Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
International Islamic University Malaysia
When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) migrated from Makkah to Madinah, the first and immediate task relating to his community building mission was constructing the city’s principal mosque. Every other undertaking, including building houses for the migrants a majority of whom were poor and practically homeless, had to be deferred till after the Prophet’s Mosques was completed. When completed, the form of the Prophet’s Mosque was extremely simple. Its unpretentious form notwithstanding, the Mosque since its inception served as a genuine community development centre, quickly evolving into a multifunctional complex. The Mosque was meant not only for performing prayers at formally appointed times, but also for many other religious, social, political, administrative and cultural functions. It became a catalyst and standard-setter for civilization-building undertakings across the Muslim territories. In this paper, the significance of the Prophet’s Mosque as a prototype community development center is discussed. The architectural aspect of the Mosque and its reciprocal relationship with the Mosque’s dynamic functions is also dwelled on. The paper is divided into the following sections: 1) From Yathrib to Madinah; 2) Madinah (the city) as a microcosm of Islamic civilization; 3) The introduction of the Prophet’s Mosque; 4) The main functions of the Mosque; 5) The architecture of the Mosque; 6) Seven lessons in architecture.
Keywords: Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); the Prophet’s Mosque; Madinah; community centre.
In Islam, believers, worship as a way of life, and the notion of the mosque as a community center, are inseparable. They originate from each other, needing one another for their proper functioning and continued existence. The mosque is as old as man on earth, because the truth (Islam) is also as old. The life of a believer cannot be imagined without the mosque institution which as a community center should always occupy as much as possible the central and most strategic locations in villages, neighborhoods, towns and cities. The mosque should always contain as many purposeful and serviceable components and facilities as possible so as to function as a vibrant and effective community center. Indeed, good mosques are accessible, pleasant and friendly. They are cost-effective, environment friendly and sustainable. They provide a wide range of activities, benefits and services to their users so that they become resourceful, relevant, lively, valuable and alluring to both men and women, the young and old, the rich and poor, the busy and idle, and to the exemplary as well as nominal Muslims. These and other similar truths are to be remembered and painstakingly observed during the processes of planning, designing, building and using mosques in every time and place. In short, mosques are to be living invaluable realities. At every tier of their conceptual and physical existence, they ought to “live” and embody the dynamism, pragmatism, universalism, intransience and splendor of the Islamic message. They should be the Muslim community’s greatest asset.
This paper discusses the role of the Prophet’s Mosque as an exemplar of the community development process during the Prophet’s era. The main functions performed by the Mosque revolved around being a centre for individual and congregational worship practices, a learning centre, the seat of the Prophet’s government, a welfare and charity centre, a detention and rehabilitation centre, a place for medical treatment and nursing, and a place for some leisure activities. The Prophet’s Mosque was the nerve-centre of the wide spectrum of the community’s activities. It was also a centre of gravity for the civilizational aspirations of the fast-emerging Muslim community (ummah). The impact of the Mosque complex on the development of Madinah was such that the core of the city eventually grew to be almost ring-shaped, centring on the complex. Thus, the standard was set for all future Muslim cities in terms of the status and role of their principal mosques, and the latter’s position vis-à-vis the rest of the cities’ spatial components. The first seeds of the discernible vocabulary of Muslim architecture in general, and mosque architecture in particular, have also been sown. The architectural impact of the Prophet’s Mosque is divided into seven aspects, each aspect representing a separate architectural lesson. The seven lessons are discussed at the end of the paper.
From Yathrib to Madinah
Prior to the hijrah (migration) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from Makkah to Madinah, the latter was called Yathrib consisting of several loosely interrelated settlements. Its population was made up mainly of Arabs and Jews, the former being divided into the Aws and Khazraj tribes and the latter into Banu Qaynuqa’, Banu al-Nadir and Banu Qurayzah tribes. Because of this initial delicate demography of the place, it may be that the name Yathrib was not originally applied to the entire Madinah oasis, but rather only to a section thereof and to some of its major settlements.
However, after the arrival of the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions from Makkah (muhajirs or migrants), as well as after the conversion of many a Madinah citizen to Islam, the city’s demographic landscape was set to change forever. The first stage of such a drastic transformation hit the road as early as during the instant building of the principal (the Prophet’s) Mosque -– ahead of anything else — which at once assumed the role of the center of gravity in the affairs and developments instigated and flavored by the aspirations and goals of the new community. The city’s name was expectedly altered in the process. The name adopted for the model Islamic city was Madinah (meaning simply “the City”), derived from the Arabic words maddana and tamaddun, which mean to civilize (urbanize) and civilization respectively. From the same root the concepts madaniyy and mutamaddin, both of which denote civilized, civil and cultured, are derived, too. In its capacity as the prototype Islamic city, the urban fabric, spatial arrangements and functions of Madinah were emulated for centuries by Muslims all over their vast territories as much as the indigenous geographical, environmental and other inherent factors and conditions permitted.
The adoption of the name Madinah was a judicious, gradual and not at all a hasty and prejudiced course of action on the part of the Prophet (pbuh), thus enabling everyone to gradually come to terms with the new urban phenomenon and its far-reaching civilizational implications. This could be inferred from the substance of the Madinah Constitution written in the wake of the hijrah. Therein, it was still stated Yathrib, rather than Madinah, whenever the home of the migration and its general population were implied (Ibn Kathir, 1985, vol. 3 p. 223).
The Prophet (pbuh) was not in favor of retaining Yathrib as the name of the novel and unique city-state for two major reasons: firstly, because its meaning was miles away from reflecting Madinah’s newly generated lure, uniqueness, aura and dynamism; and secondly, because the name Yathrib bore a couple of connotations which were not only improper for naming the impending urban marvel of Islam, but also were, to an extent, offensive. The most inappropriate and conspicuous meanings of Yathrib are reproach (tathrib) and malevolence or ill will (tharb). While still in Makkah, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have once said: “I was ordered to (migrate to) a town which will eat up towns. They used to say, Yathrib, but it is Madinah. It removes the bad people like the blacksmith’s furnace removes impurities from the iron” (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 1871).
Indeed, changing the name Yathrib was just one of the numerous examples in which the Prophet (pbuh) is seen altering the improper pre-Islamic names of the people and, every so often, the places. Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (1978, vol. 8 p. 216) remarked that the Prophet (pbuh) loved very much beautiful and meaningful names, but disliked repulsive and meaningless ones. In one hadith (tradition), the Prophet (pbuh) said that the dearest names to God are ‘Abdullah (the servant of Allah) and ‘Abdurrahman (the servant of the most Gracious) (al-Tirmidhi, 2010, Hadith No. 2759). As such, the two names were the ones which the Prophet (pbuh) gave most frequently to his newly converted-to-Islam companions. In Muslim b. al-Hajjaj’s anthology of hadith (Sahih Muslim) there is a chapter entitled “Excellence of changing ugly names to good names”, which contains reports that the Prophet (pbuh) changed, for instance, the name of ‘Asiya (Disobedient) to Jamilah (Beautiful) (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 5332). The original name of the Prophet’s wife Zaynab was Barra (Pious), but he changed it to Zaynab saying: “I did not like that it should be said: “He had come out from Barra (Pious)” (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 5335, 5336).
True to the expectations and anticipations of the Prophet (pbuh), the old name of Madinah, Yathrib, was occasionally the target of the Madinah hypocrites’ undying attempts to deride and ridicule the Prophet (pbuh), Islam and Muslims. While discoursing on the battle of the Ditch (khandaq) or Confederates (al-ahzab) — one of the most petrifying confrontations between the Muslims and their sundry enemies inside as well as outside Madinah — the Holy Qur’an reveals that the hypocrites, who had already displayed their true colors in the course of the battle, at one point said to the Muslims intending to poke fun at them: “Ye men of Yathrib! Ye cannot stand (the attack)! Therefore go back!” (al-Ahzab, 13). It should be noted that the event of this unholy confederacy against Islam took place in the 5th year following the hijrah. By then, the Madinah community was already standing firmly as a sovereign city-state with no single ambiguity left pertaining to its philosophy, purpose and vision. And for one to call at that time the inhabitants of Madinah “the People of Yathrib”, especially under such trying conditions, was really something of an oddity and could only mean covert mockery and ill will. It also meant an outright disapproval of what was transpiring in Madinah following the arrival of the Prophet (pbuh) and Islam in it, and a desire for restoring the pre-Islamic jahiliyyah (ignorance) Madinah days.
The Prophet’s words in the aforementioned tradition (hadith): “…They used to say, Yathrib, but it is Madinah…” some people associate rather with the Madinah hypocrites. That said, another inference could be reached here, that is, the Prophet (pbuh) did not pronounce this hadith while in Makkah, but rather after his arrival in Madinah. Because of this, once the Prophet (pbuh) changed the name of Yathrib to Madinah, he is believed to have completely prohibited the usage of the former. Infringing this tenet meant committing an offence (al-‘Asqalani, 1978, vol. 8 p. 216).
Madinah (the City) as a Microcosm of Islamic Civilization
The name Madinah (the City) was not given at the dictates of chance, as the advent of a new worldview and those who had exemplified it in their thoughts, words and deeds implied the advent of a whole set of new ideas and life interests and pursuits. Of them was the idea of urban settlement, or the city, which transcended the conventional spirituality-free notion that the same is a relatively permanent and highly organized center of population, of greater size or importance than a village.
Similarly, the city as perceived by Islam easily transcends what some theorists attempt to say even today on the historical phenomenon of the city in general, that the same, for instance, is a mere unique, cumulative, historical process, which takes its particular form “through a long chain of individual events, subject to a host of accidents of history and of site, and to the broad influences of culture, climate, and economic and political structure”; or that the city should be solely looked at as a pattern “of activity in space which facilitate the production, distribution, and consumption of material goods”; or that the city is planted only “to dominate a subject countryside, to prevent a resource from falling into enemy hands, or to defend a border”, etc. (Lynch, 1998, pp. 327-343).
The philosophy of the city in Islam partly or completely run parallel with what is meant by all those definitions. Nonetheless, it is far more than that.
In addition to relatively being that which the city phenomenon is and would always be thought of, the city in Islam, more importantly, stands for a ground of the people’s submission to Almighty God, their Creator and Lord, and of their close interactions with space, natural and man-made surroundings and, of course, with themselves at various levels, given that the city is a scene where the people live, work, play, learn, worship, rise and fall. The outcome of these and other activities which the people engage in in cities — and other settlements of theirs — is what is called cultures and civilizations, but whose substance and moral fiber greatly vary due to the principles, beliefs and value systems on which they rest, as well as due to the existential objectives and goals intended to be achieved thereby.
In other words, the city in Islam is a microcosm of Islamic culture and civilization in that individuals, families and virtually every other component, as well as institution, in the complex hierarchy of the Muslim socio-political, economic and religious organizations and establishments are bred and nurtured therein. Regardless of which is the cause and which the effect, civilization and Islamic urbanism seem to be destined for rising and falling together. Hence, it was most suitable for the name of the prototype Islamic city to be derived from the word tamaddun, which denotes civilization, for it was a place of earliest Islamic civilization making. Following in the footsteps of the Prophet’s Madinah, Islamic cities ever since became the foremost sites of Islamic civilization making. Accordingly, as an ontological tenet, wherever and whenever Islam is duly practiced as a comprehensive way of life and as a religion of spiritual, intellectual, moral and civilizational awareness, there must be, as a consequence, a progressive, wholesome and purposeful urbanization paradigm which, in turn, will signify a sign of an ongoing visionary and righteous civilizational consciousness and growth.
Thus for al-Farabi (d. 339 AH/950 CE), an outstanding Muslim philosopher of the 4th AH/10th CE century, who wrote on the ideal city (al-Madinah al-Fadilah): “The fashioning of a city (state) is not the outcome of a natural process; it depends, like the moral life of individuals, on the right decision being taken, it makes all the difference whether ‘will’ and ‘choice’ are directed towards the true good or not. The result will be either a good or bad city (state)” (al-Farabi, 1985, p. 433). Furthermore, “the excellent city resembles the perfect and healthy body, all of whose limbs cooperate to make the life of the animal perfect and to preserve it in this state.” (al-Farabi, 1985, p. 231) The ruler(s) of the excellent city, the foundation and source of the policies by which the city will be governed, must align will, resourcefulness and energy with vision and pragmatism rooted in wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom and knowledge the ruler(s) must receive firstly by means of his predisposition to rulership by his inborn nature, and secondly from his fervent and fruitful relationship with the divine reality, i.e. the revelation conveyed to the Prophet (pbuh) and embodied in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah. Due to his central qualities, such a ruler may well become something like a visionary forecaster capable of warning of things and problems that are yet to come and befall the city, as well as of telling of and solving particular predicaments which exist at present, unlike those who had detached themselves from divinity and through their faulty judgments missed the right path, bringing about, in consequence, nothing but ignorance and wickedness to their cities (al-Farabi, 1985, pp. 245-253).
