Urbanization and Human Development

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

People are both the creators and demolishers of every civilizational accomplishment. They too are the only beneficiaries of each and every valuable civilizational upshot. Similarly, people are the creators and inhabitants of cities, a locus of civilization. They create cities and then live and work in them. They do this either commendably, thus securing and enjoying the fruits of their right acts so long as they stick to the right schemes which led them to such a state, or appallingly with no clear purpose or direction. In the latter scenario, things are always bound to eventually work against the inhabitants of a city, making their lives both miserable and injurious. Allah says to this effect: “Mischief has appeared on land and sea because of (the meed) that the hands of men have earned, that (Allah) may give them a taste of some of their deeds: in order that they may turn back (from evil).” (al-Rum 41)

If a city is well-ordered, clean, efficient, corruption-free, safe, friendly, free from stress and nuisance, that is all due to the right conduct, attitudes and mindset of its inhabitants. The same is the case also when a city’s amenities are adequate and accessible, when its overall conditions are conducive towards social interaction and harmony, when it conserves material and energy resources, and when it prevents ecological disruption. The good virtues of a good city’s inhabitants are inexorably modeled in accordance with a sound worldview and their lives’ mission and purpose that regulate their relationships with fellow community members, nature (space) and God. All the policies and schemes originated and implemented in this kind of the city are merely an expression of the city’s upbeat total atmosphere that has been avidly generated and then made to saturate every life’s aspect and dimension. All persons thus live and work in line with an adopted life paradigm, striving together to contribute within the ambit of their abilities in realizing a set of fixed social goals and ideals. Hence, it is understood that in this case any attempt towards deviational tendencies, by individuals or groups, will on time be properly diagnosed and in a resolute fashion jointly dealt with.

However, if the opposite is the case, that is to say, if the conditions in a city are awful and detrimental to living, who, or what, is to be blamed? The demeanors, attitudes and mindsets of the city dwellers – everyone in the socio-political hierarchy – as well as certain policies and the lack of their enforcement, are, as a rule, pointed at as the causes of the problems. This is partly true and acceptable; however, a majority of the root causes would definitely be related to the snags in the people’s commitment and allegiance to an adopted worldview and their philosophy of life – provided the espoused worldview and the life philosophy are themselves free of errors, snags and other imperfections – which can gradually lead to as far as forsaking the same altogether.

Deviating from an established worldview and a life mission and purpose, or abandoning them completely, always leads to a chain reaction in everything that people do. It follows that all the phenomena witnessed in a community and its urban and rural settlements, irrespective of whether they are good or bad, are reflective of the nature and strength of people’s association with a worldview and a philosophy of life on whose principles and values the community had been established and had been surviving for years. The stronger and healthier the relationship between people and the worldview and philosophy of their community (their settlements), the more is it likely that they (their community) will keep moving ahead longer, and vice versa. Therefore, understanding fully all the aspects of the problems that beset a city, linking the symptoms with their root causes, before embarking on healing processes, will always be vital.

Of the essence is thus constantly and painstakingly educating, purifying, nurturing and cherishing individuals: elderly, adults and children, along the lines of an adopted worldview, philosophy and vision, as well as overseeing and monitoring their progress and involvements. This is so because individuals make up groups and societies, and they are the planners, makers, beneficiaries, consumers and sustainers, or slayers, of every civilizational triumph. Human development and urbanization are intertwined. They cannot be separated. Neither of them can be treated without, or at the expense of, the other.

It goes without saying that people are the most direct causes of their own civilizational destinies. They, by and large, are fully responsible for them. Allah says, for example, that He will change the condition of a people only when they change what lies in themselves, i.e., when they change themselves first. (al-Ra’d, 11) He also says that He will help a people only when they “help” Him by obeying Him and by following His religion Islam. (Muhammad, 7) This distinct and causal relationship between urbanization and any sort of civilizational awakening, on the one hand, and human spiritual and moral development and enlightenment, on the other, has been emphasized as a blueprint for genuine and lasting success in both worlds since time immemorial. It in fact denoted the focal point of each and every holy prophet’s struggle and teachings, from Adam to Muhammad (peace be upon them all).

