(Architectural conflicts, or incompatibilities, between yesterday and today are evident virtually everywhere in the Muslim world. Such conflicts signify one of the root causes of the lack of sustainable architecture in the Muslim world. An apartment building with several “traditional” elements and features reflected on the glass façade of a nearby “modern” commercial building in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.)
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.
Read more: Sustainability and Islamic Architecture
The Miri Arab Madrasah (School) in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
The Identity of Islamic Architecture
The above somewhat philosophical accounts had more than a few explicit as well as implicit implications for conceptualizing Islamic architecture and its identity. Those implications were both conceptual and practical. They, to a large extent, helped shaping the perceptions of Muslims and non-Muslims alike towards the realm of Islamic architecture. It goes without saying that the lack, or misrepresentation, of the same, contributed -- and still does -- towards generating, cementing and spreading a great many misconceptions and fallacies about Islamic architecture.
Read more: God as the Only Creator: Implications for Islamic Architecture (Part Two)
View of the Mosque of Ahmad b. Tulun in Cairo, Egypt, through a screen on the roof of a nearby house.
The Qur’an and Sunnah and Perceiving Architecture
Concerning the realm of architecture, the role of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah is to provide Muslims with an inspired outlook on life, in general, and on those issues that are pertinent to architecture, in particular, and with some broad rules of morality and guidelines of proper conduct which may or may not be directly related to architecture. Upon such a divine point of view and general principles and guidelines Muslims are invited to establish architectural theories, systems and styles that are consistent with both their religious preferences and the requirements of their diverse eras, geographic regions, cultures and other practical needs and conditions. Islamic architecture is a symbiosis between permanence, which is represented by the constant innate inclinations of essential human nature and the heavenly guiding principles and regulations meant for it, and impermanence which is necessitated and controlled by the time and space factors. It is the latter that changes, while the former is abiding and remains unchanged.Read more: The Qur’an and Sunnah as a Conceptual Foundation of Islamic Architecture (Part Two)
A scene from a residential area in Qayrawan, Tunisia.
This paper discusses the notion of God as the only Creator, exploring its main implications for conceptualizing the identity and purpose of Islamic architecture. The paper concludes that the concept of God as the Creator represents the core of the Islamic doctrine of tawhid (God’s Oneness and Uniqueness) which, in turn, presents Islamic architecture with its identity impressing it by its own mould. Buildings in Islam are conceived and erected only to serve God and the noble purpose of creation instituted by the Creator. Ascribing the terms ‘creation’ and ‘creators’ to human beings should always be conditional and metaphorical, not authentic or unqualified. Just as the Creator cannot become creation, similarly a creation cannot become a creator. Only against this backdrop, the role and objective of man on earth, and all his civilizational undertakings, including architecture, are to be viewed and assessed. The implications of this centralIslamic tenet for Islamic architecture are studied under the sub-topics of the identity of Islamic architecture and the role of Islamic decorative arts.
Read more: God as the Only Creator: Implications for Islamic Architecture (Part One)
The Sher-Dor Madrasah in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
This paper discusses the theme of the Qur’an and Sunnah as a conceptual foundation of Islamic architecture. It concludes that Islamic architecture is the type of architecture that is inspired and guided primarily by the teachings and belief system of Islam. Islamic architecture in its capacity as a physical locus of life, which to Muslims signifies a form of worship (‘ibadah), is a framework for the implementation of Islam as a complete code of human existence. The Qur’an and Sunnah, as the divine and eternal sources of Islam and Islamic civilization, it follows, ought to play a foremost role in shaping the conceptual disposition of Islamic architecture. Such roles in this paper are summed up as follows: the Qur’an and Sunnah and adequate perception of the world of architecture, the Qur’an and Sunnah as the sources of architectural inspiration and catalysts for creativity, averting the vices often associated with architecture, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the creation of the city of Madinah. In order to give an extra emphasis to the importance of the subject in question, the topics of the meaning and significance of true Islamic architecture, and the state of Islamic architecture literature, are firstly elucidated. Against that backdrop, the core and main thrust of the paper is then approached and discussed. The nature of the paper, along with its content, methodology and conclusions, is conceptual and philosophical, rather than empirical.Read more: The Qur’an and Sunnah as a Conceptual Foundation of Islamic Architecture (Part One)