Ibn Khaldun (d. 809 AH/1406 CE) — one of the greatest Muslim historians, and also known as the father of modern social science and cultural history, who lived in the 8th and early 9th AH/14th and early 15th CE century – wrote in his celebrated Muqaddimah that apart from defense purposes, cities are also built because the people once risen above desert life and desert culture as a necessary development in their civilizational growth, start seeking tranquility, restfulness and relaxation, and try to provide the aspects of civilization that were lacking in the desert. This unavoidably leads to the emergence of sedentary culture brought about by luxury and comforts, and which must be governed by someone who is superior over others and who shall act as a restraining influence and mediator, i.e., royal authority, upholding peace and order. Such developments can occur only in large and complex urban areas. Hence, Ibn Khaldun proclaimed, while entitling some of the Muqaddimah chapters, that “royal authority calls for urban settlement”, that “dynasties are prior to towns and cities; towns and cities are secondary (products) of royal authority”, and that “only a strong royal authority is able to construct large cities and high monuments” (Ibn Khaldun, 1967, vol. 2 pp. 235-238). It stands to reason, therefore, that the existence of Bedouins is prior to, and the basis of, the existence of towns and cities. Urbanization and, as such, refined civilization, is found to be the goal of the Bedouin. The life and achievements of the city are the life and achievements of the dynasty: “If the dynasty is of short duration, life in the town will stop at the end of the dynasty. Its civilization will recede, and the town will fall into ruins. On the other hand, if the dynasty is of long duration and lasts a long time, new constructions will always go up in the town, the number of large mansions will increase, and the walls of the town will extend further and further. Eventually, the layout of the town will cover a wide area, and the town will extend so far and so wide as to be almost beyond measurement” (Ibn Khaldun, 1967, vol. 2 p. 235.)
The Introduction of the Prophet’s Mosque
The first urban element introduced by the Prophet (pbuh) to the city of Madinah was the mosque institution which functioned as a community development center. While in Makkah, the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers were denied the existence and free utilization of their mosques, although they were in dire need of them. As a result, they were denied a free and proper practice of their new Islamic faith, and so, were robbed of some of their basic human rights. They were denied the freedom of thought, expression and practice of their beliefs.
However, in order to offset partially this deficiency in Makkah, the first Muslims were utilizing some Muslim houses, or some quiet, secret and safe spots mainly on the outskirts of Makkah, to serve the purpose on an interim basis. They even got accustomed to going and visiting the Ka’bah or al-Masjid al-Haram, albeit without openly and freely performing their religious rituals there. Al-Masjid al-Haram was then controlled by polytheists and polytheistic ideas and customs, both from inside the city of Makkah and from abroad. This way, only as much as symbolically could al-Masjid al-Haram function as a mosque, as well as a nucleus, in the lives of the nascent believing Muslim community. Such a state of affairs continued for about 13 years following which God brought about a change and granted the Muslims and their Prophet (pbuh) that which they had been yearning for. They managed to migrate to Madinah where all the necessary conditions for establishing a well-structured, thriving, free and autonomous state existed.
To what extent the mosque institution was desirable both to propel the struggle for the Islamic cause to a higher level, and to spur and facilitate the overall progress of the Muslims and their young community, testifies the following event. On the way from Makkah to Madinah, the Prophet (pbuh) rested four — or fourteen, or eighteen, or twenty two days (Ibn Kathir, 1985, vol. 3 p. 196) — in Quba’, a suburb of Madinah about two to three miles to the southeast of the city, whence he proceeded to his final destination, the city of Madinah proper. Even though his stay in Quba’ accounted for a short interval under some totally new circumstances which everyone was craving for, the Prophet (pbuh) succeeded in establishing a mosque there, “the Mosque of Piety”, to which he later during his subsequent stay in Madinah frequently came, riding or walking. The Prophet (pbuh) is said to have positioned first a stone on the Mosque’s qiblah side (the qiblah then was towards al-Masjid al-Aqsa) followed by Abu Bakr, who positioned another stone. Next, the people started building.
The Quba’ Mosque was the first mosque built by the Prophet (pbuh). Thus, it occupies a special place in the Islamic tradition. The Prophet (pbuh) once said: “He who purifies himself at home and then proceeds to the Quba’ Mosque for a prayer will procure the reward of the ‘umrah (the lesser pilgrimage).” (Ibn Majah, 2008, Hadith No. 1402) Certainly, it was because of this that the Qur’an referred to the Quba’ Mosque as “the Mosque of Piety”. The Prophet (pbuh) loved to go and visit it.
That building and making the most of mosques was a matter of great urgency to the Prophet (pbuh) has been highlighted once again prior to the Prophet’s arrival into the city of Madinah proper. It was Friday when the Prophet (pbuh) set off from Quba’ to Madinah. On the way, before he arrived, the time for the Jumu’ah (Friday) Prayer drew near. Being used to offering prayers wherever their appointed times overtook him, even if he happened to be in a sheepfold, the Prophet (pbuh) performed the Jumu’ah Prayer with the tribe of Banu Salim b. ‘Uwq because he happened to pass right through their quarter at the time of the Prayer. They prayed most probably at a plain that functioned as a makeshift mosque of the Banu Salim b. ‘Uwq tribe. That was the Prophet’s first Jumu’ah Prayer in Madinah. The number of worshipers was about one hundred; some estimated that it was about forty (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 1 p. 258).
When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) arrived in Madinah from Makkah, the first and immediate task relating to the built environment, as well as to the community building process, that he embarked on fulfilling was building the city’s central mosque, also called the Prophet’s mosque (al-Masjid al-Nabawi). Every other undertaking, including building houses for the migrants (muhajirs) who were practically homeless, had to be put off till after the Prophet’s mosque was completed. Herein, too, lies a clue as to the extreme importance of the mosque and the profundity of its message in Islam.
When the migrants arrived in Madinah, almost all of them were indigent and virtually homeless. At the same time, the aspiring community had no mosques or any other social institutions. While the first problem the Prophet (pbuh) was able to successfully manipulate and circumnavigate without really abandoning it and so, causing any serious harm to the society, the latter predicament, however, could neither be disregarded, even for a short time, nor substituted with another feasible alternatives. Thus, the instituting of a principal mosque in Madinah needed immediate attention. For the interim housing of the migrants, while the mosque was being planned and constructed, a workable alternative had to be found.
If the migrants had no houses of their own, there were many other houses in Madinah which if shared were able to offer temporary relief. If truth be told, the migrants needed homes, rather than just houses. The Prophet (pbuh) sought to offer them the former. The latter, he knew, would come in due course. The migrants might have hastened immediately to acquire houses for themselves. But such would have been at the expense of acquiring homes, because they were in a foreign country in Madinah, having been forced to abandon their homes, properties, family roots and quite a number of closest family members in Makkah. Thus, providing homes, and not houses, was a priority for the migrants. That exactly was the thing which the Prophet (pbuh) had in mind and the natives of Madinah (the helpers or ansar) were excited about providing as a solution till the migrants got their own houses and homes. Hence, the helpers offered their houses to be shared with their brethren from Makkah. Although it was transitory in nature, the helpers’ offering to the migrants a genuine home went a long way towards the realization of the Prophet’s and Islam’s mission of integration and brotherhood in Madinah.
However, there was nothing that could offset the absence of a mosque, the house of God, in Madinah. There was no existing structure, or an institution, that could offer any relief in case the establishment of a mosque was delayed. Even in the world of ideas, conceptually, a substitute for the mosque phenomenon did not exist. The matter thus could not be deferred, or taken lightly, as every forthcoming civilizational-building initiative utterly depended on it. Glorifying and worshipping God at a collective level could not have been deferred any longer. Perceiving and constructing a house of God, i.e., a mosque, for the purpose, was an obligation long overdue. The people were kept longing and craving for so long. Once in Madinah, they hardly could wait to bring their elongated unjustified misery to an end. Such is the importance of the mosque in the implementation of Islam as a comprehensive lifestyle. Such is the importance of the mosque, furthermore, in the development of the Muslim community, culture and civilization. The mosque is a lifeline for Islam and Muslims. On it, their identity and survival depend.
Strengthening fraternity among the migrants (muhajirs) and helpers (ansar, or the natives of Madinah) was at all times one of the major goals of the Prophet’s plans and actions. His general planning and building pursuits were no exception. By planning and building his Mosque, prior to anything else, the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to help everyone in Madinah in terms of their quick and smooth adaptation and acclimatization to what was transpiring around them. Thus, he wanted to help the migrants and ease their pain with reference to the new natural environment and climate in Madinah which they suddenly found themselves in and which apparently did not suit them well, as well as with reference to their distressing economic and psychological conditions that resulted from the migration. At the same time, the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to assist the helpers (ansar) to come to terms as quickly and as effortlessly as possible with a new socio-political landscape that was forming in their homeland, and with a new code of life which most of them had freshly embraced.
The Main Functions of the Mosque
As mentioned earlier, the Prophet’s Mosque, in its capacity as a community development center, performed numerous religious and social roles and functions. The Mosque thus was: 1) a centre for religious activities; 2) a learning centre; 3) the seat of the Prophet’s government; 4) a welfare and charity centre; 5) a detention and rehabilitation centre; 6) a place for medical treatment and nursing; 7) a place for some leisure activities. Each of these functions will be discussed next.
1) The Mosque as a centre for religious activities
The Prophet’s Mosque was a place where the Muslims offered in congregation their five daily prayers. Other available mosques in Madinah served the similar purpose, but the Jumu’ah Prayer was conducted in the Prophet’s Mosque only. The Prophet (pbuh) in many of his sayings (hadith) encouraged the people to frequent and patronize mosques, promising abundant rewards for those who establish and keep up that habit. He, for instance, said that a prayer offered in congregation is twenty five, or twenty seven, times more superior in reward to that which is offered alone (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 466); that those who walk to mosques in darkness are given good tidings that they will have a perfect light on the Day of Judgment (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 561); that if women ask permission to go to the mosque at night, they are to be allowed (in principle, women are not obliged to pray in mosques) (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 824); that those whose hearts are attached to mosques are promised God’s shade on the Day of Judgment when there will be no shade but His, etc. (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 629).
In one tradition (hadith) the Prophet (pbuh), having said that praying in a group in the mosque is extraordinarily worthier than doing it elsewhere and alone, encapsulated, so to speak, all the other advantages that await those who visit the mosque with the intention of praying in it: “… If one performs ablution and does it perfectly, and then proceeds to the mosque with the sole intention of praying, then for each step which he takes towards the mosque, Allah upgrades him a degree in reward and forgives one sin till he enters the mosque. While he enters the mosque he is considered in prayer as long as he is waiting for the prayer and the angels keep on asking for Allah’s forgiveness for him and they keep on saying: ‘O Allah! Be merciful to him; o Allah! Forgive him,’ as long as he keeps on sitting at his praying place and does not pass wind” (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 466).
Hence, congregational prayers could be classified as fard kifayah (collective duty), that is to say, although they are not required to be performed by everybody in the mosque, a certain group must do it. However, if no group accomplishes a prayer in the mosque, each and every member of a community will be held responsible. Keeping away from praying in the mosque with no valid reason, irrespective of whether there is already a group doing it or not, is a minor sin which, nevertheless, can amount to a major one should the condition persist.
Only mandatory prayers (wajib) are to be performed in mosques, whereas voluntary prayers, even though it is possible for them to be performed in mosques, are advised to be limited to private houses. This is for fear that the people someday might become carried away and start neglecting the roles of their houses in creating together with the mosque institution and other societal establishments a healthy and virtuous society. Muslim women, however, are instructed to discharge their mandatory prayers at home — let alone voluntary ones — although going to mosques, even at night, with certain conditions, does her no harm. The Prophet (pbuh) used to say that the houses in which their inhabitants neither pray, nor read the Qur’an are like the graves and Satan loves to frequent them (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 1300).
