Mashrabiyyahs (rawashin) on a house in Cairo Image

Towards Contemporary Mashrabiyyahs (Rawashin)

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
International Islamic University Malaysia
E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Mashrabiyyahs (rawashin) on a house in Cairo, Egypt image

Mashrabiyyahs (rawashin) on a house in Cairo, Egypt.

If one thoroughly studies the distinctive character and evolution of the Islamic built environment — and Islamic civilization taken as a whole – against the backdrop of the message of Islam as a complete code of life, one would inexorably infer that the emergence of the rawashin and mashrabiyyah[1] phenomena was fated, as it were. However, when they emerged, mashrabiyyahs (rawashin) were very flexible, and signified a means, rather than an end. Their forms and functions were always susceptible to the forces and influences of the laws of constant change and evolution. As a result, there ultimately emerged many different types of mashrabiyyahs with the latticework and screen designs differing from era to era, and from region to region. “Most mashrabiyyahs are closed where the latticework is lined with stained glass and part of the mashrabiyyah is designed to be opened like a window, often sliding windows to save space; in this case the area contained is part of the upper floor rooms hence enlarging the floor plan. Some mashrabiyyahs are open and not lined with glass, in this case the mashrabiyyah works like a balcony and the space enclosed is independent of the upper floor rooms and accessed through those rooms with windows opening towards it, sometimes even the woodwork is reduced making look much more similar to a regular roofed balcony; this type of mashrabiyyah is mostly used if the house is facing an open landscape rather than other houses, such as a river, a cliff below or simply a farm.”

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An ambiance behind a mashrabiyyah in a house in Cairo Image

The Origins of Rawashin and Mashrabiyyahs

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences
International Islamic University Malaysia
E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Rawashin (mashrabiyyahs) on a house in Makkah Image

Rawashin (mashrabiyyahs) on a house in Makkah.

The Myth of the Mashrabiyyah

In Muslim literature, the earliest explicit reference to the phenomenon of rawashin[1] in the Muslim world was made either in the late 5th AH/11th CE or in the early 6th AH/12th CE century. The first scholar who did so was Imam al-Ghazali (d. 505 AH/1111 CE) — arguably one of the most celebrated Muslim theologians and jurists of Persian descent who lived and worked in Iraq and Khorasan — in his masterpiece Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) when he discussed the obnoxious practices most commonly committed on the narrow roads. Imam al-Ghazali dealt with the matter as part of his discourse concerning the overarching Islamic principle of enjoining good and forbidding evil (al-amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar). He wrote: “Of the loathsome deeds perpetrated on the (narrow) streets are: erecting pillars, building shops attached to private and occupied buildings, planting trees, projecting rawashin, placing lumber, or wood, and freights of grains and foodstuff on the road. All these are abominable because they lead to (further) narrowing of the roads, and thus endanger their users. However, if those practices did not pose any perils whatsoever, due to the roads being wide, then they are not to be prohibited.”[2]

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cordoba image

The Language of Islamic Architecture

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences
International Islamic University Malaysia
E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Fez City in Morocco Image

The city of Fez, Morocco.

In Islam, man is a social being entrusted with a noble mission of responsibly inhabiting and developing the earth (vicegerency or khilafah). He is endowed with enough appropriate at once ingenious and executive capacities for the attainment of the former. Proportionate to the intrinsic character of man and his aspirations and undertakings, his terrestrial calling takes account of all the planes of physical and metaphysical existence. The net result of such a mission is always bound to be cultures and civilizations that typify and reverberate the profundity and wholesomeness of the causes and influences that engendered and gave rise to them. Man’s life, accordingly, is all about forging and nurturing relationships, starting with his own self and then with all the other existing spiritual and material, animate and inanimate, realities, and all the way through the horizontal and vertical miscellaneous levels and dimensions of life. It is due to this that man in Arabic is called insan, which is derived from the verbs anisa and ista’nasa which mean: keep someone company, feel at ease with someone or something, get used to, and to become friendly and benign towards others. Total isolation and loneliness would thus always be an excruciating chastisement for man. This is so because that way, man will not be himself, or herself, and whatever he, or she, does in such a state will prove unnatural and against his, or her, primordial penchants and physical as well as mental and spiritual configuration, and so, detrimental to his, or her, overall wellbeing.

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Image of The crown of a marble pillar from a colonnade or an arcade of al-Masjid al-Haram dating back to the Ottoman period.

Al-Masjid al-Haram from the Era of al-Khulafa’ al-Rashidun (Rightly-Guided Caliphs) to the Saudi Expansions

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences
International Islamic University Malaysia
E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Image of a section of al-Masjid al-Haram built by the Ottomans before it was demolished as part of the latest and grandest Saudi expansion of the Mosque

A section of al-Masjid al-Haram built by the Ottomans before it was demolished as part of the latest and grandest Saudi expansion of the Mosque.

