Islamic architecture is a type of 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 the Muslims’ ‘ibadah (worship) activities, which, in turn, account for every moment of their earthly lives.

Islamic architecture is a type of 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 the Muslims’ ‘ibadah (worship) activities, which, in turn, account for every moment of their earthly lives. Islamic architecture only can come into existence under the aegis of the Islamic perceptions of God, man, nature, life, death and the Hereafter. Thus, Islamic architecture would be the facilities and, at the same time, a physical locus of the actualization of the Islamic message. Practically, Islamic architecture represents the religion of Islam that has been translated onto reality at the hands of Muslims. It also represents the identity of Islamic culture and civilization.

Ibn Abdun, an Andalusian judge from the 12th century, is reported to have said, as quoted by Stefano Bianca (2000): “As far as architecture is concerned, it is the haven where man’s spirit, soul and body find refuge and shelter.” In other words, architecture is a container of people’s lives.

Also, Ibn Qutayba, a Muslim scholar of the 9th century, compared the house, as quoted by Afif Bahnassi (http://www.isesco.org.ma/pub/Eng/Islarch/P2.htm), to a shirt, saying that just as the shirt should fit its owner, the house too should suit its dwellers. That is to say, the aesthetic and utilitarian ends of the house must correspond to the needs and capabilities of its users. The two must perfectly suit each other.

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. It does play a prominent role, but its relevance is a supportive one supplementing and enhancing function. The form is important, but in terms of value and substance it always comes second to function and its wide scope. There must be the closest relationship between the ideals that underpin the form of buildings and the ideals that underpin their function, with which the users of buildings must be at ease. A rift or a conflict between the two is bound to lead to a conflict of some far-reaching psychological proportions in buildings users. This way, the roles of form become equivalent to the roles of function.

The evolution of Islamic architecture commenced with the revelation of Islam to Muhammad (pbuh) the last Messenger of God to mankind. Although Islam is a complete code of life, it could not impose itself as such instantaneously on people doing away with their flawed living patterns, because it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gradually over a span of about 23 years: thirteen in Makkah and ten in Madinah, so that the hearts of people would be able to comprehend and absorb the message of Islam. After the people had accepted Islam, making it their happy choice, it was only natural that the formation of inclusive Islamic lifestyles and cultures came about next. Then, the creation of new building styles that needed to frame, so to speak, and facilitate the new lifestyles followed, which, in turn, signified the birth of Islamic architecture. The new architecture needed some time to evolve. When it did, it typified everything that Islam stood for: its universalism, prominence, dynamism and originality. Hence, it is very much appropriate to brand such an approach to and style of building as Islamic architecture.

– 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.

Only God deserves to be worshipped. He is the ultimate object of all the spiritual cravings and desires. No other being or idea can be elevated above its intrinsic status and be accorded some divine power or attributes. God needs no partners or associates in executing His divine tasks. He is omnipotent, omnipresent and self-sufficient. “He is the final end, that is, the end at which all finalistic nexuses aim and come to rest…He is an end for all other ends.” (Al-Faruqi, 1995) God is perfect, but not in the sense of perfection as we humans are able to perceive, for we are short of perceiving His divine perfection, but in the sense of the divine perfection as suggested again and again through His revealed words. God’s divine Being cannot be represented, personified or in any way expressed by any creature.

– Islam and the Role of Man on Earth

Man, according to Islam, is a vicegerent on earth entrusted with the honorable task of inhabiting it in accordance with the divine guidance given to him. This terrestrial life serves to man as a platform for either elevating his status over that of angels, should he abide by the divinely prescribed rules and regulations, or for debasing his self lower than the rank of animals, should he turn away from Truth and dazed and lost wander aimlessly amid the innumerable and awesome wonders of creation.

God created man with the primordial natural disposition (fitrah) to thirst for and worship his Creator. God, therefore, knowing best the character of man, his needs and weaknesses, on sending Adam and Eve to earth to assume the duty of vicegerency, revealed to them that He will never forsake them and their progeny. God promised that His guidance and signs will be coming to them, and “Whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Al-Baqarah, 38)

“…Whosoever follows My guidance, will not lose his way, nor fall in misery.” (Ta Ha, 123)

God’s guidance and signs mean the religion of Islam preached by every prophet from the dawn of mankind and Adam as the first messenger to Muhammad as the last and seal of all messengers. God’s divine guidance will enable man to remain strong, sensible, content and “healthy” while on earth, making him, in turn, capable of keeping up the focus of his undertakings on worshipping his Lord in every act, word and thought (‘ibadah). God says in the Qur’an that He has created both Jinns and men only that they may serve Him. (Al-Dhariyat, 56)

On the other hand, in the event of man’s rejection of God’s message and guidance, the repercussions will be costly. The Qur’an says: “But those who reject Faith and belie Our Signs, they shall be Companions of the Fire; they shall abide therein.” (Al-Baqarah, 39)

“But whosoever turns away from My Message, verily for him is a life narrowed down, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Judgment.” (Ta Ha, 124)

Man is created as a social being endued with free will, passion and emotions, which could either lead him to the highest or drug him to the lowest ebb of creation. Humanity is but a big family with the same origin, mission and purpose. People have been divided into nations and tribes only to know each other, learn from each other, and cooperate at various scales in righteousness and piety, not that they may loathe each other and conspire against each other. They are to explore the universe and within the framework rendered by revelation try to make their existence as convenient, comfortable and meaningful as possible, hence create virtuous cultures and civilizations. However, no sooner does this universal equilibrium become impaired and vitiated than man’s relationship with God, his peers and the whole of the environment starts to degenerate.

Allah says about this: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (al-Hujurat, 13)

“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: verily in that are Signs for those who know.” (al-Rum, 22)

Islam with its unique tawhidic (the unity of God) worldview champions that Muslims are brothers to each other and their similitude is like a wall whose bricks enforce and rely on each other. They are like a solid cemented structure held together in unity and strength, each part contributing strength in its own way, and the whole held together not like a mass, but like a living organism. Muslims are furthermore related to each other in such a way that if one of them (a part of an organic and formidable formation called the Ummah, the Community) is troubled by a problem of any kind, the rest of the body parts will remain disturbed and restless until the matter became fairly solved.

Check Out Part II and Part III Here

– PART II

– PART III

By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer

Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design

International Islamic University Malaysia

Jalan Gombak, 53100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

E-mail: spahico@yahoo.com

Posted on: May- 25- 2011