Apart from the prayers, the Prophet’s Mosque accommodated many more religious activities which could be performed both individually and collectively, such as reciting and studying the Qur’an, dhikr (remembering and glorifying God), i’tikaf (retreat in mosques during the last third of the holy month of Ramadan for worship), meditation (tafakkur), etc.
2) The Mosque as a learning center
The Prophet’s Mosque was the first and undeniably most outstanding Islamic center of learning. There under the Prophet’s vigilant eye studied the generation, both men and women, of which the Qur’an says: “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves. You see them bowing and falling down prostrate (in prayer), seeking bounty from Allah and (His) good pleasure. The mark of them (i.e., of their Faith) is on their faces (foreheads) from the traces of (their) prostration (during prayers). This is their description in the Tawrat (Torah). But their description in the Injeel (Gospel) is like a (sown) seed which sends forth its shoot, then makes it strong, it then becomes thick, and it stands straight on its stem, delighting the sowers that He may enrage the disbelievers with them. Allah has promised those among them who believe (i.e., all those who follow Islamic Monotheism, the religion of Prophet Muhammad till the Day of Resurrection) and do righteous good deeds, forgiveness and a mighty reward (i.e., Paradise)” (al-Fath, 29).
Acquiring and transmitting knowledge are among the noblest and most rewarding activities that man can do in this terrestrial life. In Islam, learning means understanding and recognizing God as the Creator and Sovereign of the cosmos and man, recognizing man as the vicegerent of God and understanding his behavior and society, and understanding, as well as appreciating, the natural world so that a peaceful and accountable relationship with it could be fostered. For Muslims, therefore, living means learning, and learning means worshiping. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali captured this inimitable Islamic spirit of learning when he asserted that man “was created only to know (learn)” (Wan Daud, 1989, p. 62).
The Prophet (pbuh) once said: “If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge, the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned man over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion” (Abu Dawud, 1997, Hadith No. 36340).
Allah says in the Qur’an: “Those truly fear Allah, among His servants, who have knowledge” (Fatir, 28).
“There is no god but He: that is the witness of Allah, His angels, and those endued with knowledge, standing firm on justice…” (Al ‘Imran, 18).
“…Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition” (al-Zumar, 9).
Since at first there were no schools as such, it was natural that mosques became the first Islamic learning centers accessible to all, with the Prophet’s Mosque standing out as a dynamic standard setter. While encouraging the people to make use of mosques for the said purpose, the Prophet (pbuh) revealed: “… He who treads the path in search of knowledge, Allah will make with it the path which leads to Jannah (Paradise) easy for him. And those persons who assemble in a house of Allah’s Houses (mosques) and recite the Qur’an, learning and teaching it among themselves, there would descend upon them the tranquility, and mercy would cover them, and the angels would surround them, and Allah makes a mention of them in the presence of those near Him…” (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 6518).
The first generation of Muslims was capitalizing on every opportunity to acquire, apply and then disseminate knowledge. Some of them were ready to persevere in it even at the expense of the things they had been delighting in before. That’s why the Prophet’s Mosque was always bustling with life. Study circles over which the Prophet (pbuh) often presided, intellectual discourses, meditation, devotion to learning on an individual basis, etc., made the Mosque virtually never devoid of people. Neither women, nor children were overlooked in the process. The Prophet (pbuh) allocated some time during every week for teaching exclusively women, since they had their own subjects and issues which they wanted very much to bring up and gain knowledge of, but in a comfortable and conducive atmosphere away from men. A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, once remarked about the native women of Madinah: “Blessed are the women of the ansar (helpers). Shyness did not stand in their way of seeking knowledge about their religion” (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 649).
The number of knowledge seekers in the early Islamic society was increasing rapidly, never showing signs of decline. On the whole, two reasons may be given for that.
Firstly: the revelation of Islam, that is to say, the revelation of new knowledge, new teachings and new counsels, did not come to an end until the death of the Prophet (pbuh). So, by no means could anybody “graduate” from the Prophet’s “school” ahead of his death, or claim at any point before the end of revelation that he or she had acquired enough knowledge and wisdom.
Secondly: the number of new converts and migrants from different parts of the Arabian Peninsula was constantly increasing, crowding, in turn, the Mosque’s learning circles, as well as those circles which have been arranged for the same purpose but in some private dwellings. Such was the situation that the Prophet (pbuh) had to assign some learned companions of his to help in meeting the escalating demand (‘Abd al-‘Aziz, 1992, pp. 229-230).
Every kind of beneficial knowledge was pursued and cultivated — in keeping with the existing epistemological standards, of course. Poetry, in which many companions excelled and which was primarily used for propagating the Islamic cause, was no exception. A companion Hassan b. Thabit was one of the most outstanding poets. He used to recite poetry inside the Mosque of the Prophet (pbuh) and in the presence of the Prophet (pbuh) who once said: “O Hassan! Reply on behalf of Allah’s Messenger. O Allah! Support him with the Holy Spirit” (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 444).
Later, however, the second Caliph, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, disapproved of reciting poetry in mosques. When he once encountered Hassan b. Thabit in the Prophet’s Mosque, who was exactly doing that, ‘Umar demurred. But Hassan refused to give in, telling ‘Umar that he was reciting poetry in the same Mosque and in the presence of one (the Prophet (pbuh)) who was far better than him. Hassan even asked a companion Abu Hurayrah to bear witness to what he was saying, and thus support him, which the latter did (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 434).
That character of the Mosque, which later became the main feature of the principal mosques in Muslim cities, Caliph ‘Umar b. al-Khattab surely had in mind when he asked his governor in Kufah, Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas, to position the treasury, which had previously been robbed of some of its contents, as near as possible to the congregation area of the city’s mosque. “For in the mosque there are always people present, day and night, they will act as guards of what is also their treasure”, wrote ‘Umar to the governor (al-Tabari, 1985, vol. 13 p. 72).
Finally, in one account some additional light has been cast on the nature of the intellectual life in Madinah, in general, and in the Prophet’s Mosque, in particular. There it is referred to seventy men from the ansar (the helpers, or the natives of Madinah) who were called al-qurra’ (reciters). They used to recite the Qur’an, discuss and ponder over its meaning at night. In the day, they would bring water and pour it (in pitchers) in the Mosque, collect wood and sell it, and from the sale proceeds buy food for the poor and the needy. These seventy reciters the Prophet (pbuh) sent to a group of the people who had asked for some men to be sent to them so as to teach them the Qur’an and the sunnah (the Prophet’s sayings and living habits). However, those people were treacherous, so, they fell upon the reciters and killed them all before they reached their destination (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 4682).
3) The Mosque as the seat of the Prophet’s government
The Mosque of the Prophet (pbuh) played the role of the seat of the first Islamic government. In the Mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) used to spend long hours on a daily basis discussing, deciding and executing many affairs related to administering the state. Jihad (striving in the way of God) and state defense strategies were also initiated and concluded in the Mosque. When returning from a journey, the Prophet (pbuh) used to go to his Mosque first. There he would perform a short prayer of two units (rak’ah). Then, he would sit in the Mosque and attend to the people and their needs.
As he was the head of the Madinah government and the leader of the state, it was only appropriate for the Prophet’s houses to be built in the closest proximity to his Mosque. Thus, against the outer side of the eastern wall of the Mosque, the houses for the Prophet (pbuh) and his household were built. The eastern wall of the Mosque was integrated into the configurations of the houses serving as their western wall. The doors of the houses opened into the Mosque proper. In total, there were nine houses. The location of the Prophet’s houses (his official residences) vis-à-vis his Mosque implied convenience, accessibility, transparency and responsibility towards the people. Otherwise stated, it implied all the qualities needed for an excellent, competent, accountable and people-friendly government. However, some accounts suggest that the Prophet’s houses were located not only on the eastern side of the Mosque, but rather either on all sides, except the western side, or on the eastern as well as the northern sides of the Mosque only.
In his Mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) received foreign dignitaries. A tent was set up in the Mosque where from time to time some of the Prophet’s guests would stay. Some guests would stay even in the suffah (a section in the Mosque meant for the lodging of the poorest people in Madinah). However, more often than not, most of his guests would stay in some lofty houses that belonged to some companions, and which had been earlier appointed for the purpose (al-Kattani, 1980, vol. 1 p. 445-450). When receiving foreign delegations, the Prophet (pbuh) used to put on the most beautiful apparel he had. He would furthermore ask his nearest companions to do the same.
Some of the Prophet’s guests were non-Muslims, or recent converts. As such, receiving them and making them stay in the Mosque could soften their hearts, or could change for the better their stance on Islam and Muslims. The Mosque thus was a center for promoting mutual understanding, tolerance and unity. It was the first active center in history for interfaith dialogue and cooperation. When a Christian delegation from Najran, a city in southwestern Arabian Peninsula, visited the Prophet (pbuh), he met them nowhere else but in the shades of his Mosque. Their number was 60. They were led by a group of their priests. When the time of one of their prayers was due, they were allowed to pray right inside the Mosque.
In addition, since many Jews were residents of Madinah, their constant interactions with the Prophet (pbuh) and the Muslims at all levels of their mutual existence, are well-documented. During the abovementioned visit by the Christians from Najran, a group of Jewish rabbis from Madinah likewise joined them and their discussion (debate) with the Prophet (pbuh) (al-Sabuni, 1981, vol. 1 p. 108). Such was truly an awesome sight, a dialogue between three Abrahamic monotheistic faiths and between some of their highest representatives, which was hosted by the Prophet (pbuh) inside his Mosque, one of the holiest places in Islam. This particular role of the Prophet’s Mosque was a cause for revealing this Qur’anic verse: “Say: ‘O People of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! Come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah.’ And if they turn away, then say: ‘Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him)” (Alu ‘Imran, 64).
God also says, instructing Muslims as the initiators and major stakeholders in interfaith dialogues, especially with Jews and Christians: “And do not dispute with the People of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our Allah and your Allah is One, and to Him do we submit” (al-‘Ankabut, 46).
The Mosque every so often also served as a revenue distribution center. When some goods collected in Bahrain as land tax came to the Prophet (pbuh) — the biggest amount ever received during the Prophet’s time — he gathered the people in his Mosque where everything till the last coin was fairly distributed (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 413).
The Prophet (pbuh) acted in his Mosque as a judge, too. However, the execution of sentences took place outside the Mosque proper. The necessary punishments were implemented outside the Mosque because they might have entailed several elements, such as spilling blood, noisy commotions, uttering improper words, cursing, et cetera, as were grossly inappropriate inside mosques. This, however, by no means implies that the punishments were carried out in isolation away from the public eye. Quite the opposite, they were carried out in relatively public places, some of which even adjoined the Prophet’s Mosque, serving as a deterrent against future crimes and criminals. Implementing the punishments, especially those for serious crimes, in a public place witnessed by members of the public, was an integral part of the Prophet’s government’s system of practices which were aimed at upholding the high standards of people’s moral and ethical behavior, as well as at deterring and mitigating crime. Hence, God says, for example, that when an adulterer and an adulteress are about to be flogged with a hundred stripes as a punishment for their shameful misdeed, a party of believers should witness the act, (al-Nur, 2).
In view of the Prophet’s Mosque having served as the seat of the Prophet’s government, some messengers representing some external tribes and communities would routinely upon entering Madinah go straight away to the Mosque. In it, they were able to find either the Prophet (pbuh), or somebody else who would meet them and answer their queries. Some such messengers had acquaintance neither with the Prophet (pbuh) nor with the city of Madinah and its residents. However, they must have instantaneously acquired an idea as to the importance of the Prophet’s Mosque as the city’s midpoint, which posed a relief to them, as well as a springboard for discovering, knowing and experiencing everything that they had come for. An example of this is the arrival of a man called Dimam b. Tha’labah who was dispatched by his people to meet the Prophet (pbuh). Entering the Mosque, he found the Prophet (pbuh) with a group of his companions. But so similar to others in both apparel and demeanor was the Prophet (pbuh) that the man, just like most other strangers, found it as good as impossible to recognize him. So, the man had to ask some companions who the Prophet (pbuh) was (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 63).