For example, one of early prophets, Nuh (Noah), at the dawn of human civilization used to tell his people: “Ask forgiveness from your Lord, for He is Oft-Forgiving. He will send rain to you in abundance, give you increase in wealth and sons and bestow on you gardens and bestow on you rivers (of flowing water). What is the matter with you, that you place not your hope for kindness and long-suffering in Allah?” (Nuh, 10-13)

Prophet Hud also used to advise his people, ‘Ad: “O my people! Ask forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him (in repentance). He will send you the skies pouring abundant rain, and add strength to your strength. So, don’t turn back in sin!” (Hud, 52)

Finally, the reason for sending the seal of prophets, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and giving him the Qur’an, was no different. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was sent in order to teach people that they “…should worship none but Allah” (Hud, 2), and that they should seek “…the forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him in repentance; that He may grant you enjoyment, good (and true), for a term appointed, and bestow His abounding grace on all who abound in merit! But if you turn away, then I fear for you the penalty of a great day. To Allah is your return, and He has power over all things.” (Hud, 3-4)


Prophet Muhammad’s experience


It was because of this actuality that when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) migrated from Makkah to Madinah, and when he embarked on planning and developing the prototype Islamic city, the city of Madinah, he at the same time and in equal measure embarked on nurturing and developing the people as enlightened and responsible citizens, consistent with the values, teachings and beliefs of Islam.

The Prophet’s vision of the subject of personality and community building was well-structured and arresting. He championed that under the auspices of Islam and its unique tawhidic (God’s Oneness) worldview, the Muslims are seen as brothers to each other and their similitude is like a wall whose bricks enforce and rely on each other; they are like a solid cemented structure held together in unity and strength, each part contributing strength in its own way, and the whole holding together not like a mass, but like a living organism.[1] The Muslims furthermore are related to each other in such a way that if one of them (a part of an organic and formidable formation called the Ummah) is troubled by a problem of whatever kind, the rest of the body parts will remain disturbed and restless until the matter became solved.

Surely, for the reason of nurturing and developing community members did the Prophet (pbuh) immediately upon arriving in Madinah disclose to the assembled crowd some of the paths which invariably lead towards Jannah (Paradise) in the Hereafter, as well as towards individual and collective felicity in this world. Such paths are: implementing and spreading peace and concord wherever possible and by whatever lawful means, sharing and compassion, maintaining good relations with relatives (as well as with others), and praying at night when everybody else is asleep. A companion ‘Abdullah b. Salam is reported to have said that these were the first words he had heard from the Prophet (pbuh).[2] Without doubt, these were among the very first advices the Prophet (pbuh) gave following the Hijrah (Migration), because ‘Abdullah b. Salam was among the first to see, meet and hear the Prophet (pnuh). No sooner had he done so than he embraced Islam, as he realized that the Prophet’s face “seemed by no means like the face of a liar or an imposter.”[3]

For the same reason did the content of the Prophet’s sermon during the first Friday prayer (Jumu’ah) in Madinah – as well as the contents of the other sermons of his at this juncture – emphasize the importance of such issues as faith (iman), taking hold of the good and leaving the evil, brotherhood, sincerity, steadfastness, gratefulness for the blessing of Islam, the significance of helping one another in righteousness and piety and not in sin and rancor, the common cause of the Muslims, and the like.[4]

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 also been accentuated as early as during the exercise of determining the site of the Prophet’s mosque and marking out its boundaries (building the Prophet’s mosque as a community development center was the first and instantaneous urbanization undertaking by the Prophet (pbuh) following his arrival in Madinah). At the earmarked location there was a walled piece of land that belonged to some people from the Banu al-Najjar clan. The Prophet (pbuh) sent to 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 (pbuh) accepted the offer and the occurrence typified as well as inaugurated, so to speak, a new dimension of the unreserved keenness of the first Muslims to sacrifice whatever they possessed for the cause of strengthening Islam and the Muslims and their nascent community.[5]

Additionally, the mosque was about to expand into an area used for drying dates which belonged to two youths, both orphans, named Sahl and Suhayl. The Prophet (pbuh) 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 (pbuh) insisted that they tell the price, since they were orphans and possessed little. Eventually, he paid them ten golden dinars. The money was Abu Bakr’s.[6]

