All posts by Spahic Omer

Dr. Spahic Omer, a Bosnian currently residing in Malaysia, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia. He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. His research interests cover Islamic history and civilization, as well as the history and theory of the Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: spahico@yahoo.com.

Excellence in Islam: Implications for Islamic Architecture

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

The meaning of excellence

Comprehensive excellence (ihsan or itqan) is one of the most important Islamic values. It likewise constitutes a vital aspect of the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture. Excellence saturates every dimension of the Islamic message. Since Islam is a complete way of life, it follows that excellence is to be felt in all life’s spheres. When the angel Jibril (Gabriel) asked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) what excellence is, the Prophet’s reply was: “Excellence is to worship God as if you see him, for if you do not see Him He sees you.”

Excellence is prescribed (kataba) to Muslims as explicitly as the other fundamental obligations, such as praying (salah), fast (siyam) and struggle for the holy Islamic cause (jihad).

The Prophet (pbuh) once said: “Indeed, Allah loves when one of you does something that he does it to perfection.” It is interesting to call to mind the context in which these words of the Prophet (pbuh) were uttered, thus drawing attention to the seriousness of the matter. When the Prophet’s son Ibrahim died and was buried, some unevenness had been left in the earth on his grave. The unevenness must have been minor in that the people were able to overlook it. It was such a sad occasion, so it was unthinkable for anyone to say or do anything, no matter how trivial, that could aggravate the people’s feeling, in general, and that of the Prophet (pbuh), in particular. Noticing the unevenness, the Prophet (pbuh) leveled the earth by his hand and made the above statement.[1]

During the process of building the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah in which practically all Muslims participated, the Prophet (pbuh) also called people’s attention to the significance of excellence. It is reported that a man in course of building the mosque was expertly treading clay for making 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.” And to the man he said: “Keep doing this job for I see that you excel in it.”[2]

Therefore, Islam is a religion of excellence. Muslims are to strive for excellence in all that they do: in both religious rituals and pure worldly affairs. All forms of deliberate mediocrity, which is the opposite of excellence, are deemed against the spirit of Islam and are thus disproved off. Human actions, if executed in the spirit of deliberate mediocrity, are likely to be repudiated by God. So important in Islam is integrating excellence into human actions that it represents a condition for such actions to be accepted by God.

Continue reading Excellence in Islam: Implications for Islamic Architecture

Man and Environment in Islam: Implications for Islamic Architecture

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer

Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design

International Islamic University Malaysia

E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

The skyline of the city of Lahore, Pakistan

The skyline of the city of Lahore, Pakistan

Introduction: The significance of the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture

 

The issues that form the cornerstones of the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture, by and large, are: tawhid (the idea of God’s Oneness), man as the vicegerent (khalifah) on earth and his relationship with environment, comprehensive excellence (ihsan or itqan), and Islam as the final and universal revelation to mankind. This conceptual framework renders Islamic architecture such a unique subject and vastly different from other architectural expressions and schools.

Studying the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture, which due to its anchoring on some of the most important Islamic tenets constitutes a foremost segment of the Islamic worldview, is vital. This is so for two chief reasons.

Firstly, by knowing and absorbing the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture, Muslim architects, and practitioners in built environment in general, will possess a solid base on which restoring and advancing the phenomenon of Islamic architecture will be easily and confidently established. If the tenets on which the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture rests, permeate an architect’s or an engineer’s thinking and behaving paradigms, the total behavior that originates from such a mentality is bound to be in agreement with Islamic values and belief system. An architecture that stems from such a mentality is bound to be genuinely Islamic too. And when it comes into existence, it does so spontaneously, unassumingly and sincerely, fitting perfectly into the matrix of Muslim life activities. It does so without any ado during the process of its conceiving and execution, without any ambiguities or confusion in its substance and function, and without any superficialities, peculiarities and showiness in its style and appearance.