However, at times there were some people who fell short of grasping the real meaning and sanctity of the Mosque, needing some time to do so. At the same time, they also failed to grasp the real meaning and sanctity of the house institution in Islam. Thus, because Prophet Muhammad’s houses abutted his Mosque, their doors opening into it, the privacy and peace of the Prophet (pbuh) and his household were occasionally seriously threatened by the misconduct of such people. The Prophet (pbuh), however, had no choice but to patiently put up with some considerable discomfort until God by means of revelation eventually intervened and, as a form of education to the people concerned, brought the said matter to an end. God thus says in the Qur’an: “(As for) those who call out to you from behind the private apartments, surely most of them do not understand. And if they wait patiently until you come out to them, it would certainly be better for them, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (al-Hujurat, 4-5). According to a number of accounts (al-Sabuni, 1981, vol. 3 p. 359), some people used to call out impatiently and rudely to the Prophet (pbuh), most probably from inside his Mosque, while he was spending some of his scarce free time inside his houses, without respecting his and his household’s peace and privacy, and without waiting patiently until he came out to them and attended to their needs.
By reason of the importance of the mentioned incidents and the lessons given as a consequence, the Qur’anic chapter which deals with them is called “al-Hujurat” which means “the private or inner (Prophet’s) apartments or houses”. Moreover, the al-Hujurat chapter was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) in the 9th year following the hijrah (migration) (630 CE), during which a large number of deputations of all kinds thronged to Madinah to meet the Prophet (pbuh) and offer their allegiance to Islam. That year in the history of Islam is thus called the “Year of Deputations.” The Prophet (pbuh) used to meet the delegates inside his Mosque right in front of some of his houses. The pillar which stands today at that historic meeting place is called the “Pillar of Deputations” (ustuwan al-wufud).
Towards the same end are the following God’s instructions as well, also in the al-Hujurat chapter, and just before the verses quoted above: “O you who believe, do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and do not speak loud to him as you speak loud to one another, lest your deeds became null while you do not perceive. Surely those who lower their voices before Allah’s Messenger are they whose hearts Allah has proved for guarding (against evil); they shall have forgiveness and a great reward” (Al-Hujurat, 2-3).
4) The Mosque as a welfare and charity centre
The Prophet’s Mosque also served as a welfare and charity center. There, the poorest companions of the community resided. A shaded structure called suffah (a raised platform or bench) was erected for them in a corner of the northern side of the Mosque. Those people were called ahl al-suffah or the “People of the suffah”. Most of the suffah dwellers were from Makkah, but some were from Madinah, too, those who wanted to live a life of asceticism (zuhd) and poverty, despite the fact that they could afford not to do so and had houses in Madinah (al-‘Umari, 1991, p. 87).
The suffah could house between 70 and 100 individuals, and the number of tenants was subject to how fast their overall condition was improving. The suffah dwellers were never idle. They spent most of their time praying, remembering God, reading, memorizing and contemplating the Qur’an, meditating, discussing, studying, and the like. A man from them was chosen to be their spokesman and head, and he was directly answerable to the Prophet (pbuh) for what was transpiring in the suffah. A companion Ubadah b. al-Samit was entrusted with teaching them, apart from the Holy Qur’an, writing and reading as well.
The ‘People of the suffah’ would frequently go out to perform whatever work they could find in order to procure their sustenance. They actively participated in jihad and some of them died as martyrs on different battlefields. Notwithstanding their difficult state, they abhorred remaining a liability to the community. By virtue of the Prophet (pbuh) having dwelled close at hand, on the eastern side of the mosque, ‘the People of the suffah’ were actually honored to spend more time with him, and hence learn from him more than a good number of other companions. The Prophet (pbuh) would often eat with them, sharing with them whatever he and his household could afford (al-‘Umari, 1991, p. 92). Some of the most prominent individuals who transmitted a great deal of the Prophet’s sayings and traditions, such as Abu Hurayra and Hudhayfah b. al-Yaman, were from the ranks of the ‘People of the suffah’.
At the location where the Pillar of Repentance (ustuwan al-tawbah) stands today inside the Prophet’s Mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) used to sit after the dawn (fajr) Prayer. Normally, he would be preceded in expectation by the poor, the weak, the needy, some guests and the ‘People of the suffah’. There the Prophet (pbuh) would sit with them, talk to them, listen to what they had to say, recite the latest revelations to them, and see to their needs, till the sun appears and the more affluent and the noblemen arrive, finding no place to sit near the Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet’s own wish was to give the latter their share of his presence, but God revealed: “And keep yourself content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face; and let not your eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, and his affair has become all excess” (al-Kahf, 28).
There were actually two suffahs: one for men and the other for women, the former seemingly outnumbering the latter. It may be due to the number of its tenants and its corresponding status and position in the Mosque proper, that the suffah for women was always less known and less frequently referred to. And whenever it is brought up, that is usually done in an indirect manner, such as the companion Abdullah b. ‘Umar’s statement that the Prophet (pbuh) cut off a thief’s hand for stealing a shield from the women’s suffah (al-Nasa’i, 1956, Hadith No. 4825).
Like their counterparts in the male suffah, the women in the female suffah did not sit idle either. Several activities for their own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of the whole community kept them very busy.
Although the ‘People of the suffah’ tried hard to live on their own, they found it impossible to make ends meet. So the community had to help them in the short term by providing necessities for them almost on a daily basis (inviting the suffah dwellers for a meal or bringing food into the Mosque and eating in a group, was a normal occurrence), and in the long term by providing some permanent work opportunities for them, thus allowing them to stand on their own two feet as soon possible. The number of the suffah’s occupants, therefore, always fluctuated. There were constantly those who were leaving it and those who were coming in. Seldom, however, were the exchanges in a commensurate mode, resulting thus in the place to be sometimes overcrowded, and at other times to be almost vacant.
The Prophet (pbuh) never neglected the suffah and its occupants, and they were always on his mind. Whenever he received a form of charity (sadaqah), he would send it to them without taking any of it for himself, and whenever he received a gift, he would send for them and share it with them. He often used to invite them for a meal in his house. When al-Hasan, the Prophet’s grandchild, was born, he asked his daughter Fatimah to give the weight of the baby’s hair in silver to the suffah dwellers as charity (al-‘Umari, 1991, p. 93).
Finally, there was also a tent in the Prophet’s Mosque, or a small room with low roof, set up for a black girl who was a slave belonging to an Arab tribe. She was unjustly accused of stealing a red leather scarf decorated with precious stone. But after the truth had surfaced, she came to the Prophet (pbuh) as quickly as she could manage and embraced Islam. She stayed in the Prophet’s Mosque in her tent, regularly calling on A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, and talking to her (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith no 430).
5) The Mosque as a detention and rehabilitation centre
The Prophet’s Mosque partly functioned as a detention and rehabilitation center, too. However, many aspects of this role remained shrouded in a number of ambiguities. Not only were some male captives kept in what can be dubbed as the Mosque’s detention center, but also the female ones. For the latter, an enclosed space near one of the Mosque’s entrances was allocated (al-Kattani, 1980, vo. 1 p. 299).
It is reported that a man called Thumama b. Uthal from the Bani Hanifah clan in Najd was captured and fastened to one of the pillars of the Mosque. However, the Prophet (pbuh) later ordered some of his people to release him. The man thereupon went to a garden next to the Mosque, took a bath and entered the mosque proclaiming shahadah, i.e., he embraced Islam (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith no 451).
The benefits of having a detention center within the Mosque’s realm were two-fold: it ensured the safety and fair treatment of internees — generally war prisoners; and secondly, it helped them come slowly and via some hands-on experience to terms with what Islam and the Muslims were all about and what they really stood for, taking into account the Mosque’s both religious and social significance and functions. This resulted in many a detainee to be won over by the life and demeanor of the Muslims, and to eventually accept Islam.
In other words, the place was not a detention center per se. Rather, it was a spiritual and psychological rehabilitation center never excluded from the ever-increasing scope of da’wah islamiyyah (propagation of and calling people to Islam). As a matter of fact, every detention center is to function as a rehabilitation center as well. There is no point in sending a person to a detention center as a criminal or an offender, but when he or she comes out, after serving his or her due sentence, the same person comes out still as a criminal and very soon relapses into a criminal behavior. A person is to go to a detention center as a criminal or an offender, but when he or she comes out, he or she should come out as a rehabilitated and a normal positive-thinking citizen.
When Thumama b. Uthal, whom we have mentioned earlier, embraced Islam, after he had spent a couple of days tied in the Mosque as a prisoner, he said to the Prophet (pbuh): “By Allah, there was no face on the earth more hateful to me than your face, but now your face has become to me the dearest of all faces. By Allah, there was no religion more hateful to me than your religion, but now your religion has become the dearest of all religions to me. By Allah, there was no city more hateful to me than your city, but now your city has become the dearest of all cities to me” (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 4361).
The first in Islam who is believed to have had real detention centers was the fourth Caliph, ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. As for the three of his predecessors, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman, they followed the custom of the Prophet (pbuh) in making the principal mosque(s) function as a detention center(s). Of the three, only ‘Umar is said to have once bought a house in Makkah to operate as a detention center, or a prison (al-Kattani, 1980, vol. 1 pp. 297-299). This, however, was nothing new. During the time of the Prophet (pbuh), the house of Ramlah bt. al-Harith al-Najjariyyah, apart from serving as one of the houses in which some of the Prophet’s guests or visiting delegations used to be accommodated, once served as an interim detention center as well. Therein the members of the Jewish tribe Banu Qurayzah — around seven hundred in all — were imprisoned from the moment the judgment that their men were to be slain, property divided, and the women and children made captive, had been passed on them, until the same was executed at least one day later (al-Kattani, 1980, vol. 1 p. 446). The Prophet (pbuh) gave Banu Qurayzah this treatment because of their treacherous acts against the Muslims during the horrifying battle of the Ditch (al-khandaq) when the very existence of Islam and the Muslims was put in jeopardy, in spite of all the peace and collaboration treaties that existed between the Muslims and the Jews.
It was due to this particular role played by the Prophet’s Mosque that the Prophet (pbuh) once wanted to tie a strong demon from the Jinns to one of the Mosque’s pillars, having earlier caught him. A companion Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) once said: “A strong demon from the Jinns came to me yesterday suddenly, so as to spoil my prayer, but Allah enabled me to overpower him, and so I caught him and intended to tie him to one of the pillars of the mosque so that all of you might see him, but I remembered the invocation of my brother Sulayman (Solomon): ‘And grant me a kingdom such as shall not belong to any other after me,’ (Sad, 35), so I let him go cursed” (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No 634).
For the same reason, indeed, a companion Abu Lubabah b. ‘Abd al-Mundhir tied himself to one of the pillars in the Prophet’s Mosque, after indicating to the treacherous Jewish tribe Banu Qurayzah, which the Prophet (pbuh) and the Muslims had besieged for days for the reasons given earlier, that if they surrendered they would be killed. Abu Lubabah was formerly an ally of the Jews and they consulted him about surrendering. Having hinted at their likely fate, he regretted it very much believing that he had breached the limit and in certain ways betrayed the Muslims. He then tied himself in the Mosque and refused to be set free until his repentance was accepted, which eventually came to pass. Abu Lubabah remained at the pillar for some ten or fifteen days. Before every prayer, or whenever it was necessary, his daughter would come to untie his bonds. Then after he had prayed, he would ask her to bind him once more (Lings, 1983, p. 230). Subsequently, the pillar which Abu Lubabah had tied himself to became known as the Pillar of Repentance (ustuwan al-tawbah) (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 2 p. 442).
Moreover, at the time of the Muslim military expedition to Tabuk, there was a group of ten men who together with several other groups failed to march with the army. Each group had its own reasons for the offense. The Qur’an says about them: “Others (there are who) have acknowledged their wrong-doings: they have mixed an act that was good with another that was evil. Perhaps Allah will turn unto them (in mercy): for Allah is Oft-forgiving, most Merciful” (al-Tawbah, 102). Pressed by guilt, seven of the ten men tied themselves in the Mosque to its pillars until the revelation of the said verse wherein they were forgiven. Abu Lubabah b. ‘Abd al-Mundhir was one of the ten men and was one of those who tied themselves.
6) The Mosque as a place for medical treatment and nursing
In the Prophet’s Mosque, there was occasionally a place reserved for medical treatment and nursing as well. A tent or more at times were erected for the purpose. On the day of the battle of the Ditch (al-khandaq), a companion Sa’d b. Mu’adh was injured and the Prophet (pbuh) pitched a tent in his Mosque so that he could be looked after properly. Besides, the Prophet (pbuh) wanted to be near his friend and close companion so as to visit him on a regular basis and monitor his condition.
