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The Quran, Sunnah and Architectural Creativity – Part 2

The Quran, Sunnah and Architectural Creativity – Part 2
Muslim architects are to be an exemplary group responsible towards themselves, their profession, society, culture and religion.

Part 1

This hierarchical organization and order in Islamic architecture render it ever alive and applicable. It also signifies a divine acknowledgment of the talent and potential inherent in man — God’s vicegerent on earth — which, after all, are God-given.

Islam is a complete way of life. Its values and teachings are universal and timeless. Islamic architecture is universal and permanent too, in that the philosophy that it embodies is the Islamic one. However, such is the nature of Islamic architecture that it is receptive to both advances in science and technology, and the dictates of people’s living conditions.

It is an imperative that Muslim architects always remember this verity while trying to revive and sustain the phenomenon of Islamic architecture, both as a concept and sensory reality.

In so doing, Muslim architects are bidden to, firstly, identify the general guidelines and principles of the Quran and Sunnah pertaining to the enterprise of building. Next, they should be fully aware of the implications of the dilemmas and challenges their time and diverse regions in which they live entail. They cannot be trapped in a historical episode, overly romanticizing it and attempting to emulate the architectural solutions the Muslims of that particular period successfully evolved.

If something was the norm during a period and in a particular ecological and socio-economic setting, such by no means can be the same in every subsequent period and in different ecological and socio-economic settings.

Technological advancements rapidly change, demands of different eras fluctuate, even under the same ecological conditions. Climate exigencies ought to be painstakingly heeded, too. And lastly, human psychology also changes with the changes in the time and space factors, posing a number of exigencies of its own.

No architectural plan and design, which served as a solution for an age and a place, can be simply “parachuted” to another age and place without properly modulating it to its rigorous environmental and socio-cultural requirements. To do that is to betray the dynamic spirit of both the common sense and the perpetual message of the Quran and Sunnah. Blind and ignorant imitations and following, even in sheer religious matters, are categorically rebuked by Islam.

While taking hold of the general values and teachings of the Quran and Sunnah with reference to creating an Islamic architecture, on the one hand, and while studying the needs of different times and situations so that the former can be accurately understood and applied, on the other, Muslim designers and architects, in reality, perform a degree of ijtihad, i.e., forming an independent opinion or judgment within the framework of an available text from either the Quran or Sunnah, or from both.

In doing so, if one excels, one receives two rewards from God, but if one for whatever reason, fails to deliver, after he had tried his best, one is bound to receive one reward from God, as explained by the Prophet in one of his traditions (Sahih al-Bukhari).

Based on that tradition, in no way can a serious, enlightened, accountable and willing person be a loser as far as the execution of matters ordained by God is concerned.

Verily, this divine assurance should serve to Muslim architects and designers as a starting point to look carefully and critically at the state of Muslim architecture today and how buildings in the Muslim world are planned and designed, as well as to start contemplating the prospects of finding adequate and long-term solutions to the existing problems.

The Quran and Sunnah, apart from being a divine guidance, also serve as a powerful restraining force whenever people develop a tendency to lose their way and start using architecture both as a means of and field for committing certain evil practices.

Since architecture is a powerful and effective medium for expressing ideas, status, reputation, personal and social achievements, etc., it has a potential to be both abused and misused at the hands of some of its designers, patrons, builders and users, proportionately to the extent of their deviational tendencies.

mosqueHence, in Islam, such wrongdoings as wasting, extravagance, showing off, arrogance, ingratitude, greed, jealousy, corruption, environmental destruction, discriminating against people and dishonest competition — all of which can easily find a breeding ground in an erroneous architectural vision and style — are regarded as grave sins. They can seriously injure the spiritual wellbeing of a person and that of a whole community.

So serious are those vices that they have the potential to deny their perpetrators God’s grace in both worlds and His Paradise in the Hereafter, plunging them into the abyss of Hellfire instead.

As a consequence, Muslim architects are to be an exemplary group responsible towards themselves, their profession, society, culture and religion. This is irrespective of whether they are governed by a code of ethics and professional conduct in places where they work, or not. Their code of moral values and professional demeanor is enshrined forever in the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah.

Islamic general ethics, which accounts for a permanent system of values that guide our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives, should constitute the core of different codes of ethics and professional conduct that different architectural companies and establishments may introduce for themselves. They need to ensure that Muslim architects are dedicated to the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and competence.

It follows that Islamic architectural education should seriously address the matter. Islamic education, generally, is not the one that produces greedy, materialistic and egocentric professionals who readily dispense with moral principles both in their professional and private lives.

Islamic education, on the contrary, produces capable, but ethical and accountable, professionals who are no less skilled and competent than their peers who come from conventional secular educational systems. Islamic education produces not only good professionals, but also good men and women, i.e., good citizens. Whereas the latter is always a guarantee of the former, the opposite is not always the case.

On the whole, the impact of architecture and architects on their surroundings is immense. Thus, if, for example, medical education begins in virtually all medical educational environments with taking an oath where the students’ responsibility for caring for people’s wellbeing and health, and where the serious implications of their actions for the patient, the patient’s family and so, the community, are greatly accentuated — why shouldn’t “architectural education establish the same understanding of the architect’s responsibilities to society, building users and clients?

Do not architects have similar ethical and professional demands placed on themselves for the health, safety, and welfare of the public, especially given the impact that design choices impose on individuals, communities and the global citizenry?

Environmental stability, the wise use of land, the design of public spaces, energy conservation, community improvement, resource allocation, adaptive reuse, building function, aesthetic delight, air quality, safety and security, and so many more of the issues that we address in the course of our professional lives must be approached with an inherent understanding that being an architect carries immense responsibility. Our education must be founded on such an understanding” (Steidl, www.di.net, accessed April 27, 2017).

According to the message and guidance of the Quran and Sunnah, therefore, which is to be mirrored in Islamic architectural education, knowledge without righteousness is of no use and is a very dangerous and deceiving proposition.

Likewise, righteousness without knowledge is deficient. The two must be integrated operating as such as a foundation of people’s lives. Such a philosophical framework will stimulate people’s approach to life, actions and relationships.

The inappropriateness of a one-sided approach to life, and in this case to education which is the foundation and lifeblood of the former, as well as the opposite, i.e., the appropriateness of an integrated approach to life, is the message of the following Quranic verses:

There are men who say: ‘Our Lord! Give us (Your bounties) in this world’, but they will have no portion in the Hereafter. And there are men who say: ‘Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter, and defend us from the torment of the Fire!’ (2: 200-201).

A knowledge devoid of integrity and virtue, and the perils of such a knowledge, the Prophet (peace be upon him) surely had in mind when he implored God to guard him against a knowledge that brings no benefit (Sunan Ibn Majah).


About Dr. 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. He obtained his PhD in 2000 from the University of Malaya in the field of Islamic history and civilization.His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. In 2003, his book "Studies in Islamic Built Environment" won IIUM's Isma'il al-Faruqi Best Publication Award, and in 2015, his book "Architecture and Society" won Malaysian National Book Award (Anugerah Buku Negara).He can be reached at spahico@yahoo.com; his website is medinanet.org.

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