Continue reading Man and Environment in Islam: Implications for Islamic Architecture

Tawhid and its Implications for Islamic Architecture

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

 

Tawhid (God’s Oneness)

The notion of tawhid is the most important cornerstone in the conceptual framework for Islamic architecture. Tawhid means asserting the unity or oneness of Allah. Tawhid is the Islamic concept of monotheism. The word tawhid is derived from the words wahid and ahad which mean “one”, “unique” and “peerless”. Based on the concept of tawhid, Muslims believe that God cannot be held equal in any way or degree to any other being or concept. Maintaining that there is no God except Allah and that there is nothing comparable to Him constitutes the essence of tawhid and the essence of Islam. Thus, declaring God’s oneness, tawhid, together with Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood (shahadah), is the first requirement for one who wishes to embrace the Islamic religion. Shirk, or associating anybody or anything with God making it comparable to Him, is the opposite of tawhid. It is the gravest sin which God vowed never to forgive.

Tawhid has three aspects: (1) Oneness of the Lordship of God (Tawhid al-Rububiyyah) (2) Oneness of the Worship of God (Tawhid al-Uluhiyyah or Tawhid al-‘Ibadah) (3) Oneness of the Names and Qualities of God (Tawhid al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat).

According to these three aspects, there is only one Lord for all the universe, Who is its Creator, Organizer, Planner, Sustainer and Giver of security. He is the only Creator, the rest is His creation. He is the only Master, the rest are His servants. Nothing from His World can be a quality of the created world, and nothing from the created world can be ascribed to His World. Similarities that exist between the two realms, the divine and earthly, do not exceed the level of sheer names. Beyond that nothing is the same. There can never be an exchange in the arrangement of designations between the two dominions: that of the Creator and that of His creation.

Since the Lord and Master of the world remains as such forever, the servants too remain what they are forever. Since the Creator and Sustainer remains as such forever providing the everlasting source of all that exist, the creatures too remain forever mortal, recipients of and completely dependent on divine material and spiritual provisions. In all their undertakings, it stands to reason, people’s primary mission should always be to acknowledge this undeniable truth, unselfishly exhibit its effects and try to integrate it into each and every aspect of their cultural and civilizational accomplishments. People are never to get carried away by their ostensible earthly achievements and, as a result, rebel against the established spiritual paradigms in life and then attempt to modify or manipulate them. People’s earthly achievements ought always to reflect God’s greatness as opposed to man’s smallness, God’s self-sufficiency as opposed to man’s lack of it, God’s infinity and permanence as opposed to man’s wavering and insecurity, God’s supremacy as opposed to man’s fragility. Any other approach would signify a sheer falsehood, deception and fictitious optimism.

Continue reading Tawhid and its Implications for Islamic Architecture

Some Lessons From Prophet Muhammad (SAW) In Architecture: The Prophet’s Mosque In Madinah

SOME LESSONS FROM PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAW) IN ARCHITECTURE: THE PROPHET’S MOSQUE IN MADĪNAH

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

Abstract

This paper discusses some lessons in architecture that can be gleaned using the Prophet’s Mosque in Madīnah as a case study. The paper deals with the following main themes: the meaning and significance of Islamic architecture; 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 spheres of Islamic architecture. Every theme discussed signifies a permanent feature of Islamic architecture which derives its strength and merit from the Prophet’s experiences. Hence, a close analogy is always drawn in the paper between those architectural features and the Prophet.

 

Keywords: Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Madīnah, the Prophet’s mosque, Islamic architecture

 

Continue reading Some Lessons From Prophet Muhammad (SAW) In Architecture: The Prophet’s Mosque In Madinah

Prophet Muhammad’s Attitude Towards Architecture (2)

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +603 2056 5248
Fax: +603 2056 4864
Email: spahico@yahoo.com

3. Building activities over graves

The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have forbidden that the graves should be plastered, or that they be used as sitting places (for the people), or that a building should be constructed over them.[1] However, a piece of stone or wood is allowed to be placed on the graves for the sake of sheer identification. In this regard, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have himself deposited a stone on the grave of a companion Uthman b. Maz’un, on the side where his head was, saying: “With it I shall know the grave of my brother, and the members of my family could be buried next to him.”[2]

Continue reading Prophet Muhammad’s Attitude Towards Architecture (2)

Prophet Muhammad’s Attitude Towards Architecture (1)

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +603 2056 5248
Fax: +603 2056 4864
Email: spahico@yahoo.com