A woman called Rufaydah was perhaps most well-known of those who were nursing the sick and wounded (al-Kattani, 1980, vol. 1 p. 454).
Some women used to accompany Muslim armies to battlefields in order to look after the ailing and wounded soldiers. Returning to Madinah, some people with serious wounds still needed continual and more intensive healing procedures. In view of the quantity and regularity of the combats which the early Muslims had to undertake, the number of the wounded must have been quite substantial at all times.
7) The Mosque as a place for some leisure activities
The Mosque of the Prophet (pbuh) was a place where some sport and recreation activities were occasionally held, both inside and outside it. A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, narrated that once during an ‘Id festival, she saw the Prophet (pbuh) at the door of their house watching some Ethiopians who were playing in the Mosque proper displaying their skill with spears, whereupon she joined him (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 445). The same or another group ‘Umar b. al-Khattab once scolded, but the Prophet (pbuh) asked him to leave them alone. And to them he said that they were safe and should carry on (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 103).
Also, immediately after the sunset prayer (maghrib), some companions of the Prophet (pbuh) would sometimes practice archery inside the Mosque in the Prophet’s presence till the full darkness descended and the targets were no longer visible (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 534).
When the Prophet (pbuh) married one of his wives, the mother of a companion Anas b. Malik prepared some food and sent it to the Prophet (pbuh). The number of the Prophet’s guests was about three hundred all of whom had come upon invitation. As most of them could not enter the Prophet’s house, which adjoined the Mosque, the people stayed inside the Mosque, in the suffah, waiting for their turn to go into the house and eat (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 2572).
Some people used to spend even their free time in the Mosque, knowing that there will always be somebody there to talk to, to listen to, to teach or learn something new from, etc. There was always something beneficial going on there. Even the Prophet (pbuh) used to spend some of his scarce free time in the Mosque, enjoying some light moments with his companions, making them smile and smiling himself at whatever they might have been talking about, like some amusing tales from the pre-Islamic Jahilyyah period.
This particular sentiment was quite effortlessly sustained because of the fact that the community was rapidly expanding, its ideology reaching new horizons, and revelation (wahy) constantly coming down to guide the people, and spur as well as facilitate their spiritual and civilizational growth. The mood often morphed into excitement, curiosity, hope and a sense of responsibility. Many people tried everything possible to stay in permanent touch with whatever was transpiring in the Mosque. Missing out on practically anything was regarded as a serious loss, as there was nothing of what was taking place there that was trivial or vain. The people, by and large, aimed to identify and take in what was affecting them, outlining then a scope of their immediate and subsequent participations in, as well as contributions to, those events and experiences.
It is said, for instance, about ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, who was living at a distance from the Madinah center and was thus unable to be with the Prophet (pbuh) every day, that he made an agreement with one of the ansar, or the helpers, that they would be present with the Prophet (pbuh) on alternate days and will then report to each other everything they saw and heard from him.
It is also said of Abu Hurayrah that he kept his constant company with the Prophet (pbuh) for three years, sacrificing all worldly pursuits, in order to see and hear whatever the Prophet (pbuh) did and said. He regularly devoted periods of time to memorizing the words he had heard.
However, if there was nothing significant going on, or there was nobody, in the Mosque — something that was very unlikely — the people knew that the Mosque’s doors were always wide open, welcoming those who entered to read and contemplate the meanings of the Qur’an, engage themselves in meditation, discussions and remembrance of God (dhikr), offer voluntary prayers, and the like, until the time for an approaching obligatory prayer was due and everybody assembled. In the meantime, however, to have a meal, a nap, or even spend a night in the Mosque, was a normal practice admonished by nobody.
A companion ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar reported that during the time of the Prophet (pbuh), he as a youngster used to sleep in the Mosque (Abu Dawud, 1997, Hadith No. 325).
Moreover, there was once a misunderstanding between ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and his wife Fatimah, the Prophet’s daughter, at which ‘Ali b. Abi Talib got angry and went out from his house. He went to the Prophet’s Mosque where he slept. But it happened just then that the Prophet (pbuh) was looking for ‘Ali, and when told where ‘Ali was, the Prophet (pbuh) went to the Mosque and found him there. ‘Ali was sleeping. His upper body cover had fallen down to one side of his body and he was covered with dust. The Prophet (pbuh) started cleaning the dust from him fondly saying: “Get up! O Abu Turab (father of dust)” (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 432).
Some people even saw the Prophet (pbuh) lying flat (on his back) in the Mosque with one leg on the other. Caliphs ‘Umar b. al-Khattab and ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan used to do the same (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 464).
Truly, the air of the Prophet’s Mosque, and the air of Madinah in general, was always permeated with confidence, optimism, vitality and exhilaration. One was able to sense this compelling aura as soon as one approached the city and its principal Mosque. Since it is people who give cities and their built environments a meaning and life, the people of Madinah, too, were solely responsible for this fascinating atmosphere in their city. They generated it, soaked it up, and then, exuded it back to whatever and whoever came within the spheres of their religious and worldly influence. Indeed, the Prophet’s Mosque and the city of Madinah at large were such wonderful and inspiring places bent on making the whole world a better place.
As a final point, the Prophet (pbuh) explicitly prohibited conducting trade within his Mosque, and other mosques (Abu Dawud, 1997, Hadith No. 1074), but he did not prohibit it outside the Mosque (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 782). Several instances of trading activities on a very limited scale outside the Mosque during the Prophet’s era have been reported.
On account of this, certain markets and even industries abutting the mosques — specifically such as were with tolerable visual, sound, aromatic and crowd-oriented consequences for everyday city-life — became soon introduced to the morphology of Islamic cities. Other markets and industries, some of which were bound to cause some serious disruption or nuisance to either individuals or institutions, remained customarily situated on the cities’ peripheries. The extent of their remoteness from the cities’ principal mosques and the residential areas surrounding them varied depending on a number of issues, such as the geography of settlements, the compactness of residential areas and the availability of space, the vitality and functions of the mosque complexes, the dynamism and richness of market activities, the overall socio-political and economic conditions of cities, etc.
The Architecture of the Mosque
At first, the Prophet’s Mosque was just an enclosure. Its walls, made of mud brick and raised over stone foundations, enclosed a roofless and unpaved area of approximately 1,200 square meters. There was no roofed section. Three entrances pierced the southern, eastern and western walls. The northern side was the qiblah (prayer direction) wall facing al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. After 16 or 17 months following the hijrah, the qiblah was redirected from al-Masjid al-Aqsa to al-Masjid al-Haram and so, the simple form of the Prophet’s Mosque responded accordingly: the entrance in the southern wall was bricked up since it started to function at once as a new qiblah side, while a new entrance was perforated in the northern wall which heretofore functioned as the qiblah side (Creswell, 1989, p. 4; Hillenbrand, 1994, p. 39).
The following is a standard description of the form of the Prophet’s Mosque at the time of the Prophet’s demise as given by most scholars: “In the construction method a stone foundation was laid to a depth of three cubits (about 1.50 meters). On top of that adobe, walls 75 cm. wide were built. The Mosque was shaded by erecting palm trunks and wooden cross beams covered with palm leaves and stalks. On the qiblah direction, there were three porticoes, each portico had six pillars (palm trunks). On the rear part of the Mosque, there was a shade, where the homeless muhajirs (migrants) took refuge. The height of the roof of the Mosque was equal to the height of a man (with his hands raised)” (Hamid, 1996, p. 226; al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 2 p. 481; al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 436; Abu Dawud, 1997, Hadith No. 451). About three years before his death, i.e., in the 7th year of the hijrah (629 CE), the Prophet (pbuh), while duly answering the needs created by the rapid increase of worshippers as well as the rapid expansion of Madinah as a prototype Muslim city-state, significantly enlarged the Mosque, making it measure approximately 2,500 square meters (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 1 p. 338).
Notwithstanding its unpretentious and rudimentary structure, the Prophet’s Mosque from the first day served as a community development centre quickly evolving into a multifunctional complex. At the outset, the Prophet’s Mosque was very simple because its initial roles were simple, and the Mosque’s roles were simple because the Muslim community in Madinah was in its infancy. In the orb of architecture, the three elements: people’s needs, function and form, are inseparable, and in the same order they call for each other. They constitute an architectural “existential trinity”, so to speak.
However, as the people’s engagements and requirements increased, the functions of the Mosque in turn multiplied, calling for some noteworthy improvements in the Mosque’s original austere built form. Thus, during the Prophet’s time, his Mosque evolved from a simple roofless and plain enclosure to a relatively sophisticated institution that featured, among other architectural elements and constituents, a roofed section in the form of a colonnade, a pavement outside one of its entrances, a minbar (pulpit) and a dakkah or dukkan (seat, bench) for communication purposes, lamps as a means for lighting up the Mosque, several compartments and facilities that facilitated the various functions of the Mosque, and a person, or persons, whose job was to keep the mosque clean (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 2 p. 388-398).
As the Prophet’s Mosque was the centre of gravity in the wide-ranging affairs of the ever expanding Muslim community in Madinah, its strength and stature epitomised the strength and stature of Islam and Muslims. The Mosque seemed to be accommodative of every beneficial activity concerning worship (‘ibadah), education, politics, administration, security and social relations, which enabled the nascent and ambitious society to make its civilizational headway. The Prophet’s Mosque was a microcosm of the Muslim society in Madinah and its struggle. Thus, it would be appropriate to say that talking about the Prophet’s Mosque during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) is to talk about the people who conceived, planned, constructed and then made the most of it. In the same vein, to talk about the stages which the Mosque institution went through during the Madinah period of the Prophet’s mission is to talk about the stages which the Muslim community, and with it the Muslim mentality and spirituality, went through.
While exemplifying the civilizational strength and proclivity of Islam and Muslims, the evolution of the Prophet’s Mosque also exemplified the Prophet’s contributions to the evolution of the identity of Muslim architecture. As a matter of fact, the origins of all major principles of Muslim architecture can be traced back, one way or another, to the Prophet (pbuh) and his experiences while advancing the position of his Mosque in Madinah from a simple unroofed enclosure to a multidimensional community development centre. Such principles, which are generally the principles of Muslim architecture, can be summarized as function–form relationship, peaceful coexistence with the environment (sustainable development), cleanliness, comprehensive excellence, just social interactions, “la darar wa la dirar” (there is neither inflicting nor returning of harm), aesthetics, economy, the relationship between the indigenous and foreign influences, respect for people’s rights, avoidance of vices and nurturing and promoting virtues (al-Kattani, 1980, vol. 1. p. 84; al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 1 pp. 338-339; Ibn Sa’d, 1957, vol. 2 p. 240; al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 3318; al-Tirmidhi, 2010, Hadith No. 3560).
Introducing the simple original model of the Prophet’s Mosque was the most appropriate and most viable thing under the circumstances. This was so in view of the general condition of the Muslims and their young Islamic state, as well as of how novel the idea of the mosque as a concept and spatial formation was. At least four reasons may be given for this assertion.
Firstly: it was quite easy for the Mosque with such unpretentious form to meet the then existing worship (‘ibadah) requirements (the worship requirements were introduced gradually and in stages, and most of them in Madinah). At the end of the day, that is exactly what the Mosque was set up for. The first simple worship requirements called for the Mosque’s simple and modest form.
Secondly: the first priority, as far as the Mosque was concerned, was that the people be taught its extraordinary worth, importance and role in the long and demanding process of the Madinah urban and human development, rather than paying any undue attention to the Mosque’s physical appearance. And we have seen that getting the priorities right was always the main feature of the Prophet’s community building enterprise.
Thirdly: in the wake of the hijrah, there existed a host of pressing urban planning and general development tasks that required vision, prudence, competence and a meticulous utilization of the available limited expertise and resources. Establishing the Mosque was only one of such tasks, not the only one.
Fourthly: in terms of material wealth, the Muslims as a community were in an inferior position. So, in no way could they plan and build beyond that which they could afford. Introducing the Mosque to the community was envisioned to be the latter’s asset, rather than liability.
When inaugurated, the Mosque with its diverse activities became an important facet of the Islamic community’s gradual evolution. It had to be subjected to the same laws and treatments that have been governing the steady rise of Islam since the inception of revelation. The two arresting elements that featured most prominently in the whole process were wisdom and gradation. This means that the religion of Islam was coming to the Prophet (pbuh) in various forms of revelation, gradually and in stages. Revelation spelled instructions, responses and answers to the various dilemmas and developments which were confronting the young Muslim mind, so that the heart of the Prophet (pbuh) and the hearts of his followers could be tranquilized and strengthened. Not only to the spheres of abstract comprehension and wisdom did this ruling apply, but also to the practical dimensions of Islam as well, including urbanization, development and architecture.
