enjoined to offer hospitality to visitors, strangers, and guests in their houses, as found in the following verses of the al-Qur’an:


Has the story reached you, of the honored guests of Ibrahim) (25). When they came in to him and said: “Salaman!” He answered: “Salamun” and said: “You are a people unknown to me.” (26). Then he turned to his household, and brought out a roasted calf.) (27). And placed it before them (saying): “Will you not eat” (al-Qur’an 51; 24-27)

Worship Allah and join none with Him in worship, and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess. Verily, Allah does not like such as are proud and boastful.) (al-Qur’an 4;36)

In addition to the prescriptions on hospitality in the cited verses of the al-Qur’an and the following Sunnah of the Prophet to entertain visitors, guests, and strangers, Islam had also encouraged the provision of accommodation to them for up to three days, and protection once in the houses of their host as found in some Hadith of the prophet: Narrated by Abu Shuraih Al-Ka’bi:

Allah’s Apostle said, Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should serve his guest generously. The guest’s reward is: To provide him with a superior type of food for a night and a day and a guest is to be entertained with food for three days, and whatever is offered beyond that, is regarded as something given in charity….. ” (Bukhari  Book 8, Volume 73,  Hadith 156)

An injunction to Muslims to strive to achieve a balance while offering hospitality to their guests, visitors and strangers with the privacy of their family members in their houses could be found in the following verses of the al-Qur’an;

(53. O you who believe! Enter not the Prophet’s houses, unless permission is given to you for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation. But when you are invited, enter, and when you have taken your meal, disperse without sitting for a talk. Verily, such (behavior) annoys the Prophet, and he is shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of (telling you) the truth. And when you ask (his wives) for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen, that is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not (right) for you that you should annoy Allah’s Messenger, nor that you should ever marry his wives after him (his death). Verily, with Allah that shall be an enormity.) (Qur’an 33; 53)


According to the translation of Ibn Kathir this verse addressed the prophet’s guests who came for a walimah in the prophet’s house when he “married Zaynab bint Jahsh. He invited the people to eat, and then they sat talking after their meals. For the purposes of this study therefore, hospitality as a social concept was expanded to mean  a generous reception and entertainment of invited or un-invited (by circumstances), person or persons, male or female, relation or non-relation that goes to or stays in the house of his or her Muslim host for a particular purposes. Referring to this definition, therefore, three distinct groups of guests in a Hausa society are proposed; the unrelated male guests consisting of friends of the grown-up male children, and those for the household head- overnight, passing, or business guests, and suitors to daughter(s), related male guests or those considered as part of the household e.g. adult male children of the household head who have their own families but not living in the house, uncles and cousins, male servants, and adult sons from other marriages visiting their mothers (wives of the household head) and final group is the female guests who could be related or unrelated to the members of the households e.g. Aunts, female friends of grown-up daughters, daughter’s in-laws, neighbors, and strangers.



1.3 The Hausa urban traditional house

The Hausa people In Nigeria, are synonymous with being Muslims. Generally, to other tribal groups in Nigeria, a Hausa is a Muslim, and a Muslim is Hausa, this gives birth to the widely held view that it was Islam that makes a Hausa a Hausa. The non-Muslim constitutes five percent are referred to Maguzawa Sa’ad (1981 p12).  Scholars have report the priority given to achieving family privacy in the Hausa traditional house. Schwerdtefeger, (1972), for example reports that fundamentally the Hausa house with its several courtyards (in multi-family compounds) surrounded by high walls was a function of “emphasis on complete or partial seclusion of women” (Purdah marriage, auren kulle and auren tsare), together with other factors such as concern for security, building materials and building skill. According to Sa’ad, (1981), the local mason of Hausa house places importance to achieving privacy in his building. Accordingly a house that does not provide the needed privacy is referred to as “tunduku” a derogatory word Sa’ad (1981, p169). Privacy through male and female sagragation is not confined to houses as according to (Nwanodi, 1989 who cited Adamu, 1978, pp. 5-8) states that “hierarchical social organizations, and distinction between the sexes, have a long standing with certain tasks, trades, and official positions reserved for a particular sex.


According to extant literature and author’s survey, the Hausa traditional house is socially classified into four groups; the houses of the aristocrats Saraki, the affluent Attajirai, the scholars Malamai, and the commoner Talaka. For the purposes of this study the house of the commoner was chosen because collected data shows that more than 90 percent of houses in the traditional city of Katsina consisted of this type of house (Table 1). This house type is further classified into four groups based on occupancy type. It could be occupied by single nuclear family, comprising of parents and their children, extended family comprising of relations living together or even non-relations. Thirdly it could be occupied by one family but with fragmentation for example where parents live with their married male children in the same compound, and finally, a tenancy house consisting of unrelated tenants. For the purposes of this paper therefore, the houses occupied by single nuclear family was chosen for analysis.


