Avoiding Major Wrongdoings in Islamic Housing

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Email:
spahico@yahoo.com
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The role of education

Built environment in general, and housing in particular, constitute a very fertile ground for committing and nurturing some major wrongdoings which Islam categorically forbids. The most serious amongst those wrongdoings, certainly, are: wastefulness, showing off, haughtiness, discrimination between people, corruption, greed, jealousy, rivalry, environmental destruction, inflicting harm, cheating and dishonesty. All these transgressions Islam regards as grave sins which can seriously impinge on the spiritual wellbeing of a person and that of a whole community. So serious are those sins that they have a potential to deny their perpetrators Allah’s grace in both worlds and His Paradise in the Hereafter, plunging them into the agony of Allah’s wrath and Hellfire instead.

Thus, the general educational systems of Muslims in general, and the Islamic built environment education in particular, must seriously address the matter. Islamic education is not the one that produces greedy, materialistic and egocentric professionals who readily dispense with moral principles both in their professional and private lives. Islamic education, on the contrary, produces capable but ethical and accountable professionals who are no less skilled and competent than their peers who come from typical secular educational systems. Besides, Islamic education, at the same time, guides and prepares its people to become responsible fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, neighbors, consumers, citizens, etc. In other words, Islamic education, pragmatic, dynamic and fervent as it is, prepares Muslims to face head-on the life realities and challenges in their entirety, as there is much more to life than professional engagements in, for instance, architecture, engineering, economics, medicine, politics, etc.

According to the Islamic message, therefore, knowledge without righteousness is of no use and it is a very dangerous and deceiving proposition. Likewise, righteousness without knowledge is deficient. The two must be integrated serving as such as a foundation of people’s lives and, in turn, as their driving cultural and civilizational force. The inappropriateness of a one-sided approach to life, and in this case to education which is the foundation and lifeblood of the former, as well as the opposite, i.e., the appropriateness of an integrated approach to life, is the message of the following Qur’anic verses: “There are men who say: “Our Lord! Give us (Your bounties) in this world”, but they will have no portion in the Hereafter. And there are men who say: “Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter, and defend us from the torment of the Fire!” (al-Baqarah, 200, 201) A knowledge devoid of morality and virtue, and the perils of such a knowledge, the Prophet (pbuh) surely had in mind when he implored Allah to guard him against a knowledge that brings no benefit.

Imparting the knowledge to the Muslim children and adolescents in the institutions designated for the purpose, which is either incomplete or defective, is a serious misdeed with some equally serious consequences. Without doubt, the case of the flawed educational systems in the Muslim world is the most responsible culprit behind the continuous bolstering and prolonging of the dismal conditions of Muslims, including their built environment. This covers the physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of the Muslim reality. As a result, the faculties of cognizance and wisdom in many people became severely impaired, if not totally shut, thus causing disorientation, confusion and paradoxes in their thinking and behavioral paradigms. Such degenerate life patterns, unfortunately, has become the rule, rather than an exception. The evidence of this sorry state of affairs is available virtually everywhere for everyone to see.

It is only when one reflects on the above given explanation that one can comprehend scores of absurdities in ways many Muslims build and use their houses. One then can also get a hint of where potential remedies are to be sought.

Wastefulness

For example, how come that a person is so much concerned about wastefulness, developing a phobia about it in terms of dress, food and drink – and rightly so because Islam condemns wastefulness so much that spendthrifts are described by the Qur’an as brothers of Satan (al-Isra’, 27) – but fails to recognize that the same vice can be committed by means of building houses that are monsters in terms of energy consumption, or that are far bigger and have far more spaces and facilities than what is genuinely required and can be sensibly justified, thus leading to either excessive maintenance costs, or to acts of mismanagement, underutilization and even negligence? This also applies to wasting building materials, services, amenities, time, space(s), opportunities, private, public and natural resources, etc. In effect, more damage through squandering in housing is caused to resources than in the cases of dress, food and drink. Squandering in housing, therefore, should be regarded as more abominable than the same with regard to dress, food and drink. It is through the prism of this fact that we must observe and study some of the statements of the Prophet (pbuh) which at a first glance appear not to be in favor of erecting buildings, including private houses, as explained in the previous chapter.