It follows that the Prophet’s Mosque, a community development center and a ground for the implementation of many a regulation and teaching of Islam, could on no account be an exception to this principle, i.e., the gradual revelation and application of Islam. Hence, some sporadic modifications and improvements before long started to affect the Mosque’s function and, of course, its architectural morphology and structural configuration. Ultimately, a number of new spatial components were added to the mosque’s architectural profile during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh). Also, the first physical extension of the Mosque had to be carried out during the same period, due to the ever growing number of worshipers. The extension was carried out approximately three years before the Prophet (pbuh) passed away, in 7 AH/629 CE. At first, the Mosque was a square measuring about 35 meters in length and 35 meters in width. After the enlargement, it remained a square measuring about 50 meters by 50 meters.
It stands to reason from this that the first rudimentary form of the Prophet’s Mosque was meant to be neither perfect nor final. It represented the first and perhaps most significant phase in the long evolution of the Mosque, both as a concept and sensory experience, and by extension, the first and most crucial phase in the long evolution of the identity of Muslim art and architecture. It was due to this that many Muslims, having lived at the heart of the total and world-shattering processes to which the city-state of Madinah and its community were subjected, were able to forecast, and by their actions or suggestions, even expedite some forthcoming additions or adjustments to the original built form and function of the Mosque.
Finally, since the Mosque proper was an enclosure, mainly unroofed, it displayed much architectural adaptability and flexibility throughout. The building materials that the people were using in Madinah were good enough for the Mosque as well. The enclosure, additionally, fulfilled some principles of economy in connection with design, construction and maintenance, which was an extremely important factor given the economic condition of the first Muslims. Any side of the Mosque could be repaired at any time without interrupting the hectic daily life in the rest of the edifice. Urgent requirements for some slight additions or alterations to the existing spatial arrangement, could likewise always be entertained. The public, especially the immediate neighbors of the Mosque whose houses were physically abutting it, could not be much perturbed by the work inside the Mosque, as the vast enclosure could serve as a shed for building materials and tools, and as the site for most of the activities. These practical advantages appeared to be very significant, above all when observed through the prism of the verity that the Mosque constituted the midpoint of the city of Madinah. It was never devoid of activities, either within or without it, and the private dwellings kept clustering around it until at last the core of the city appeared to be just about circular.
Seven Lessons in Architecture
The following are seven broad lessons in architecture that could be gleaned using the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah during the Prophet’s epoch as a case study. The lessons in their basic forms revolve around the following main themes: function–form relationship; respect for the environment; cleanliness; comprehensive excellence; promoting just social interactions; safety; and the relationship between the indigenous and foreign influences in the sphere of Muslim architecture. Every theme is discussed separately. The lessons signify seven permanent features of Muslim architecture as a whole, deriving their primary strength and merit from the Prophet’s experiences. Hence, a close analogy is always drawn between those architectural features and the Prophet (pbuh).
1) Function–form relationship
In Islam, the functions of buildings are to be optimised. Buildings are created to be at the complete service of their users. As a result of this principle, the Prophet’s Mosque eventually evolved from a simple enclosure to a multifunctional community centre catering to the spiritual, social, educational and political needs of the nascent but dynamic Muslim community.
Function is more important than the form. The role of the form is a supportive and complementing one to the functions of buildings. Thus, it is inappropriate for people to become obsessed with the mere forms of buildings and treat them in isolation from the requisites of the functions and purposes of buildings. It was reported that some of the Prophet’s companions from the ranks of ansar one day brought a considerable amount of money to the Prophet (pbuh), telling him: “How long shall we pray under these palm-leaves (referring to the simple conditions in the Mosque)? Take this, build and adorn the mosque (zayyinhu) (that is to say, improve its physical condition).” The Prophet (pbuh) did not reprimand them and their proposal, but retorted: “I have no intention to differ from my brother Musa (Moses); an arbour like the arbour of Musa”. The arbour of the prophet Musa is said to have been so low that he could touch the roof if he raised his hand, or when he stood up, his head could touch it, as reported in another account (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 1 p. 339).
There is nothing inherently wrong with the form in buildings, especially if the form is justifiable on the strength of the functions and aims of buildings. If such is not the case, however, the form then becomes uncalled for and unacceptable. Accordingly, whenever a genuine need called for improving the physical appearance of his Mosque, such as in the cases of roofing the Mosque, paving a section outside one of the Mosque’s entrances, creating a minbar (pulpit) and a dakkah or dukkan (seat, bench), providing lamps, enlarging the Mosque, and so on, the Prophet (pbuh) was very supportive. He never hesitated for a moment to sanction such initiatives which, in fact, were meant to facilitate the functions of the Mosque and to help it realise its objectives. The Mosque’s overall performance depended on such initiatives.
Let us now refer to the circumstances in which the introduction of the minbar (pulpit), the dakkah or dukkan (seat, bench), the roof and the lamps to the Mosque’s fabric took place, and how the Prophet (pbuh) had reacted to them.
The Prophet (pbuh) is said to have been delivering his addresses in his Mosque leaning against a palm-tree, or a palm-trunk fixed in the ground. However, after the number of Muslims had grown, it became difficult for everyone to see and hear properly the Prophet (pbuh). The matter was compounded by the wish of the Prophet (pbuh) to have something to sit on in case he got tired of standing while speaking. It was thus suggested to him to allow a pulpit (minbar) to be made and then be placed in the Mosque for communication purposes to which he, after consulting his nearest companions, consented. The minbar was like a chair consisting of three steps. On the third and the last the Prophet (pbuh) used to sit, keeping his feet on the second (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 3560).
In view of the Prophet’s Mosque having been the seat of the Prophet’s government, messengers representing external tribes and communities would normally go straight away to the Mosque, most of the time finding the Prophet (pbuh) therein with his companions, engrossed in a beneficial pursuit. However, the Prophet (pbuh) was so similar to others that strangers would, as a rule, find it quite difficult to recognize him. Thus, they had to ask some of the Prophet’s companions who the Prophet (pbuh) actually was. In order to avoid this inconvenience, some companions suggested that a dakkah or dukkān (seat, bench) be made in the Mosque on which the Prophet (pbuh) would sit in public assemblies flanked by his companions. The proposal was consented to, and a seat of clay slightly raised off the ground was built (al-Nasa’i, 1956, Hadith No. 4905).
As said earlier, at the very beginning, no section of the Prophet’s Mosque was roofed. However, after sometime, when the people complained about hot weather and to what extent it troubled them in prayers, a roof of palm-leaves supported by palm-trunks as columns on the qiblah side was built. Mud was later added so as to prevent rain dripping onto the ground of the Mosque. A companion Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri once described the initial conditions of the Mosque – most probably when it had only a simple roof of the branches of date palms before mud was added to it, and before the Mosque ground was strewn with pebbles: “A cloud came and it rained till the roof started leaking, and in those days the roof used to be of the branches of date palms. Iqamah (signalling the beginning of prayer) was pronounced and I saw the Prophet (pbuh) prostrating in water and mud and even I saw the mark of mud on his forehead” (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 638).
Originally, the people used to illuminate the Mosque by burning up palm fronds. Only sometime later were lamps introduced. Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri reported that a companion called Tamim al-Dari was the first who lit up the mosque with lamps (Ibn Majah, 2008, Hadith No. 752). The Prophet (pbuh) was delighted and his comment was: “You have lit up Islam, may Allah light up both this world and Hereafter for you” (al-Kattani, 1980, vol. 1 p. 84).
2) Respect for the environment
In architecture, utmost respect for the environment ought to be displayed. The way architecture is conceived, created and used must confirm that there is a peaceful co-existence between people and the environment, and between the realms of natural and built environments. Architecture must be an environment-conscious enterprise, realizing and then inviting and accommodating nature’s advantages, and also realizing and then repelling its disadvantages. In other words, architecture must be sustainable.
At the very outset of the mosque-building process, the Prophet (pbuh) taught his companions a lesson in sustainable use of the environment. In a place earmarked for building the Mosque were the graves of some pagans, and there were some date palms on it. The Prophet (pbuh) ordered that the graves of the pagans be dug up, the unlevelled land be levelled, and the trees be cut down. The cut date-palms were not wasted. Rather, they were later reused as an alignment towards the qiblah of the Mosque forming a wall (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 420).
We have already said that at first, the Prophet (pbuh) used to lean against a tree absorbed by building, or just a palm-trunk fixed in the ground – most probably it was the latter — when delivering his addresses (khuṭbah) in the Mosque. However, sometime later, a pulpit (minbar) was made for him. On the first occasion when the Prophet (pbuh) used the pulpit and abandoned the palm-trunk, the latter yearned and even cried like an infant because it was sad and it missed the Prophet (pbuh), knowing that the Prophet (pbuh) did not need it anymore. The Prophet (pbuh) then descended from the pulpit, came to the trunk and rubbed it with his hands till the tree stopped crying. The trunk stayed where it was until the Mosque was rebuilt and enlarged by the third Caliph ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan when it was either buried somewhere in the Mosque proper, or was taken away by the Prophet’s companion Ubayy b. Ka’b. The latter kept the trunk with him until it was eaten by woodworms (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 2 p. 393).
Also, the ground of the Mosque was bare at first. However, one night it rained profusely and the ground became too wet to be prostrated on. As a result, some people brought along some pebbles to overcome the problem. After prayer, having seen what the people had done, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “This is a very good idea”. Afterwards, much of the area of the Mosque was gradually strewn with pebbles (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 2 p. 655).
Covering the Mosque ground with pebbles proved very advantageous as pebbles allowed rainwater to go through to the ground and once absorbed by it no muddy areas could be created inside the Mosque. During dry spells, on the other hand, the ground without pebbles would have been dusty and the Mosque ambiance occasionally unpleasant, as dust could be easily stirred up and fill the air. Since the Mosque ground was covered with pebbles, furthermore, it took a longer time to dry out after rain, or after any ground watering exercise, thus allowing for longer evaporation and cooling of the surface. In the winter, no matter how uncomfortably cold pebbles might have been, yet the condition was by far more expedient than one generated by a bare and frequently wet ground. Also, the presence of pebbles was very helpful because generally some of the thermal qualities of many stone types are that they have a high level of resistance and a low level of thermal conductivity.
Since cleanliness – be it the cleanliness of the body, dwelling places, courtyards, streets, markets, rivers and the whole surroundings – constitutes a branch of faith (iman) in Islam, as declared by the Prophet (pbuh) (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 328), Muslim architecture must be known for typifying and promoting it. The Prophet (pbuh) was very much concerned about the cleanliness of the whole of the city-state of Madinah in general, and about the cleanliness of his Mosque in particular. He also said that God is clean and loves cleanliness (al-Tirmidhi, 2010, Hadith No. 2723). When the Prophet’s Mosque was first put in use in the beginning, some people were not totally cleanliness-conscious; they were most likely those who had freshly entered the fold of the new religion. Among other things, they had the habit of spitting and expectorating phlegm inside the Mosque without doing away with it afterwards, or covering it up. The Prophet (pbuh) disliked the habit very much but the matter needed to be cured gradually and with a great deal of wisdom and goodly counsel. Thus, he advised those who did this that phlegm be scraped off and the place overlaid with saffron or crocus (za‘faran) or anything else pleasant and fragrant. The Prophet (pbuh) himself on a couple of occasions scraped off some people’s spit after having seen that it had been left behind. He would likewise shower with praises those who did the same. Towards this end there is a ḥadith (tradition) wherein the Prophet (pbuh) said that whoever does away with a disturbance from a mosque, God will build a house for him in Paradise (Jannah) (Ibn Majah, 2008, Hadith No. 749). In the Prophet’s Mosque, there was always plenty of water meant for the cleanliness of the Mosque as well as its users (Muslim, 2005, Hadith No. 4682).
An Abyssinian (Ethiopian) woman (or man, according to some sources) later took up the chore of looking after the cleanliness of the Mosque. So high a regard did the Prophet (pbuh) have for her that he told her one day that a double portion of reward would await her. When she died, however, some people treated her as of little consequence and buried her without informing the Prophet (pbuh). However, on discovering that she was missing, the Prophet (pbuh) asked concerning her. When told what had happened, he replied that they should have informed him. Then, he asked to be shown her grave where he prayed for her (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 438).
