Housing Lessons from the Life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): Social Integration and Housing (Part 1)

{jcomments on}Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Islam teaches that people are vicegerents on earth entrusted with the honorable task of inhabiting the earth in accordance with the divine guidance presented to them. This terrestrial life serves to people as a platform either for elevating their status over that of angels, should they abide by the divinely prescribed guiding instructions and commands, or for degrading their selves to a rank lower than that of animals, should they turn away from the rays of the truth and dazed and lost start wandering aimlessly amid the innumerable and awesome wonders of creation.

Man is created as a social being endued with a free will, intense passion, congenital and gripping emotions, as well as with an enormous intellectual prowess. If these qualities are correctly cultivated and used, they are bound to lead man to the highest level of honor and distinction. However, if they are misused or abused, they are bound to lead man to some of the most disgraceful levels of self-ruin and humiliation. Allah says in the Qur’an: “Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of what the hands of men have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return.” (al-Rum, 41)

Islam also teaches that humanity is a big family with one and the same origins, mission and purpose. People have been divided into various communities and tribes only to know and learn from each other and cooperate with each other in righteousness and piety, not that they may abhor, look down at and conspire against each other. The best of people are those who are most submissive to Allah. Allah says on this: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (al-Hujurat, 13)

“…And help one another in goodness and piety, and do not help one another in sin and aggression; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is severe in requiting (evil).” (al-Ma’idah, 2)

Moreover, Islam with its unique tawhidic (the idea of Allah’s Oneness) worldview champions that all the believing men and women are brothers and sisters to each other. Their example is like a fortified building whose bricks enforce and rely on each other. They hold together in unity and strength, each part contributing strength in its own way.[1]

The believers are like one person, or like one body; if a single organ is in pain, the whole body feels it and cannot rest in peace until the pain is cured. Allah says about this: “The Believers are but a single Brotherhood, so make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that you may receive Mercy. O you who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others. It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former). Nor let some women laugh at others. It may be that the (latter are better than the (former). Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames. Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed. And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong.” (al-Hujurat, 10, 11)

“The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another. They enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil. They observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy, for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.” (al-Tawbah, 71)

The Prophet (pbuh) said about this: “A believer is like a brick for another believer, the one supporting the other.”[2]

“The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.”[3]

“A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He neither oppresses him nor humiliates him nor looks down upon him. It is a serious evil for a Muslim that he should look down upon his brother Muslim. All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother in faith: his blood, his wealth and his honor.”[4]

Surely, it was because of these Islamic values and teachings that no sooner had Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) migrated to Madinah and had embarked on transforming and developing the area of Yathrib into a lively, compact and vibrant city-state of Madinah, than the Islamic scheme of personality and community building, which was based on and infused with the power and zeal of the Islamic worldview and shari’ah (law), got into full swing. The undertaking reached its pinnacle when the Prophet (pbuh) 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. 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.

Also, shortly after arriving in Madinah, the Prophet (pbuh) also organized the just relationships between the various inhabitants of Madinah, including the Jews, and recorded them in a document called the Constitution of Madinah. The commitments of each group within Madinah and its rights and duties were comprehensively enshrined in the document.

Immediately following his arrival in Madinah, the Prophet (pbuh), for the similar reasons, disclosed to the keen and excited assembled crowd some of the paths which invariably lead towards Jannah (Paradise) in the Hereafter, as well as towards the individual and collective happiness in this world. Such paths, which are as much individual as community oriented, 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).[5] Undeniably, furthermore, these were among the very first words and advices which the Prophet (pbuh) had uttered following his Hijrah (migration), because Abdullah b. Salam was among the first to see, meet and hear the Prophet (pbuh) when he arrived in Madinah. After he had done so, Abdullah b. Salam instantly embraced Islam as he had realized that the Prophet’s face “seemed by no means like the face of an imposter.”[6]

In the same vein, aiming at an effective and speedy realization of the personality and community building mission in Madinah, the contents of the Prophet’s sermon during the first Friday prayer (Jum’ah) — as well as the contents of the other sermons of his at this particular juncture — emphasized 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 virtue and goodness and not in malevolence and mischief, the common causes of Muslims, and the like.[7]

Islamic built environment must promote and, at the same time, must be a field for equitable social interactions. In this way, applying  some of the most important Islamic values and principles in relation to the development of society will be greatly aided, and some of the most devastating social ailments will be successfully warded off. In this regard too is the Prophet (pbuh) our best example to get inspiration from and strive to emulate.