  

After the epoch of al-Khulafa’ al-Rashidun (rightly-guided Caliphs) and until the modern Saudi era, al-Masjid al-Haram underwent a number of reconstructions and expansions. Those who made the most remarkable impacts on the Mosque, regardless of whether they enlarged it or just renovated some sections thereof, were:

  • ‘Abdullah b. al-Zubayr whose expansion — third in a sequence — took place from 65 AH/ 684 CE;
  • Umayyad Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan whose restoration works happened from 75 AH/ 694 CE;
  • Umayyad Caliph al-Walid b. ‘Abd al-Malik whose expansion — fourth in history — occurred from 91 AH/ 709 CE;
  • Abbasid Caliph Abu Ja’far al-Mansur whose expansion, which was fifth in succession, took place from 137 AH/ 754;
  • Abbasid Caliph Muhammad al-Mahdi whose colossal and sixth in succession expansion took place in two stages: from 160 AH/ 776 CE and from 164 AH/ 780 CE, the latter stage having been completed by his son al-Hadi who in 169 AH/ 785 CE succeeded his father as fourth Abbasid Caliph;
  • Abbasid Caliph al-Mu’tamid ‘Alallah whose renovation works happened from 271 AH/ 884 CE;
  • Abbasid Caliph al-Mu’tadid Billah whose lesser seventh expansion occurred from 281 AH/ 894 CE;
  • Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir Billah whose minor and eighth in history expansion came to pass from 306 AH/ 918 CE;
  • Restoration works by the Mamluks that occurred from 803 AH/ 1400 CE and from 882 AH/ 1477 CE;
  • The significant reconstruction efforts by the Ottoman Turks from 972 AH/ 1564 CE and from 984 AH/ 1576 CE.

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Image of Mosque in Abudhabi, UAE.

Al-Wasatiyyah and Islamic Built Environment

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer

Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences

International Islamic University Malaysia

E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

The Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. Image.

The Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.

At the site of the Mosque, there was a temple in both the Aramaean and Roman eras. The place was later converted into a Church dedicated to St John the Baptist in the Byzantine era. Following the arrival of Muslims, the Church was eventually adopted and modified as a mosque.

 

Abstract

This paper discusses the concept of al-wasatiyyah and some of its implications for correctly perceiving the phenomenon of Islamic built environment. The paper concludes that although those implications are rather indirect and implicit in nature, the relationship between the two, i.e., al-wasatiyyah and Islamic built environment, is very strong and reciprocal. Since they have much in common, and since they exert a considerable influence on each other’s ultimate actualization, the concepts of al-wasatiyyah and Islamic built environment should be brought much closer to each other in reviving and unifying the Muslim community. The discussion in the paper focuses on the universality and flexibility of Islamic built environment; how a delicate balance between the form and function in Islamic built environment ought to be established; and avoiding vices which are most often associated with built environment and which are caused by extravagant and excessive tendencies. The nature of the paper is conceptual rather than empirical, featuring a qualitative methodology that combines the descriptive and analytical methods.

Keywords: al-wasatiyyah, Islamic built environment, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), universality, the form, function

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Masjid al-Harram Image

Lessons from the First Two Expansions of al-Masjid al-Haram

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer

Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences

International Islamic University Malaysia

E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Kaaba Image
The latest Saudi expansion of al-Masjid al-Haram is estimated to last till 2020. When completed, the Mosque will have a capacity to accommodate as many as two million worshippers. The expansion is tipped as the project of the century.

By al-Masjid al-Haram it is sometimes meant only the Ka’bah and at other times the spaces that surround it, containing several facilities intended to facilitate some exclusive religious rituals and services. For example, when the Qur’an instructs Muslims to turn their faces in their prayers towards al-Masjid al-Haram (al-Baqarah, 149), facing the Ka’bah itself is meant thereby. Also, when the Prophet (pbuh) said that the first mosque built on earth was al-Masjid al-Haram, he meant the Ka’bah. But when he said that a prayer in al-Masjid al-Haram is better than one hundred thousand prayers elsewhere, the Prophet (pbuh) meant, primarily, the spaces around it. (While performing voluntary prayers inside the Ka’bah is permissible, the same is not the case with obligatory ones; for some scholars, the matter is disliked, but for others, it is even forbidden.) Similarly, when the Qur’an reveals that the Prophet (pbuh) was taken for a journey by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, Palestine, (al-Isra’, 1), here again the spaces around the Ka’bah are implied (Basalamah, 2001). According to a great many scholars, still, al-Masjid al-Haram signifies the Ka’bah and the entire haram (Makkah sanctuary) up to the boundaries that separate the outside world from the haram.