4) Comprehensive excellence
Muslim architecture with all its aspects should embody the notion of comprehensive excellence because the latter is what is prescribed for Muslims in all situations and in all of their undertakings. The spirit of excellence and the striving for it should be felt at every stage and in every aspect of the process of creating buildings, from choosing a site and conceptualising and making a design, over a selection of building materials and quality of work, to the final execution of buildings and the activation of their function as environment-friendly, energy-efficient, and catering to the exact needs of their users. Excellence is to be a culture; it is not to be reduced to a mere slogan. Excellence is to be seen, not just heard.
Striving for excellence is what God loves and what Islamic cultures and civilization ought to be famous for. Conversely, deliberate mediocrity, or that which stems from routine negligence or indolence, is what God loathes and what ought to be alien to genuine Islamic cultures and civilization. Due to both its conceptual and practical connotations, the significance of the concept of comprehensive excellence had to be advocated during the earliest stages of the arduous process of building the Madinah community. That was exactly what happened. The Prophet (pbuh) utilized the opportunity of building his Mosque as the first urban element in the course of urbanizing the city of Madinah, to educate the Muslims on many pressing issues including that of comprehensive excellence.
It is thus reported that in course of building the Mosque, a man from Hadramawt in the southern Arabian Peninsula was expertly treading clay for the making of the bricks of which the Mosque was built. On seeing him, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “May Allah have mercy upon him who excels in his profession.” To the man, he said: “Keep doing this job for I see that you excel in it” (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. vol. 1 p. 333).
Another man from al-Yamamah in the east of the Arabian Peninsula reported that he came to the Prophet (pbuh) when the latter was building his Mosque with his companions. However, he realised that the Prophet (pbuh) did not really like how the people worked. The man said that he then took a shovel to work the clay and the Prophet (pbuh) seemed to have liked how he was doing the job. The Prophet (pbuh) then said: “Leave al-Ḥanafi (the man’s name) and the clay alone, for I see that he is the most competent among you to handle the clay” (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 1 p. 333). In another account, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Bring al-Yamami (another name for the man) closer to the clay because he is the most excellent among you in handling it” (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 1 p. 334). The Prophet (pbuh) is also said to have called the man “the proprietor or lord of the clay, sahib al-tin” (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 3 p. 334).
5) Promoting just social interactions
Muslim architecture should promote and, at the same time, denote a field of equitable social interactions. In this way, realising some of the most prominent Islamic values and principles will be greatly aided. In this regard, too, is the Prophet (pbuh) the best example to get inspiration from. Strengthening fraternity among the migrants (muhajirs) from Makkah and helpers (ansar) was at all times one of the major aims of the Prophet’s actions, fully knowing that the future of Islam and the Muslim society in Madinah depended on the strength of the relationship between the two sides. His planning and development pursuits in Madinah, with the erection of his Mosque more than anything else, therefore, aimed to foster constructive and fair social interactions. While building the Mosque following the migration from Makkah, building houses for the Migrants, including for the Prophet (pbuh) himself, was for a time deferred. During that period – approximately six or seven months – the migrants stayed together with the helpers, sharing everything with them. While staying together, the two sides developed a stronger and warmer relationship, which later proved its value time and again while surmounting the challenges posed by the community-building. The Prophet (pbuh) himself stayed in the house of a companion Abu Ayyub al-Ansari till the Mosque was completed.
While building the Mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) and the people used to chant: “O God, no good except the good of the Hereafter, so have mercy upon the migrants and helpers!” (al-Samahudi, 1997, vol. 1 p. 329).
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 been underlined as early as during the exercise of determining the site of the Mosque and marking out its boundaries. 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 for 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 inaugurated, so to speak, as well as typified a new dimension to the unreserved keenness of the first Muslims to sacrifice whatever they possessed for the cause of strengthening Islam and Muslims (al-Bukhari, 1981, Hadith No. 420).
Additionally, when the Mosque was set 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 name the price, since they were orphans and possessed little. Eventually, the Prophet (pbuh) paid them ten golden dinars. The money was Abu Bakr’s.
It also should be noted that the Mosque and with it the midpoint of the new urban marvel, Madinah, 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 was that Islam favours nobody based on the considerations of history, culture, and socio-political and economic status and affiliation. Everyone was set to have a place in the forthcoming Madinah urbanisation scheme, and everyone was set to be given an opportunity to make a contribution. Credit was given only on the basis of people’s merit, god-consciousness and honest contributions to society.
Since the Mosque was established on a relatively uninhabited piece of land, the majority of the migrants were honoured to be able to 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. 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 settle elsewhere, there would have existed a real possibility of marginalizing some of them, making thereby their plight all the more difficult, and with it the solicited integration and adaptation a thorny task. In this case, their initial stay with the helpers would have been prolonged as well, and both their self-sufficiency and contributions to satisfying the socio-political and economic needs of the city-state of Madinah would have been forestalled for some time.
Nor were the helpers held in contempt for not selecting the location of the Mosque 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: the Aws and Khazraj, was forever thwarted. Doing a favour to either the Aws or Khazraj, by positioning the Mosque in the settlement(s) of either side, could have triggered a fresh wave of antagonism, given the fact that faith (iman) was yet to conquer the hearts of many individuals from each of the two tribes. Certainly, not positioning the Prophet’s Mosque in the ambit of either the Aws or Khazraj was one of the most constructive moves that could have been made under the circumstances.
Once the Mosque was built and the people started using it, the Prophet (pbuh) asserted that his Mosque — and every other mosque — was blind to socio-economic ranks and statuses. Mosques belong to everybody. They are inclusive and everybody is equally entitled to them and their services. Favouring a category of people in a mosque on the basis of their socio-economic position at the expense of another category of people, is unacceptable. Being societal institutions that embody the profundity and strength of Islam, mosques are there to inspire, monitor and oversee the rest of societal institutions and their performances insofar as realising equitable social interactions in Muslim societies is concerned.
6) “La darar wa la dirar” (There is neither inflicting nor returning of harm)
One of the most consequential Islamic principles in architecture and in built environment in general is the one highlighted in a ḥadith of the Prophet (pbuh): “There is neither inflicting nor returning of harm” (Ibn Majah, 2008, Hadith No. 2331). The message of the ḥadith is that everyone should exercise his full rights in what is rightfully his, provided that the decisions/actions that one makes do not generate harm to others. Likewise, none shall return injury in case it has been inflicted on him, intentionally or otherwise. People are instead encouraged to share both their happiness and problems, care for each other, respect the rule of law and settle their disputes amicably. This way, they will secure sound and friendly relations, as well as a healthy environment conducive to all kinds of constructive human engagements.
Being a field of human interactions and undertakings, it is paramount for architecture to embody in all of its segments the notions of safety and security. Surely, people’s physical, psychological and even spiritual wellbeing depends on the conduciveness and productivity of the environments that their architecture generates. If it is said that a healthy mind resides in a healthy body, it likewise could be said that both a healthy body and healthy mind reside in a healthy and safe built environment.
It is because of this that the objectives of the Islamic shari‘ah (law) whose task is to regulate and guide people’s actions, are preserving and sustaining 1) religion, 2) the self, 3) the intellect, 4) descendants, and 5) wealth and resources. Hence, every religious injunction has been tailored in such a way as to enhance the total wellbeing of man and his surroundings. In the same vein, nothing did Islam forbid except those things which are capable of harming man – directly or indirectly – or can hinder his spiritual, intellectual and civilizational progress.
In many of his initiatives, while building and then activating and using his Mosque, the Prophet (pbuh) promoted the significance of safety and security in the arena of building. Those safety and security initiatives were: the Prophet’s broad lessons on peaceful coexistence with the environment; ensuring the highest standards of hygiene not only in the realm of the Mosque, but generally in all aspects of life; the Prophet’s concern about the needs and welfare of his companions to which the Mosque especially catered; the Prophet’s insistence that no unaccompanied children and madmen patronise the Mosque; that the Mosque be free from disputes, discords and conflicts; that swords are not to be brandished in the Mosque; and that even legitimate punishments are not to be carried out in it (Al-Samhūdī, 1997). The Prophet (pbuh) went so far as to announce that those who have eaten beforehand of either garlic or onion will not be allowed admittance into the Mosque lest their strong smell should disturb those who could not stand it.
Also, the people were advised not to talk and recite their prayers loudly when inside the Mosque so as not to disturb the others. Furthermore, the people were asked to cooperate with each other when optimum utilisations of the Mosque’s inner spaces were needed. That some special attention was given to public gatherings and the ways people should behave in them may be corroborated by the following Qur’anic verse: “O you who believe! When you are told to make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room: (ample) room will Allah provide for you. And when you are told to rise up, rise up: Allah will raise up, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge. And Allah is well-acquainted with all you do” (al-Mujadalah, 11).
The Prophet (pbuh) insisted that mosques belong to everybody and that reserving certain places for certain people – like a camel which fixes its place – is not acceptable. The Mosque was not allowed to be made a thoroughfare. When coming to and entering the Mosque, the people were bidden to wear a sober, calm and dignified deportment. No running or scrambling was permitted. One was not allowed to enter the Mosque indiscreetly and thoughtlessly, excessively talking and laughing as if one did not know where he actually was. When coming to or leaving the Mosque, men and women were not to mingle freely in the road. They were asked to keep to different sides (Abu Dawud, 1997, Hadith No. 5252).
In other words, virtually everything that could generate any amount and any type of harm – physical, mental and spiritual – was prevented in the Mosque and elsewhere. Similarly, the initiatives that were able to bolster the people’s overall wellbeing were encouraged and facilitated. Hence, the ways buildings are designed and built need to take utmost heed of safety and security considerations. Once built and occupied, buildings are to serve as places of safety and protection from both natural and man-made hazards. Buildings are to serve as safe havens on earth for their occupants.
7) Indigenous versus foreign influences
The Prophet’s Mosque epitomised at once the character of the Islamic message and the disposition of Islamic civilisation that was bound to stem from the former. The Mosque promoted the notions of Islam’s finality and universality, as well as the notions of universality and unity-in-diversity in Islamic civilisation. The Mosque was built not only as a communal place of worship, but also in order to satisfy the swelling needs of the Muslim community which the Mosque was endorsing, facilitating and further advancing their authenticity and worth. In other words, the Mosque symbolised the message and mission of Islam. Moreover, it symbolised both the absolute and constant dimensions of Islamic civilisation, as well as the relative and transient ones.
Through its perception, philosophy, purpose and function, the Mosque characterized the substance of Islam which is permanent and not subject to change, because it is based on permanent, essential human nature and its needs, as well as on the permanent nature of the whole of existence and its needs. However, when it comes to inventing systems, regulations, views and attitudes so that people’s worldly life is duly comprehended and regulated in accordance with both the absolute substance of Islam and the exigencies of people’s different eras, regions and needs, it is there that the solutions and perceptions become transitory and fluctuate as they signify what people deduced from the fundamental principles and permanent values of life as their best practical solutions and answers.
As a result, the function of the mosque institution always remains the same, whereas its form changes, varies and evolves in response to the various cultures, geographies and climates, and to the changes and developments in people’s socio-economic conditions. The form of the mosque institution is the physical locus of its functions. Hence, changes in the form are inevitable for mosques to function properly. Certainly, this principle applies not only to the mosque, but also to all other aspects of the Islamic built environment. Since the changes in the Islamic built environment are unavoidable and necessary, innovations in the same field, it stands to reason, must be regarded as highly recommended and even obligatory in that the functions of buildings depend on the appropriateness and effectiveness of their forms.
Having said this, the Prophet (pbuh) did not hesitate to add anything to the form of his Mosque which could enhance its projected roles and stature. At the same time, however, he turned down those suggestions and prospects that could possibly get in the way of maximising the performance of the Mosque as the community development centre, in both the spiritual and worldly sense of the term. While doing the former, that is, amplifying the Mosque’s facilities so that its performance is enhanced, the Prophet (pbuh) was open not only to the indigenous resources, expertise and influences, but also to the foreign ones, including those from non-Islamic locales. We have already referred to the prominent roles played by two persons in the course of building the Mosque: one from Ḥadramawt in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and the other from al-Yamamah in the eastern Arabian Peninsula, and how much the Prophet (pbuh) was delighted by their expertise.