Strengthening fraternity among the Migrants (Muhajirs) from Makkah and Helpers (Ansar, the natives of Medina) was at all times one of the major goals of the Prophet’s actions, fully knowing that the future of Islam and the Muslim society in Madinah depended on the strength of the relationships between the two sides. Therefore, his planning, building and development pursuits in Madinah, with the erection of his mosque and people’s houses around it, aimed to foster constructive and fair social interactions among the Muslims.

To begin with, while building first and foremost his mosque, the principal mosque in Madinah, following the migration from Makkah, building the houses for the Migrants, including the houses of the Prophet (pbuh), was consequentially for some time deferred. During that period — approximately six or seven months — the Migrants stayed together with the Helpers sharing not only their houses but virtually everything else with them. While staying together in same houses, the two sides developed some strong and warm relationships, which later, time and gain, proved its incredible worth when the people had to face and overcome the challenges posed by the painstaking community building assignments. The Prophet (pbuh) himself stayed with a companion Abu Ayyub al-Ansari sharing with him his house till the mosque was completed.

While building the mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) and the people used to chant, as an immediate result of the integration efforts: “O God, no good except the good of the Hereafter, so have mercy upon the Migrants and Helpers!”[8]

When the building of the mosque was completed, people, including the Prophet (pbuh), started building their houses around it. The houses of the Prophet (pbuh) adjoined the mosque, on its eastern side, opening into it. The area shortly was changed into the nerve-centre of the new Madinah community. The people’s houses clustered around the Prophet’s mosque and his houses, making eventually the core of the city to look like ring-shaped.

The mosque and with it the midpoint of Madinah where a majority of the people’s houses later were concentrated, 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 which was disseminated to the people through the city’s focal point which contained the Prophet’s mosque and a majority of Madinah houses which were newly planned and built, was that Islam favors no person and no group on account of sheer history, culture or socio-political and economic status and affiliation. Everyone will be treated equally and will have a place in the forthcoming Madinah urbanization scheme. Everyone will be given an opportunity to make a contribution and shine. Everyone will be allowed to freely enjoy his or her rights, and, in turn, will be expected to responsibly discharge his or her duties and responsibilities. Credits will be given only on the basis of people’s  merit, piety, efforts made and righteous contributions to society.

Since the mosque – around which the people’s houses later clustered — was established on a relatively uninhibited land, a majority of the Migrants were honored to be able to build houses and 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. As 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 build their houses and 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 in Madinah 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 contributions to satisfying the socio-political and economic needs of the city-state would have been somewhat forestalled for sometime.

Nor were the Helpers held in contempt by not selecting the location of the mosque, and with it the residential center of Madinah, in any of their established settlements. The arrival of Islam and the Prophet (pbuh) in Madinah meant that each and every avenue to reviving the centuries-old and all-encompassing antagonism between the two major Arab tribes in Madinah: Aws and Khazraj, had to be forever obstructed. Doing a favor to either Aws or Khazraj, by positioning the mosque and the city’s residential midpoint in the settlement of either tribe, for example, while neglecting the other tribe, could have been one of such avenues, given the fact that the faith (iman) was yet to conquer the hearts of many individuals from each of the Aws and Khazraj tribes. Certainly, not positioning the Prophet’s mosque with its surrounding residential center in the ambit of either Aws or Khazraj was one of the wisest and most constructive moves that could have been made under the circumstances.[9]

[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] Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Book 032, Hadith No. 6257.

[3] Ibid., Book 032, Hadith No. 6254.

[4] Ibid., Book 032, Hadith No. 6219.

[5]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.

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

[7] Ibid, vol. 3 p. 211. Al-Tabari, The History of Prophets and Kings, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985), vol. 7 p. 2. 

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

[9] Spahic Omer, The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Urbanization of Madinah, (Kuala Lumpur: International Islamic University Malaysia, 2005), p. 151-154.

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