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HOUSES. The dwellings that Muslims have constructed and occupied are as varied as the geographical and cultural landscapes in which they have lived. For building materials, until the last quarter of the twentieth century, they have relied on resources readily at hand. In many parts of Africa, Arabia, andAsia, the primary material used by sedentary peoples has been earth. In rocky regions, stone construction is widespread, as inYemen,Mecca,Lebanon, andPalestine. Cut stone was the main material, often in combination with baked brick, used in the palace architecture of traditional elites in the Mamluk, Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires. Wooden dwellings naturally have been most common in heavily forested regions such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, northernIran, the Hindu Kush,Indonesia, andMalaysia. The marsh Arabs of southernIraqhave traditionally used reeds, while coral has been employed inRed Seacoastal communities. Nomadic peoples have manufactured their tents from woven grasses, branches, and the hair and skins of their flocks.

The courtyard house has been the vernacular architectural form most widely regarded as “Islamic,” because of the facility with which it can be adapted to religiously sanctioned norms of privacy and gender segregation. It is also held to be well suited to arid climates and responsive to a traditional preference for patrilocal residence of extended families. Yet to posit this form as the archetypal Islamic house rests on faulty premises. It is true that various types of courtyard houses existed in the pre-Islamic settlements of Africa and the Near East; however, since the appearance of Islam, not only have non-Muslims continued to use this house form, but Muslims themselves have adopted other dwelling configurations. Among these are the tower houses ofYemen, the Hejaz, and the Maghrib, the qa’ah- and maq’ad-based residences ofCairo, and the suffah-style houses in the Ottoman heartland.

These configurations, like the courtyard houses, contain central spaces-halls and reception areas-connected to smaller adjoining chambers. Each has proven amenable to housing extended families and adaptable to local climatic conditions. Moreover, each allows for varying degrees of interaction between public and private life. There is little evidence for a clear separation between public and private space in these configurations, nor has it been common for the houses to be physically divided into male and female quarters. Providing a harem-separate apartments for women-has been practiced more by landholding and urban elites than by Islamic peoples as a whole.

Relations between Islam and houses may best be considered in terms of the ways in which they are encoded in normative religious discourse, as well as the ways Muslims appropriate Islamic symbols and rules to construe meaning and order within the spheres of domestic life. The Qur’an and sunnah contain domestic discourses, based on the Arabic house terms dar and bayt, that help symbolically to delineate the boundaries and relations between this world and the hereafter, God and humans, the prophet Muhammad and his community, and belief and disbelief (for example, Qur’an 13.20-24, 3.96-97, 16.80-83, 4.95-100, or 59.2-4). They express rules regarding domestic visitation, privacy, prayer, and hospitality (for example, Qur’an 24.27-29, 35-37, 61; 33-53), which became incorporated into the legal canon, or which were assimilated in conformity-or opposition-to local customary practices.

Many Muslims have regarded their homes, or sections of them, as sacred areas where life-cycle rituals are observed and prayers are performed. To enhance domestic blessing, repel evil forces, and please guests, they embellish sitting rooms with verses of the Qur’an, the names of God, and pictures of the Ka’bah or the prophet Muhammad’s mosque inMedina. Shi’i houses inLebanonandIransometimes display invocations to the imams, pictures of respected mullahs, and mementos from shrine visits. InEgyptit has been customary for house and apartment facades to be decorated with murals in celebration of the performance of the h, ajj, thus symbolically linking a pilgrim’s dwelling withMecca,Medina, and paradise.

In most Muslim lands traditional domestic architecture, as well as customary ways of conceiving, organizing, and behaving in domestic space, has been profoundly affected by the forces of modernization during this century. Costly reinforced concrete, glass, steel, and baked brick are replacing indigenous building materials, while European and American architectural configurations and technologies displace native ones. Concomitantly, the forced settlement of nomads, voluntary rural migration to industrializing regions, increasing refugee populations, high population growth rates, and inefficient resource allocation by national governments have created severe housing shortages in many countries. They have also been agents in the growth of squatter settlements on the outskirts of cities such asCasablanca,Cairo,Istanbul,Tehran,Karachi, andJakarta.

While government housing ministries and international relief agencies try to alleviate these problems, other private, national, and international organizations have arisen to promote the preservation of Islamic monuments and vernacular architectures or to conjoin the vernacular with the modern. In this context, precolonial Islamic juridical rulings concerning domestic privacy and gender segregation have been applied to the planning of several modern housing projects. At the same time, neglected areas of substandard “informal” housing have become centers of unrest and breeding grounds for radicalized Islamist groups, which recruit youthful members with promises of assistance in locating spouses and housing, and with visions of recovering the sanctified corporate solidarity of the past.

[See also Architecture.]


Campo, Juan Eduardo. The Other Sides ofParadise: Explorations into the Religious Meanings of Domestic Space in Islam.Columbia,S.C., 1991. Groundbreaking historical inquiry into the domestic symbolism of the Qur’an and hadith collections, and how Islam is appropriated by Egyptian Muslims at home today.

Hakim, Besim S. Arabic-Islamic Cities: Building and Planning Principles.New York, 1986. An architect’s inquiry into how Islamic principles are encoded in the design of Muslim dwellings and settlements, based on architectural field surveys in consultation with medieval legal texts. Limited to the North African region.

Hanna, Nelly. Habiter au Caire: La maison moyenne et ses habitants, aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles.Cairo, 1991. Brilliant study of the social, economic, and architectural history of urban middle-class housing in Arab Muslim lands on the eve of European colonization, based on Islamic court archives, architectural field surveys, and travel literature. Extensive bibliography.

Petherbridge, Guy T. “Vernacular Architecture: The House and Society.” In Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning, edited by George Michell, pp. 176-208.New York, 1978. Useful survey of different forms and functions of traditional houses in the Islamic world, although the premise that there is a distinctly “Islamic” house type is now widely disputed.

Safran, Linda, ed. Housing. Process and Physical Form.Philadelphia, 198o. Proceedings of the third Aga Khan Program conference on architectural transformations in the Islamic world (Jakarta, 1979). See also volumes in the Program’s series, “Designing in Islamic Cultures,” 1980-1984. These and other Program publications deal with the development of modern Islamic architectural design, as well as historical, sociological, and theoretical topics pertaining to the built environment in Muslim countries, from North Africa toAsia. Most publications contain valuable bibliographic information. Universite de Provence, Group de Recherches et d’Etudes stir le Procee-Orient. L’habitat traditionnel dans les pays musulmans autour de la Mediterranee. 3 vols.Cairo, 1988-1991. Valuable collection of articles by specialists on the precolonial domestic architecture of Muslim Mediterranean lands, supplemented by comparative studies of Arabian Peninsula and Ottoman Turkish housing. Includes detailed annotations, bibliographies, and glossaries.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/houses/

  • writerPosted On: June 23, 2013
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