When oil lamps were introduced to the Mosque for the sake of illuminating it at night, it should be pointed out that the lamps were brought by a companion called Tamim al-Dari from Syria, which was a Christian land. The Prophet (pbuh) was so happy that he made a prayer for the man, and he named his servant who had set up the lamps in the mosque “Siraj”, which means “Light” (al-Kattani, 1980, vol. 1 p. 84).
Also, when the minbar or pulpit was introduced to the Mosque’s fabric for communication purposes, it should be mentioned that the person responsible for making the minbar was, in all likelihood, again Tamim al-Dari. While conversing with the Prophet (pbuh) about the issue, the companion clearly told the Prophet (pbuh) that he would make the minbar as he had seen people in Syria making it. What inspired Tamim al-Dari to come up with the idea of the minbar and its design could well have been the pulpit of a Syrian church. Yet, such was not a problem due to the universal appeal of Islam and its civilisation, as well as due to Islam’s open-minded outlook on other people’s cultures and civilisations, with the sole condition that the foreign elements and influences should not collide with the worldview and law of Islam (shari‘ah), both outwardly and inwardly.
To this end, certainly, is the declaration of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that the people of stature and influence, or simply, the best ones (khiyarukum), during the time of ignorance (jahiliyyah), i.e., prior to the advent of Islam and prior to people’s acceptance of it, will remain the best with the best stature and influence after accepting Islam, provided they understood and adhered to it (Ahmad b. Hanbal, 1982, Hadith No. 9905). In other words, people’s achievements, engagements, positions and ranks prior to Islam will not undergo dramatic changes afterwards, as long as they do not entail elements that are at odds with the spirit and message of Islam, and as long as they make the objectives of Islam their own objectives and the objectives of their aspirations. Moreover, such people’s accomplishments, authority and social standings will be very much needed for the sake of championing and advancing the cause of Islam against its many challenges. The Prophet (pbuh) also said that wisdom is the lost property of the believer. He constantly searches for it and wherever he finds it, he takes it. Wisdom is to be taken from any source.
Without doubt, because of this nature of Islam and its attitude towards the cultural and civilizational bequests of the world, custom (‘adat) and customary usage (‘urf) are regarded as a source of the rulings of the Islamic law (shari‘ah) where there are no explicit texts from either the Qur’an or the Prophet’s sunnah (tradition) specifying the rulings. It is also a requirement in making custom (‘adat) and customary usage (‘urf) a source of shari‘ah rulings that there are no contradictions between them and the contents of the Qur’an and sunnah. About the meaning of custom and customary usage, Abu Zahrah (1970) said: “Custom is a matter on which a community of people agree in the course of their daily life, and common usage is an action which is repeatedly performed by individuals and communities. When a community makes a habit of doing something, it becomes its common usage. So the custom and common usage of a community share the same underlying idea even if what is understood by them differs slightly.”
And about the reasons why ‘adat and ‘urf are deemed the appropriate source of Shari‘ah, in absence of explicit texts from the Qur’an and sunnah and when there are no conflicts between the ‘adat and ‘urf and the latter, Abu Zahrah (1970) said: “Many judgments are based on ‘urf because in many cases it coincides with public interest… Another reason is that custom necessarily entails people’s familiarity with a matter, and so any judgment based on it will receive general acceptance whereas divergence from it will be liable to cause distress, which is disliked in the judgment of Islam because Allah Almighty has not imposed any hardship on people in His din. Allah Almighty prescribes what normal people deem proper and are accustomed to, not what they dislike and hate. So when a custom is not a vice and is respected by people, honouring it will strengthen the bond which draws people together because it is connected to their traditions and social transactions whereas opposition to it will destroy that cohesion and bring about disunity.”
So strong is this source of Islamic Shari‘ah that according to many Muslim jurists, most notably the Malikites, it makes the general specific and qualifies the unqualified. As for the extent to which the three leading schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh): the Maliki, Hanafi and Shafi‘i schools, accept ‘adat and ‘urf as a source of Islamic Shari‘ah, Abu Zahrah (1970) said, “Maliki fiqh, like Hanafi fiqh, makes use of custom and considers it a legal principle in respect of matters about which there is no definitive text. In fact it has an even deeper respect for custom than the Hanafi school since, as we have seen, public interest and general benefit are the foundation of Maliki fiqh in coming to decisions and there is no doubt that respect for a custom which contains no harm is one of the types of benefit. It is not valid for any faqih to leave it: indeed, it is obligatory to adopt it. We find that the Malikis abandon analogy when custom opposes it. Custom makes the general specific and qualifies the unqualified, as far as the Malikis are concerned. It appears that the Shafi‘ites also takes custom into consideration when there is no text. If text dominates in its judgment because people are subject to and do it by way of familiarity and habit. Nothing can prevent them from adopting it except a prohibiting text. Where there is no prohibiting text, then it must be adopted. We find that Ibn Hajar stated that custom is acted on it when there is nothing in the custom contrary to a text.”
As a conclusion to this section on the validity, yet inevitability, of integration between indigenous and foreign influences in Muslim architecture, we shall quote ‘Umar Faruq Abdullah (2006) who in his paper on Islam and cultural imperative elaborated on the Prophet’s attitude and the attitude of his companions towards the multifaceted cultural and civilizational legacies of the world which they were set to inherit and whose threads they would weave into a newly-emerging all-inclusive and total Islamic culture and civilisation: “The Prophet Muhammad and his Companions were not at war with the world’s cultures and ethnicities but entertained an honest, accommodating, and generally positive view of the broad social endowments of other peoples and places. The Prophet and his Companions did not look upon human culture in terms of black and white, nor did they drastically divide human societies into spheres of absolute good and absolute evil. Islam did not impose itself – neither among Arabs or non-Arabs – as an alien, culturally predatory worldview. Rather, the Prophetic message was, from the outset, based on the distinction between what was good, beneficial, and authentically human in other cultures, while seeking to alter only what was clearly detrimental. Prophetic law did not burn and obliterate what was distinctive about other peoples but sought instead to prune, nurture, and nourish, creating a positive Islamic synthesis.”
‘Umar Faruq Abdullah (2006) also said: “Much of what became the Prophet’s sunnah (Prophetic model) was made up of acceptable pre-Islamic Arab cultural norms, and the principle of tolerating and accommodating such practices among Arabs and non-Arabs alike may be termed a supreme, overriding Prophetic sunnah. In this vein, the noted early jurist, Abu Yusuf, understood the recognition of good, local cultural norms as falling under the rubric of the sunnah. The 15th century Granadan jurisprudent Ibn al-Mawaq articulated a similar outlook and stressed, for example, that it was not the purpose of Prophetic dress codes to impinge upon the cultural integrity of non-Arab Muslims, who were at liberty to develop or maintain their own distinctive dress within the broad parameters of the sacred law. The Qur’an enjoined the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to adhere to people’s sound customs and usages and take them as a fundamental reference in legislation: “Accept (from people) what comes naturally (for them). Command what is customarily (good). And turn away from the ignorant (without responding in kind)” (7:199). Ibn ‘Attiyyah, a renowned early Andalusian jurist and Qur’anic commentator, asserted that the verse not only upheld the sanctity of indigenous culture but granted sweeping validity to everything the human heart regards as sound and beneficial, as long as it is not clearly repudiated in the revealed law. For classical Islamic jurists in general, the verse was often cited as proof for the affirmation of sound cultural usage, and it was noted that what people generally deem as proper tends to be compatible with their nature and environment, serving essential needs and valid aspirations.”
At any rate, as a final remark, whatever can enrich culture, enhance civilisation and bolster the wellbeing of people, barring any conflict with any of the Islamic principles and values as the precondition, Islam with its cultures and civilisation warmly welcomes to its fold. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions were the best models to follow in this regard. In virtually all fields of their daily existence they did not hesitate to apply this Islamic principle, such as the fields of architecture, medicine, clothing, foodstuff, business, entertainment and art of war.
In the wake of the hijrah, the city-state of Madinah underwent many a drastic change in virtually all departments of its existence. Perhaps, the best illustration of such a revolution was changing the very name of the place from Yathrib to Madinah. The significations of the latter unmistakably implied the new character, purpose and aspirations of the rising city-state.
Since people are both the creators and demolishers of every civilizational accomplishment, and since they are the makers and inhabitants of cities, the Prophet (pbuh) through a number of heavenly inspired legislative moves paid some special attention to the creation of the virtuous and honest individuals who were bound to form a healthy, virtuous and dynamic society. He was aware that such people’s relationships with God, the environment and other men, were set to become and remain perpetually sound and just, thus making the living places of theirs – and if given a chance, the whole of earth – better and more conducive to a pious and truly productive living.
The first city component introduced by the Prophet (pbuh) to the city of Madinah was the mosque institution, the Prophet’s Mosque. Since its inception, the Mosque functioned as a community development center. Different types of activities were conducted within its realm. In addition to serving as a place for congregational prayers, as well as for other collective worship (‘ibadah) practices, the Mosque, likewise, furnished the Muslims with some other crucial social amenities and services. It was the seat of the Prophet’s government, a learning center, a place for some medical treatments and nursing, a detention and rehabilitation center, a welfare and charity center, and a place for some legitimate leisure and recreational activities.
When completed, the form of the Prophet’s Mosque was extremely simple. Its unpretentious form notwithstanding, to Muslims the Mosque instantly became a catalyst and standard-setter for civilization-building. Based on the Prophet’s building experiences, we can conclude that Muslim architecture is not to be concerned about the form of buildings only. Authentic Muslim architecture signifies a process where all the phases and aspects are equally important. It is almost impossible to identify a phase or an aspect in that process and consider it more important than the others. The process of Muslim architecture starts with having a proper understanding and vision which leads to making a right intention. It continues with the planning, designing and building stages, and ends with attaining the net results and how the people make use of and benefit from them. Muslim architecture is a fine blend of all these factors which are interwoven with the treads of the belief system, principles, teachings and values of Islam.
Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught that at the core of Muslim architecture lies function with all of its dimensions: corporeal, cerebral and spiritual. The role of the form is an important one, too, but only inasmuch as it supplements and enhances function. Muslim architecture should embody the teachings, values and principles of Islam as a complete system of thought, practice and civilization, because it functions as the physical locus of human activities, facilitating and promoting them. It should be man-oriented, upholding his dignity and facilitating his spiritual progression while in this world. Architecture is a means, not an end.
Moreover, one of the most recognizable features of Muslim architecture should always be its sustainability penchant. This is so because Islam, as a total worldview, ethics and jurisprudence, aims to preserve man and his total wellbeing, i.e., his religion, self, mental strength, progeny (future generations) and wealth (personal, societal and natural). The views of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) concerning the natural environment and man’s relation thereto are unprecedented.
It goes without saying, therefore, that without Islam there can be no legitimate Muslim architecture. Likewise, without true Muslims, who in their thoughts, actions and words epitomise the total message of Islam, there can be no Muslim architecture either. Muslim architecture is a framework for the implementation of Islam, a framework that exists in order to facilitate, encourage and promote such an implementation. Hence, properly perceiving, creating, comprehending, studying and even using Muslim architecture, cannot be achieved in isolation from the total framework of Islam with its comprehensive worldview, ethos, doctrines, laws, practices, genesis and history. Any attempt or method that defies this obvious principle is bound to end up in failure, generating in the process sets of errors and misconceptions. Indeed, the existing studies on Muslim architecture, by Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike, and the ways in which Muslim architecture is taught and “practiced” today, is the best testimony to the confusion that surrounds Muslim architecture as both a concept and sensory reality.
Prophet Muhammad’s time represented the first and certainly most decisive phase in the evolution of the identity of Muslim architecture, as it is known today. What the Prophet (pbuh) did with regard to architecture, by and large, amounts to sowing the seeds whose yield was harvested later especially during the Umayyad and Abbasid epochs and beyond. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) laid the foundation of true Muslim architecture by introducing its veiled conceptual aspects that were later given their different outward appearances as dictated by different contexts. The aspects contributed by the Prophet (pbuh) to Muslim architecture signify both the quintessence of Muslim architecture and the vitality that permeates its every facet and feature. Thus, the permanent and most consequential side of Muslim architecture is as old as the Islamic message and the Muslim community, but at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) it could take no more than a simple and unrefined physical form. The evolution of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah was the epitome of the Prophet’s contributions to the evolution of the revolutionary phenomenon of Muslim architecture.
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