How justice and rights in Islam shape Urbanism

Dr. Mustapha Ben-Hamouche

Islamic law doesn’t allow the acquisition of others’ property without their consent. Individuals’ rights and their belonging are protected from any illegal action of appropriation, be it from the other people or the public authorities. If this happens, it is called in Islamic law Ghasb. Even in a case of necessity, a mosque is not permitted to be built or extended on a land that is acquired by force. Unless its owner is satisfied and fairly refunded, the action is considered illegal, and prayer in this mosque is said not be accepted.


Such a principle is also found in other Muslim cultures, and indicates the level of respect to human rights and individuals property.

Urban forms and buildings are consequently highly affected by such rights. A small piece of private land within a large public development could lead to a very specific design solution that respects such a constraint.

The example below shows the fight of a lady owning a small house against a giant developers. The story and the text were taken from

Pixar’s recent movie ‘Up’ is a story of an old man who refuses to give up his house to a monstrous development that is eating up all the homes in his neighborhood. It comes to a point that there is nothing left around him except for high-rise businesses. This notion is an exaggerated representation of how development companies find a way to buy up all the houses in a neighborhood.

There are numerous families who have fought these development companies buy refusing to sell their home. It usually creates a somewhat unusual and interesting appearance if the development goes on with construction anyways.

Edith Macefield of Seattle is a perfect example of this fight. She refused the $1 million that developers offered her to sell her house. Visually, her little house surrounded by the industrial project has a close resemblance to the house in the movie ‘Up.’

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