The Prophet’s scheme of personality and community building reached its pinnacle when he legislated the system of mu’akhah (brotherly association) among the Migrants (Muhajirs) from Makkah and Helpers (Ansar) from Madinah. The mu’akhah included 90 men, 45 from either side. While some claim that the mu’akhah took place after the building of the Prophet’s mosque, albeit before the battle of Badr, others contend that it in fact occurred during the process of building the mosque.[7] The mu’akhah was accomplished in the house of a companion Anas b. Malik.[8] So binding was the treaty that the Migrants for sometimes were the heirs of the Helpers, and vice versa, instead of their own kindred by blood. Later, however, the verse 33 from the Qur’anic chapter al-Nisa’ was revealed and the matter of the Migrants and Helpers inheriting one another was cancelled.[9]

Shortly after arriving in Madinah, the Prophet (pbuh) also organized the relationship between the various inhabitants of Madinah, including the Jews, and recorded it in a document (the Constitution of Madinah). The commitments of each group within Madinah and its rights and duties were comprehensively enshrined in the document. That the society of Madinah was founded and was set to progress on the basis of commitment, love, mutual understanding, cooperation and support, was thus demonstrated in a striking fashion.

Furthermore, nurturing and developing exemplary community members in the young and constantly developing and changing city-state of Madinah was dealt with by God’s direct interventions as well, by means of prescribing guidelines and directives that targeted at both men’s and women’s steady spiritual and moral development, as well as at clearly defining their roles and standings in the community.

For example, in the night of al-Mi’raj, which occurred sometime between one and two years before the Hijrah, the institution of prayer (Salah) was prescribed to the Muslims. The prayers of those not traveling and of those traveling had both been of two rak’ahs, except the Maghrib (sunset) prayer which was of three rak’ahs from the beginning. But about a month after the arrival of the Prophet (pbuh) in Madinah, two rak’ahs in Zuhr (noon), ‘Asr (mid afternoon) and ‘Isha’ (evening) prayers were added to the prayers of those who were not traveling.[10]

Certainly, this addition which came to pass in Madinah immediately after the Hijrah had scores of benefits for the spiritual and civilizational maturity of many Muslims, some of whom had just entered the fold of the new Islamic code of living, given that the task of one’s prayers is to restrain one from shameful and evil deeds (al-‘Ankabut 45) and to foster honesty, goodness, conformity and dedication. As the Prophet (pbuh) experienced a midnight journey from the al-Masjid al-Haram to the al-Masjid al-Aqsa (al-Isra’), whence he traveled to the seven heavens (al-Mi’raj) where the prayer commandment was decreed, every human soul similarly ought to undergo a journey of its own in its religious growth in life. Praying five times a day at the divinely appointed times and as many rak’ahs as God asked us to take on – which in fact signifies conversing with our Lord and Sustainer, plus powering our soul and mind with the spirit of Truth – is the most invaluable asset that one may possess all through the long and thorny journey. Every single prayer is thus expected to elevate its executor a step or a degree off the wickedness and the confines of this world and towards a spiritual fulfillment. So, the bigger number of those who willingly and enthusiastically tread on the said spiritual journey, ever ready to better themselves and those around them, the better the prospects for their ideals to materialize and flourish become. With such people aboard, imposing a struggle for the supremacy of God’s Word as the sole objective of existence will never be an impossible proposition, as plainly shown by the history of the Madinah city-state and by the history of other successful Islamic societies.

For the purpose of creating healthy and upright individuals who will constitute a healthy and virtuous society, the prescription of Adhan (calling to prayers), Siyam (fast), Zakah (the alms), Sadaqah al-fitr (charity of fast-breaking), Jihad (struggle for the holy cause), and some other legislative moves with regard to halal (lawful) and haram (forbidden) – all these came about as well during the earliest Madinah period.[11] Although the city-state of Madinah was just about a few years old, yet some of the most crucial and decisive aspects of the individual, family and societal life have already been duly taken up. The aspect of urban development was just a dimension in a multidimensional cultural and civilizational mission undertaken by the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers.