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Image of a house in the snow by hakan dahlstrom

The Variety of Climates on Earth and Building

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer

Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences

International Islamic University Malaysia

E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

A spectacular setting in a courtyard house in Marrakech, Morocco. Image

A spectacular setting in a courtyard house in Marrakech, Morocco.

The Earth’s Creator willed that no two places on Earth have the same climate and this relates to the speed, shape, disposition and rotation of the Earth. Climate affects significantly the conditions of life on Earth. Since two places on Earth do not have the same climate, it follows that world patterns of vegetation, soils and water resources vary significantly from one region to another. The effect of climate is so strong that it is also able to influence every human endeavour either directly or indirectly.

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The interior of an upper floor in a traditional house in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Image

Islamic Housing and the Role of Muslim Women

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer

Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences

International Islamic University Malaysia

E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Al-Suhaymi Mamluki house in Cairo, Egypt. Image
Al-Suhaymi Mamluki house in Cairo, Egypt.

What is Islamic housing?

Islam as a comprehensive way of life influenced the planning and designing of the houses of its adherents. Not only that, Islam also laid a solid foundation, in some instances in form of laws, for creating what came to be known as the phenomenon of Islamic housing.

The Holy Qur’an furnishes Muslims with a comprehensive conceptual framework for housing. This framework has been first applied, explained and further enriched by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). While developing the city of Madinah, upon his and his followers’ migration (hijrah) from Makkah, the Prophet (pbuh) under the aegis of revelation provided scores of lessons in Islamic housing. Since Muhammad (pbuh) was the last Messenger of Allah to mankind, such lessons are to be held by Muslims as both universal and everlasting. They stand for an important segment of the Prophet’s sunnah which each and every Muslim is required to follow as much as life conditions permit.

In Islam, the house is a place to rest, relax the body and mind, and enjoy legitimate worldly delights. Within the realm of their houses, Muslims also worship, teach, learn and propagate the message of Islam. Central to the standards by which a house may be categorized as “Islamic” are the holiness and purity of its philosophy, vision, function and utility, accompanied by convenience, efficiency, safety, awareness of the physical surroundings, and anything else that Islam reckons as indispensable for living a decent and accountable family life. The sheer physical and artistic appearance is therefore inferior and matters only when it comes into complete conformity with the above mentioned criteria. Muslim architects, planners, structural engineers and final users alike, should perceive the house phenomenon as a sheer means, an instrument, a carrier of the spiritual, not a goal itself. Islamic housing is a blend of the belief system, teachings and values of Islam, on the one hand, and the prerequisites and influences of indigenous cultures, climates, topographies, the availability and quality of building materials, talents, technologies and economies, on the other.

The house institution occupies an extraordinary place in Islam. It is a family development center. It is a microcosm of Islamic culture and civilization, in that individuals and families bred and nurtured therein constitute the fundamental units of the Islamic ummah (community). The places where people live are the first and arguably most critical educational and development centers. If they function properly, such centers have a potential to produce, in concert with other societal establishments and centers, the individuals who will be capable of transforming and making better their immediate surroundings and the whole communities they belong to.

Conversely, if misconstrued and their roles distorted, the places where people live have a potential to become a breeding ground for a range of social ills, which if left unchecked could paralyze entire communities and stifle their civilizational undertakings. It follows that in Islamic society there ought to exist a high level of ideological compatibility between the house and other societal institutions. An ideological incompatibility, or dichotomy, between the two poles is unacceptable and can only hinder, if not thwart altogether, the progress of society.

Indeed, it is very difficult to live delightfully, honoring and applying the teachings and values of Islam in a residential architectural world that is alien to the same teachings and values and their divine philosophy. It is only when compatibility between the two ambits exists that people’s actual interests and welfare will be ensured, and that residential planning and architecture will become more than just a routine external process of planning, designing and erecting houses. Without a doubt, there is much more to Islamic housing than just that, that is, than the conventional physical aspect of the whole thing.

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Architecture and Society Book Cover Image

Architecture and Society: Some Lessons on Muslim Architecture from India

Book Title: Architecture and Society: Some Lessons on Muslim Architecture from India
Author: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Publisher: Research Management Center, International Islamic University Malaysia
ISBN: 978-967-418-402-5
First Edition, 2015

 

This book deals with the subject of the relationship between Muslim architecture and society and how they influence each other, taking some social and historical segments of complex Indian society as a case study. The book consists of three independent studies which cover three vital aspects of Muslim architecture, especially in India:

  • Converting Hindu temples into mosques;
  • The royal funerary architecture of the Mughals;
  • The social significance of Mr. Nazeer Khan’s architecture.

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