Modern Primitiveness or Primitive Modernity

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

According to the worldview of agnosticism, certainty and knowledge are impossible and we will never be able to know the true reality. A constant sceptical approach to epistemology, thus, ought to be a norm. Exemplifying somewhat this doctrine, Albert Einstein once remarked: “I don’t try to imagine a personal god; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.”

However, one wonders if agnostic thought, which originated most likely in ancient Greece in the form of scepticism, was a premeditated philosophical choice or a desperate reactionary repositioning against the inability of established religions to provide a sense of both epistemological and spiritual certitude. The latter seems to be the case, in that the majority of agnostic views and tenets exude opposition and aversion, rather than a homogenous system of thought and action. The sentiment is sufficiently epitomised by the words of Thomas Henry Huxley (d. 1895), a famous English biologist and evolutionist: “Agnosticism simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that for which he has no grounds for professing to believe.”

Continue reading Modern Primitiveness or Primitive Modernity

Why am I in Love with Islamic Traditional Architecture?

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

The fast-deteriorating breath-taking skyline of the old Cairo Image

(The fast-deteriorating breath-taking skyline of the old Cairo)

Since my childhood, I had a feeling of inexplicable admiration for Islamic traditional buildings, be they mosques, madrasahs (schools), houses, caravanserais (khans), bazars, and, to some extent, even Sufi khanqahs (tekkes or zawiyahs), mausoleums and tombs. As I grew older and was making Islamic studies, history and civilisation my career path, the feeling was morphing into a mixture of awe, inspiration and exuberance. By the time I was standing on the threshold of delving deeper into the realm of intellectual profundities and intricacies, I was experiencing a passionate love affair with Islamic traditional architecture, both as art and science.

Continue reading Why am I in Love with Islamic Traditional Architecture?

A Conceptual Framework for Sustainability in Islamic Architecture

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

An austere mosque Image in Ghardai’a, Algeria

(An austere mosque in Ghardai’a, Algeria.)

Abstract

This paper discusses a conceptual framework for sustainability in Islamic architecture. Some major segments of such framework are elucidated along the theoretical, or philosophical, rather than empirical, lines. Firstly, the need for sustainable architecture is outlined. That is followed by discussing the concepts of man and the natural environment in Islam and how central those concepts are to the Islamic message and Islamic civilization, the latter serving as a physical manifestation and evidence of the former. Then, some main conceptual implications of the two concepts for sustainability in Islamic architecture are explained. The significance of the notion of the universality of the Islamic message for sustainability is also highlighted. The paper concludes that sustainable architecture needs to address not only environmental and economic, but also social, educational and spiritual concerns of people. This is especially applicable to Islamic architecture because of the role of its multi-tiered orb as facilities and, at the same time, a physical locus of the actualization of Islam as a comprehensive way of life. It also represents the identity, as well as a microcosm, of Islamic culture and civilization. The ideas of sustainability and architecture in Islam are inseparable on account of the significance of the Islamic principles of man, nature, life, comprehensive excellence and the universality of the Islamic cause, which constitute a conceptual framework for such a synthesis.

Keywords: Sustainability, Islamic Architecture, Man, Nature, Islam.

Continue reading A Conceptual Framework for Sustainability in Islamic Architecture

The Form and Function of the Prophet’s Mosque during the Time of the Prophet (pbuh)

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

An imaginary initial form of Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque

Abstract

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.

Continue reading The Form and Function of the Prophet’s Mosque during the Time of the Prophet (pbuh)

Let’s Examine Our Relationship with the Qur’an

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

Quran Image

The Qur’an was revealed by Almighty Allah through Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to mankind to bring them out of the disorienting and debilitating darkness of falsehood, ignorance and superstitions to the light and radiance of truth, guidance and proper erudition. The Qur’an is the only means available to man by which he can communicate directly with his Creator, Master and Sustainer. No other alternative is left as all the previous Scriptures have been tampered with, corrupted or utterly lost.

This indeed is a hallmark of the Islamic message. Man needs no intermediaries of any kind — conceptual or physical — between him and his Master. The whole life affair is solely between man and Allah. Everything and everyone else stands for a secondary thing, playing second fiddle to that overwhelming relationship. Allah is only a Qur’anic verse (ayah), a contemplative thought, or a sincere supplication “away”.

Continue reading Let’s Examine Our Relationship with the Qur’an

The Latest Expansion of al-Masjid al-Haram and the Case of Shamiyyah

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

 Image of Shamiyyah was one of the neighborhoods pulled down to make way for the latest Holy Mosque expansion. It lied north and slightly northwest of the Ka’bah, occupying significant segments of the Qu’ayqi’an range of hills. Pictures courtesy of the Omraniyoun Company

(Shamiyyah was one of the neighborhoods pulled down to make way for the latest Holy Mosque expansion. It lied north and slightly northwest of the Ka’bah, occupying significant segments of the Qu’ayqi’an range of hills. Pictures courtesy of the Omraniyoun Company)

The late Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (2005-2015), ordered in 2007 that a massive and unprecedented expansion of al-Masjid al-Haram be undertaken. The on-going expansion covers the Holy Mosque and its surrounding areas starting in the northern side in order to enable it to accommodate around 2.5 million worshippers at one time. In addition to erecting new buildings, King Abdullah’s expansion includes the expansion of the external areas of the Mosque, as well as restrooms, passageways, tunnels, and other ancillary facilities. The service area has also been developed, including the air conditioning and electricity plants and water supply facilities which all serve the needs of the Mosque. Upon its completion, planned in 2020, this latest expansion project will increase the area of the Mosque to approximately one million square meters. When King Abdullah died in January 23, 2015, he was succeeded by King Salman b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Immediately following his investiture, King Salman clearly demonstrated his enthusiasm to carry through his predecessor’s al-Masjid al-Haram’s expansion scheme.

Continue reading The Latest Expansion of al-Masjid al-Haram and the Case of Shamiyyah

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.”

Continue reading Towards Contemporary Mashrabiyyahs (Rawashin)

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]

Continue reading The Origins of Rawashin and Mashrabiyyahs

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.

Continue reading The Language of Islamic Architecture

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.

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