Definitely, wastefulness in housing is real and everyone must take note. Nonetheless, if housing patrons and professionals create a house in such a way that its occupants have no choice but to commit wastefulness, because, for example, no inner space can be used without a source of artificial light, even during the day, or because no inner space can be used without an air conditioner during a hot spell, or because no inner space can be used without a source of artificial heating during cold spells, even if temperatures fluctuate significantly, or because maintaining the house is a financial nightmare to its users – due to this, the same housing patrons and professionals, it stands to reason, will be answerable for more than just the mediocre execution of their work. Whenever the occupants of a house commit an outright act of wastefulness, partly because of their own negligence and partly because of the ways their house has been designed and built and then as such has been imposed upon them, a housing professional, or a patron, who imposed upon the occupants of a house the behavioral pattern that causes them to waste will definitely partake of the blame.

This is an evidence that architecture is a two edged profession. It can be a very risky business. Sinan, the chief architect of the Ottoman golden age, thus called architecture an “estimable calling” and then said that whosoever is engaged in it must be, first of all, righteous and pious.[1] Once the fifth caliph Mu’awiyah b. Abi Sufyan met Abdullah b. Umar, a prominent companion of the Prophet (pbuh) and the son of the second caliph Umar b. al-Khattab. Mu’awiyah asked for his opinion on the splendid and grand buildings, both the private and public ones, which had been erected in Damascus, then the capital of the Islamic state. Abdullah b. Umar’s reply was: “If the money used (for the buildings) is from the public treasury (mal Allah which literally means: Allah’s money), then you are a traitor. If, however, the money is yours, then you are a spendthrift.”[2]

Showing off, pride and haughtiness

Another example of many Muslims’ paradoxical behavior concerning housing is the question of showing off, pride and haughtiness. Many people in their personal lives and in their daily interactions with other people tend somewhat to shun these and other similar misconducts altogether – and rightly so because such things has no place in Islam, the religion of kindness, brotherhood, equality and human dignity, so much so that the Prophet (pbuh) once said that the person in whose heart a mustard seed’s weight of haughtiness is found will be thrown on his face into Hellfire[3] — but the same people see nothing wrong with a verity that a house symbolizes a person’s status and wealth which a person strives to maintain as such, making it all the more telling as his status and wealth improve. They like to boast about their houses, feeling very happy when someone is impressed or talks admirably about them. With these people, modesty plays a very prominent role in some life areas, however, when it comes to housing, such a thing becomes imaginary.

Showing off one’s status and affluence through the means of housing can create a much more powerful negative impact on neighbors, visitors and spectators, and can consequently become much more repulsive, than the acts of showing off, pride and haughtiness through the words and some minor and inconsequential deeds. There is much at stake here, indeed. Islam teaches that all believers are equal brothers and sisters. Allah does not look into people’s wealth, status and looks. He looks into their hearts and deeds. The best among people are those who are most Allah conscious and most virtuous.

Moreover, the houses which are meant to be a means and instrument of showing off and arrogance are extremely demanding and costly. They consume a lot of their owners’ and users’ riches, time and energy. They become an object of their inventive evil contriving, growing spending clout and their intense materialistic desires. Such people do not control their houses; on the contrary, their houses control them. They do not own their houses; their houses “own” them. They simply worship their houses, faithfully putting themselves and everything they possess at their houses’ disposal. They become so attached to their houses that just a thought of possibly losing them is sufficient to give them the shivers, making them think that without their houses almost the whole life will become hollow, meaningless and worthless. They use their houses for seeking their illusory dreams, comfort and security.

The houses of this kind of people, to a great extent, embody the negative side of theirs and their lives. They embody their potent materialistic and hedonistic tendencies which, sadly, have gotten the better of them.  How and when, then, can these people be ready to part with their houses, and with this world in general, and to return to their Creator and the Hereafter, as it is always the case with genuine believers? How and when, then, can these people, furthermore, be ready to place their houses, and this world in general, in the service of the truth and the Hereafter, as it is always the case with genuine believers? How and when, then, can these people be in control, rather than to be controlled by their houses, as it is always the case with genuine believers? These questions inevitably impose themselves because in Islam a clear sign of one’s spiritual bankruptcy is one’s excessive aversion to death and to the prospect of leaving behind the pleasures of this world within whose perimeters only he used to find any peace, satisfaction, security and worth.

