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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Madinah has best Islamic urban planning

Saturday 13 July 2013

Last Update 13 July 2013 1:20 am
Millions of Muslims visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah every year, but very few know that Madinah Munawwarah, the City of Light, is not only the first settlement in Islam, but also a shining example of urban planning based on principles outlined in the Qur'an.

“The city of Madinah as built by the Prophet, peace be upon him, is a very good example of urban planning. The ultimate purpose of life, of worshipping God, provided guidance for the planning of Madinah (in the first year of the Hijra or 623 CE),” said Dr. Hisham Mortada, an architect and environmental expert.

Mortada said there are many principles found in the Prophet’s planning of Madinah that should be considered when building future Muslim dwellings.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, started by building a mosque in the center of his growing community. Then he distributed the quarters, properties and houses to the muhajireen, other immigrants, original tribes, the Ansar and other individuals. The urban characteristics of this settlement became the planning standard that was later followed in most traditional Islamic cities.

“We have to realize the beauty and relevance of Islam and also let it be known to non-Muslims what rich heritage we have based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah encompassing different levels from the individual to the Ummah,” said Mortada, who did his master’s degree in architecture at Penn State University in 1989, and went on to receive his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 1993.

He said Islam “is oriented towards community.” This leads to the concept of the Ummah, of which neighborliness is the backbone. The Islamic built environment takes into consideration all measures to strengthen good neighborliness, he said.

The proximity of houses makes it easier to keep in touch with each other, exchange visits, and help each other in time of need. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Nobody can be a true believer if his neighbors pass the night hungry while his (own) belly is full. He who is best to his neighbors will enjoy the neighborhood of God on the Day of Resurrection.”

Islam encourages strong family ties and the extended form of family so much so that a traditional Arab-Muslim house was never complete — as the family grew, so did the house. Yet, a degree of individuality was provided within the boundaries of social unity, equality and brotherhood.
The Islamic built environment encompasses various values including humility and wider social humanistic principles. Extravagant, vainglorious building is discouraged, so is building of tall structures because these hinder the flow of air and light toward smaller ones.
Islam encourages the use of natural and local materials. Traditional mud houses in Asir with wooden slates in the wall for structural purposes are an example of the use of indigenous material for sustainable living. So are those built from coral reefs, the main building material in Jeddah’s old quarter. Leaves and trunks from palm groves around the city were the major roofing materials in Riyadh.
“In origin and substance, Islam is an urban religion,” Mortada said. “The necessity of urban life in Islam is also indicated in the pillars of Islam such as prayer and fasting. The concentration on the performance of these pillars requires a fixed settlement or settled way of life,” he added.

Islamic ideals of town planning ask Muslim planners to gear their planning toward the achievement of this ultimate purpose by using Islamic ideals and commandments as their main guiding principles.
Mortada mentions these in his book “Traditional Islamic Principles of Built Environment” under various headings such as urban environment, methods, commercial, residential, educational and industrial.

“As the Qur’an and the Sunnah did more than 1,400 years ago, the contemporary movement of sustainable living asks for a balance in the consumption of resources so others can benefit from them in the future,” he said.

Many proponents of sustainability are showing interest in the traditional architecture of the hot, arid regions of the Middle East. “This has been exhibited in the growing research activities on vernacular architectural elements, such as courtyards and wind catchers, as well as in applying them, especially in areas such as Arizona, southern California and New Mexico, where a similar climate exists,” Mortada explained.

“Materials such as mud and straw bale are becoming popular among architects and residents in cities such as Santa Fe and Tucson. The purpose of using these techniques and materials is to reduce the reliance on energy and, in turn, oil,” he added.

In his book “Towards an Islamic Theory of Environment,” Ziauddin Sardar writes that within the traditional and intellectual heritage of Islam, reverence and respect for ecological principles is total.
The entire rationale of Islamic environmental ethics is based on the Qur’anic concept of khilafah. Man is the trustee who has the responsibility of looking after the vast panorama of God’s creation. Man can use the trust for his benefit but has no absolute right to anything. Man is accountable for the misuse of his trust and is liable to pay a price both in this world and the akhirah (Hereafter).

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