Introduction: conceptualizing Islamic architecture

Islamic architecture is an architecture whose functions and, to a lesser extent, form, are inspired primarily by Islam. Islamic architecture is a framework for the implementation of Islam. It facilitates, fosters and stimulates Muslims’ ‘ibadah (worship) activities, which, in turn, account for every moment of their earthly lives. Central to Islamic architecture is function with all of its dimensions: corporeal, cerebral and spiritual. The form divorced from function is inconsequential. This, however, by no means implies that the form plays no role in Islamic architecture. The form is important, but in terms of value and substance it always comes second to function and its wide scope.[1]

 

Continue reading Prophet Muhammad’s Attitude Towards Architecture (1)

CONCEPTUALIZING ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE 3

Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Jalan Gombak, 53100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Pragmatism and Islamic architecture (Continued)

There is no such thing as a standardized Islamic architecture which can be reproduced anytime and anywhere. If truth be told, there is nothing as such in the whole body of the Islamic built environment. Therefore, Muslim architects and designers should not hesitate to unleash their burning Islamic spirit, desire, imagination and creativity in order to conceive and create such an architectural tradition that will be compatible with the requirements of both the religious message and modernity. Undoubtedly, the given solutions will have to vary from one region to another, somewhere more and somewhere less. But the essence of all the possible designs, including those adopted as the best solutions in history, will remain one, because of the same worldview and the same religious spirit and foundation that underpin the presence of Muslims and bind all the Muslim peoples regardless of their different geographical locations, cultures and historical appearances. Whatever conception and form are eventually given to such an architecture, the same is absolutely qualified to be branded as “Islamic”. On account of its location, sheer exterior, or association with a historical moment, no building can be more Islamic than others. What matters, imperatively, is the total function and utility, that a building is imbued with the soul and purity of Islam, and that it stands for an embodiment of the Islamic values and principles insofar as the fulfilling of a building’s functions and roles is concerned.

Continue reading CONCEPTUALIZING ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE 3

CONCEPTUALIZING iSLAMIC ARCHITECTURE 2

Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Jalan Gombak, 53100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Islamic architecture as a means, not an end (Continued)

Islamic architecture means a process that starts from making an intention, continues with the planning, designing and building stages and ends with achieving the net results and how people make use of and benefit from them. Islamic architecture is a fine blend of all these stages which are interlaced with the tread of the same Islamic worldview and Islamic value system. It is almost impossible to single out a tier in the process and regard it more important than the rest. It is because of this conspicuous spiritual character of Islamic architecture, coupled with its both educational and societal roles, that the scholars of Islam never shied away from keenly addressing a number of issues pertaining to various dimensions of residential, mosque and communal architecture within the scope of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh islami). The relevant issues are discussed under different headings such as: legal rulings in connection with neighbours and neighbourhoods (ahkam al-jiwar), reconciliation (al-sulh) between immediate neighbours and all the people in a neighbourhood, people’s individual and collective rights, prohibition of inflicting harm (darar), legal rulings pertaining to building (ahkam al-bina’), and public services and facilities (al-marafiq). All these issues undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the identity of Islamic architecture. They are either directly or indirectly related to conceiving, designing, forming and using Islamic architecture. Since architecture is people’s art greatly influencing their moods and the day-to-day life engagements, the same issues concerning architecture are studied as part of exhaustive encyclopaedic works on Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh islami).

Continue reading CONCEPTUALIZING iSLAMIC ARCHITECTURE 2

Some Lessons from the Holy Qur’an on Housing (3)

Dr. Spahic Omer

4. The house as a microcosm of culture and civilization

The house is a microcosm of culture and civilization because the primary elements of society: individuals organized along with the family lines, are born, raised and educated in them. The strength of the institutions of the family and house denotes the strength of a society and the verve of its cultural and civilizational agenda. Similarly, frailties in the institutions of the family and house denote frailties in a society and in its cultural and civilizational agenda.

{jcomments on}

Continue reading Some Lessons from the Holy Qur’an on Housing (3)

Some Lessons from the Holy Qur’an on Housing (2)

Dr. Spahic Omer

2. The house and the subject of privacy

Islam is very firm in calling for privacy protection. However, as one is required to safeguard his privacy and that of his family, he is likewise required to respect the privacy of others. Deliberate invasion of one’s privacy by whatever means and degree is deemed a serious offence with far-reaching consequences. It falls under the category of inflicting harm or damage (darar) on others, which cannot be tolerated in Islam.

{jcomments on}

Continue reading Some Lessons from the Holy Qur’an on Housing (2)