About this Allah says, for example: “Those who expect not the meeting with Us but desire the life of the world and feel secure therein, and those who are neglectful of Our revelations, their home will be the Fire because of what they used to earn.” (Yunus, 7, 8)

“Say: If your fathers and your sons and your brethren and your mates and your kinsfolk and property which you have acquired, and the slackness of trade which you fear and dwellings which you like, are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way, then wait till Allah brings about His command: and Allah does not guide the transgressing people.” (al-Tawbah, 24)

“And seek by means of what Allah has given you (in this world) the future abode (i.e., the Hereafter), and do not neglect your portion of this world, and do good (to others) as Allah has done good to you, and do not seek to make mischief in the land, surely Allah does not love the mischief-makers.” (al-Qasas, 77)

“O you who believe! Let not your wealth nor your children distract you from remembrance of Allah. Those who do so, they are the losers.” (al-Munafiqun, 9) 

The issue of the ‘awrah

Yet another example of many Muslims’ contradictory behavior concerning housing is the question of the ‘awrah (parts of the body that must be properly covered in certain situations and under certain circumstances. Exposing the ‘awrah is unlawful in Islam and is regarded as sin.) Again, it is inexplicable how some Muslims, both men and women, are very particular about this Islamic tenet when they are outside their houses under the public glare – and rightly so. However, when they are at home, the following factors: the mishandling of the sizes, arrangements, positioning and screening of the doors, windows and other apertures, the ways balconies, patios, porches and open-type kitchens are planned and built, and the unavailability of appropriate spaces for guests and visitors – all these can seriously endanger the preservation of their ‘awrah and can cause them to violate the ‘awrah and privacy of others. Unfortunately, about the whole thing, they feel no, or very little, pang of conscience. One wonders then how come that the issue of ‘awrah is so important outside the house’s domain, but inside the house the same can be somewhat overlooked and let pass when, for example, a person uses his balcony, porch or patio, when a person is in a kitchen where he or she can easily be overseen by a neighbor or a passerby, when a person uses a critical door, a window, or an aperture, when a person entertains his or her visitors and guests, when a person has a maid, etc.

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Finally, there are housing professionals who strive for excellence in some plain worship rituals, as well as in some other trivial deeds of theirs, but are more than happy with a deliberate mediocrity in matters concerning their assignments in the field of housing for which they are paid and from which they feed themselves and their family members. This is not all, though. Their deliberate mediocrity frequently leads them to other equally or even more hazardous acts, such as laziness, apathy, time mismanagement, abusing or misusing the public property and resources, inferior execution of tasks given, and even outright cheating and corruption.

However, these professionals fail to realize that excellence is an Islamic principle which is universal covering both the spiritual and secular realms and pursuits. When the Prophet (pbuh) said that Allah loves when we do something that we do it to perfection, he meant thereby every legitimate life activity because Islam is life, and life, in turn, is a multidimensional field of worship (‘ibadah) for which man has been created. Every deed, word and thought of man in this world will count on the Day of Judgment either for or against him. Housing professionals cannot have a double face or a personality insofar as deifying Allah and serving His Islam and humanity is concerned: one in places designated for worship and the other one outside them, as though Allah exists only in the former while in the latter man is left to conduct his self as he wishes according to his personal desires, interests and whims. Indeed, if one deliberately embraces mediocrity as a way of work, shoring it up with some other misdemeanors, one proportionately renders his earnings illegitimate with which he feeds his self and his family. There is a danger that some members of his family, having been raised on elements of haram (prohibitions), might become so accustomed to those elements that they eventually become even unable to distinguish between the right and wrong when they eventually grow up and start themselves to work and contribute to society. This is a vicious cycle which when one entangles his self, or others, in it, one can hardly extricate his self, or anybody else, from its fetters.



[1] Sinan’s Autobiographies, Five Sixteenth-Century Texts, p. 66. John Freely and Augusto Romano Burelli, Sinan, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1996) p. 11.

[2] Al-Ya’qubi, Tarikh al-Yaqubi, (Beirut: Dar Beirut, 1980), vol. 2 p. 232.

[3] Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal, Kitab Musnad al-Mukaththirin min al-Sahabah, Hadith No. 6719.

 

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