1. Family house type

Single Nuclear family                                         90           75

Extended family of nuclear

groups related or unrelated                                                18           15

Compound house type consisting

of one household with

fragmentation                                                      8              6.7

Tenancy house                                                    3              2.5


2. House tenancy type

Owner occupied                                                   99           82.5

Owner and tenants                                              4              3.4

Tenants only                                                        3              2.5

Free user                                                                14           11.8


3. House ownership type

Inherited house                                                    49           43.8

Rented house                                                       4              4.5

Acquired house                                                    42           37.5

Given/Donated house                                         14           3.6

Free use house                                                      12           10.7


4. Number of persons in the house

1-10 persons                                                         75           63.2

11-20 persons                                                       36           37



The urban Hausa traditional house is spatially divided into three or two zones; public, semi-private, and most private areas, kofar gida, sashen maigida, and cikin gida, or kofar gida and cikin gida respectively, depending on the socio- economic position of the household head (Sa’ad, 1981; Schwertfeger, 1972; Oumar, 1997). In a typical urban Hausa house, the only access is through the entrance hall zaure, which could be one or more in number. This opens to the forecourt kofar gida, barga or sarari, in this area or within the zaure itself a room or shop shago is usually provided for the adolescent male children (Figure 1). Between this zone and the women zone cikin gida, is the master’s zone, turaka, which could be considered as the semi-private zone. It consists of the master’s room, his toilet kewaye, storage and an open space (courtyard), and a shed which serves as outdoor living rumfa. Attached to the turaka is the second entrance hall, shigifa, it is the transitional hall that provides access from the kofar gida, and turaka to the cikin gida. The third zone cikin gida is exclusively a women domain. It comprises of women bedrooms, kitchen, food storage, well, and animal pen.


Figure 1(a) and (b). Typical floor plans of Katsina urban traditional Muslim house                                  Source; field survey 2008
Figure 1(a) and (b). Typical floor plans of Katsina urban traditional Muslim house Source; field survey 2008

Figure 1(a) and (b). Typical floor plans of Katsina urban traditional Muslim house

Source; field survey 2008

Legend. 1.Entrance hall (Zaure), 2. Boys’ room (Dakin samari), 3. Forecourt (Danfili/Kofar gida/Barga/Sarari).  4. Second entrance hall Shigifa 5. Courtyard (tsakar gida), 6. Living area (Rumfa), 7. Bedrooms, (Dakuna) , 8. Kitchen, (Dakin dahuwa) 9. Toilets, (Kewaye) 10. Fixed Mud seat (Dakali), 11. Animal pen, (Dabbobi) 12. Pigeon hall, (Dakin Tantabaru), 13. Master wing (Turaka),14 Poultry,(Akurkin Kaji), 15. Well, (Rijiya)

1.4 Objectives of the paper

The aim of this paper is to discuss how balance is achieved between hospitality and family privacy in Hausa traditional culture through the use of spaces and other elements of design in the house. To achieve this aim the following objectives are targeted:

  1. Discuss the different architectural mechanisms employed in the design of Hausa house at the different hierarchy of spaces for the purposes of achieving privacy.
  2. Explain “how” these spaces and elements of the house are used to provide “what” levels of hospitality and to “whom”.
  3. Use the Katsina urban Hausa traditional Muslim house as case study for northern Nigeria.

2.0 Methodology


The need to identify how people give meanings to their environments and how they used their environments among other objectives, necessitate the use of qualitative method. Firstly, personal interviews to householders were carried out to elicit information on cues, or features peculiar to the human behaviour setting of the study area. Accordingly, therefore it was used to find out which guests, visitors, and strangers were received where and why. This method was used because “interviews are essential source of case study evidence because most case studies are about human affairs” (Yin, 1994 cited in Moukhtar, 2008). Human affairs according to him “should be reported and interpreted through the eyes of interviewees and well informed respondents can provide insights into situations”. Secondly, a documentation of floor plans of the urban house samples was undertaken, which includes scaled drawings of the floor plans. Thirdly, physical observation of activities and of the elements of the house was also undertaken. This includes, taking still and motion pictures to assess the visual qualities of samples. The floor plans were analysed to identify and relate the areas where guests, visitors and strangers were received and entertained, to the information of which had earlier been provided by the householders in the interviews. Analysis of pictures is aimed at identifying visual qualities of spaces and elements such as depths, heights of doors and windows, scale, and details of other relevant elements of the house, which could not be easily discernible from the floor plans. The samples used for this study were selected from 120houses documented from the traditional city of Katsina. To effectively respond to the object of the paper three questions shall be answered during the analysis process; who is received (the relationship of the person being entertained), where is he/she received and entertained, and finally, what are the privacy considerations in the areas where they are received?

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