The community building process based on wisdom and pragmatism


Under the vigilant eye of the Prophet (pbuh) and revelation, the same trend continued throughout the Madina period and at times it was even intensified. Every obstacle standing on the way of the dynamic personality and Ummah building strategies was dealt with wisely, gradually, steadfastly, and with a great deal of beautiful counsel. In the introduction to the al-Baqarah chapter, the longest Qur’anic chapter and one of the first to be revealed in Madinah, Yusuf Ali thus observed: “The Islamic Ummah having thus been established with its definite center and symbol, ordinances are laid down for the social life of the community, with the proviso that righteousness does not consist in formalities, but in faith, kindness, prayer, charity, probity, and patience under suffering. The ordinances relate to food and drink, bequests, fast, Jihad, wine and gambling, treatment of orphans and women, etc.”[12]

One of the most notable community building methods adopted by Islam was judicious gradation. The do’s and don’ts of the new faith were laid down in a slow but steady way attending to the most pressing individual and societal needs. The intellectual, as well as psychological, state and capacity of the people were considered most in the process. Never were the people fed with more than what they really needed in a situation and could aptly understand and in an approved manner apply. This was so because “On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear…” (al-Baqarah 185); and also because “…Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties…” (al-Baqarah 185); and also because “…Allah doth not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete His favor to you, that ye may be grateful.” (al-Ma’idah 6)

While their overall progress was closely monitored by revelation, never was the people’s general welfare in real life neglected even for a moment by their guide, teacher and savior: the Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) succeeded in setting some high standards concerning the psychological aspect of interpersonal and mass communication. Instructing the Prophet (pbuh) as to how to deal with the people, Allah – be He exalted and glorified – says in the Qur’an: “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” (al-Nahl 125)

The relationship between revelation and the people was comparable to a physician-patient relationship based on understanding, goodwill and trust. Before an ailment is treated it must be beforehand thoroughly examined and correctly diagnosed by a physician. The more complex and serious an ailment the more attention ought to be given to the examination stage. Next, the therapy process must be meticulous and gradual, corresponding with the patient’s physical immune system, with his body’s immediate reactions to the already executed actions, as well as with the intensity and extent of the first signs of the patient’s recovery. So important is the matter of mutual understanding, trust and collaboration between a physician and his patient that the latter’s life and the former’s reputation and integrity depend on it. For instance, if a patient uses up more medication than prescribed, or he uses it in a wrong way, he may well endanger his life by his action. By the same token, if a medication prescribed for a certain period of time and for a certain stage of an ailment is used at different times and at different stages, it too may kill the patient.

This is exactly what A’ishah, the wife of the Prophet (pbuh), had in mind when she once commented on the nature of the Islamic mission: “The first thing revealed in the Qur’an is a detailed Surah (Qur’anic chapters) replete with the mention of Jannah and the Hell, until such time when people (in large numbers) entered the fold of Islam, the injunctions relating to Halal (approved) and Haram (prohibited) were revealed. If at the very outset they had been ordered to abstain from drinking, the people would have said that they would not give it up; and if it was ordained that they should keep away from fornication, they would have said that they would never refrain from it.”[13]    

Moreover, the Prophet’s companion Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud used to make harangue to people every Thursday. Once somebody implored him to do it everyday, whereupon Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud replied: “I do not do so because I am afraid I would become a burden to you. I preach to you as the Prophet (pbuh) used to preach to us at intervals so that we might not get tired of it.”[14]

[1] The Holy Qur’an, English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary; see the commentary of the verse 4 from the al-Saff chapter.

[2]Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), vol. 3 p. 208. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab Sifah al-Qiyamah wa al-Raqa’iq wa al-Wara’ ‘an Rasulillah, Hadith No. 2409.

[3]Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 3 p. 208.

[4] Ibid, vol. 3 p. 211. Al-Tabari, The History, Translated and Annotated by John Alden Williams, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985), vol. 7 p. 2. 

[5] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 420.

[6]Al-Samhudi, Wafa’ al-Wafa, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1997), vol. 1 p. 324. Ibn Sa’d, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1957), vol. 1 p. 239. Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, (Cairo: Matba’ah Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa Awladuhu, 1936), vol. 2 p. 140.

[7]‘Umari Akram Diya’, Madinan Society at the Time of the Prophet, (Herndon: The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1991), p. 66.

[8] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Adab, Hadith No. 106.

[9] Ibid., Kitab al-Fara’id, Hadith No. 739.

[10] Al-Tabari, The History, vol. 7 p. 9.

[11] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 3 p. 230.

[12] The Holy Qur’an, English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary; see the introduction to the al-Baqarah chapter, p. 5.

[13] Islahi Amin Ahsan, Call to Islam and How the Holy Prophets Preached, translated from Arabic into English by Sharif Ahmed Khan, (Kuwait: Islamic Book Publishers, 1982), p. 70.

[14] Ibid., p. 82.

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