Tag Archive | architecture

Restoring Nature: The Craft of the Town Planner

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Photos courtesy of Agha Khan Award for Architecture


Restoring Nature: The Craft of the Town Planner

By Hwaa Irfan

Many of us without hesitation can take a look at our immediate environment and spot the environmental mistakes that have taken years to come to fruition. We might have even grown accustomed to living on the inside of our homes to protect our physical spaces thus creating a community of strangers; or the areas of land or disused buildings covered in graffiti, the broken sewerage, or used as a dumping tip. We might have even stopped visiting the outdoors as a place of exploration and relaxation. Not often do real architects get a chance to remold the chaos we live in, into one of harmony, and in the modern context what is harmonious to one, is inharmonious to another – that is when nature is kept at bay from the solution, which is sustainable and appeases all! Prosaically put, Mohsen Mostafavi refers to the disaster of modern development as follows:

“Over time, we have drifted away from nature and become disconnected from our roots as farmers and herders. This standard of civilization is built on heavily engineered gray infrastructure: complicated transportation systems designed for vehicles to deliver goods and services; huge pipe networks laid underground to drain excess storm water; rivers reinforced with concrete walls to control floods; Large sewage plants built to treat waste water; power lines to convey the energy necessary to run all of the machines and devices. Built upon this gray infrastructure are showy buildings with deformed heads and twisted bodies that deviate from what natural forces would allow.

“Such a model of urbanity, created by Western cities du ring the early stages of their development, has unfortunately been adopted today by developing countries in general and the Islamic world in particular. Here, landscape is largely limited to tamed gardens and parks, where lawns and flowers are irrigated with tap water and storm water is d rained by underground pipes. Here, landscape is just like other components of an artificial city a sink of energy and services, rather than a source. Landscape as a natural ecosystem, and a round cities is largely neglected, its natural processes disintegrated and contaminated and its natural patterns fragmented. The landscape completely loses its capacity to provide what would have been free goods and services for urban communities”.

In an area unknown to the outside world, so it was for the Wadi Hanifa/Al Irdh, a valley where rain once fell heavily in ancient times to form what was a wetland of 4,000 sq kilometers located in the middle of the Najd Plateau of Saudi Arabia annexing the city Riyadh. We know that the area must have been green at some time because firstly, Ar-Riyadh means “The gardens” in English, and because of the work of Harry St. John Bridger Philby (1885 – 1960). An  Administrator, writer and philologist, Philby referred to in his 1920s article Southern Najd published in the British Royal Geographical Journal “The Geographical.”

“I shall detain you a few moments at Riyadh. This is a great walled city of clay built without regard to symmetry in the midst of considerable amount of palm groves, with the sister settlements of Manfua and Mansana a short distance to the south east, forms a single oasis lying in a basin of the steppe desert.”

With temperatures that can rise to 102° Farenheit, desertification, and a local population growth of 150,000 in the 1960s to 5 million today, the valley’s function was as a large sewerage facility for water treatment to run oil refineries, irrigate public parks and green spaces, and a percentage given free to farmers who were able to produce higher yields in their crops. The treated sewerage water and the pumped off ground water were causing run-offs from the city had led to the formation of small lakes, and an increase in date palms. Stagnant waters known for being a source for illnesses and diseases were increasingly not that uncommon. Areas were suitable for the picnicking family desperate to get away from man-made structures, fishing and a growing population of migratory birds.

Keen to restore what was in line with the well-being of the citizens, Prince Salman bin ‘Abdulaziz, governor of the province concerned, Riyadh, and president of the Ar-Riyadh Development Authority, ARA, through ARA set about to re-establish an ecosystem by developing:

  • A system that allowed for three levels of running water along the valley by creating:

–        One canal that allows for the permanent  flow of running water to replenished from city groundwater networks

–        Bio-treated water stations

–        A process of flood-draining networks

  • Directing seasonal floods into Wadi Hanifa during the rainy season
  • The planting of reeds to purify treated and untreated water
  • Stopping and preventing industrial use that pollutes the environment, and for quarrying
  • Directing the floods from the climate cycles that take place every 50 years
  • Fencing Public lots and environmentally protected areas.
  • Establishing models for merchandising points.
  • Enhancement of agricultural lands
  • Establishing a main road and paved sub roads, and roads connected to merchandising points to retrieve the agricultural cover
  • Establishing a group of watch points, side-walks, and distributing the sites all over the valley.

The ARA drew up a long term development strategy back in 1994 with a focus on preservation, and the utilization of the whole valley. The first phase has been completed Moriyama and Teshima Planners and Buro Happold, and the result has been an oasis of :

  • An ecological corridor
  • 100 km watercourse with a daily discharge of 400, 000 – 600,000 meters of grounds water
  • Waterfalls, lakes and islands
  • Rich flora and fauna
  • 53.2 km of roads, six major parks, three lakes, and 43 km of recreational trails.
  • Reclamation of water via bioremediation of 400,000 cubic meters per day of wastewater cleaned and recycled for use
  • Plantation of 35,500 shade trees and 4,500 date palm trees
  • A reduction of flash floods
  • Removal of 1,000,000 cubic metres of dumping
  • A 10-fold increase in property values along the Wadi corridor.
  • Landscaping, conservation of the natural environment, and the development of recreation areas

The process of bioremediation allows for the purification of water to go through a natural process, thus reducing any health risk to the local population. Natural stoned were laid to encourage the growth of microorganisms vital to any ecosystem as well as to increase oxygen content to encourage healthy marine life, and to prevent/reduce harmful chloroform bacteria. Two of the inspectors (planners), Jens Bodeker, and Ulrich Riederer on behalf of the Agha Khan Award observed in their report:

“When going on the first excursions together with the president of the ADA, H.E. Dr. Mohamed Al-Sheikh in 1984 – 1985, we could already make out the beginnings of a vegetation and a large variety of birds.

“It was amazing that the water became crystal clear already a few kilometers south of Batha and the Manufah Channel. – The purifying effect of the root zones of phragmites (reeds) is immense…”

“The Wadi Hanifah Wetlands or Riyadh Lake District is a “man-made environment” created by Riyadh’s population of about 3.5 million people and demonstrated in a good way that masses of people can also have a positive influence on the environment.”

By creating this model alternative of urban life, the project won the 2010 Agha Khan Award for Architecture. The reasons given by the judges were:

“This project reverses the tide of rapid urban development, which has seen public space in many cities within the Muslim world fall victim to expropriation and other practices that deprive the population of its resources. This invariably happens at the cost of environmental values and sensitive ecosystems. The Wadi Hanifa Wetlands project eloquently demonstrates an alternative ecological way of urban development.

“It shows how a major natural phenomenon, which, through the course of urbanisation, became a litter-strewn and dangerous place – a scar on the face of the capital city – can be transformed by sensitive planning attentive to social values and imaginative infrastructure-driven landscape solutions.”

Using landscape as an ecological infrastructure, the project has restored and enhanced the area’s natural systems’ capacity to provide multiple services, including cleaning the contaminated water, mediating the natural forces of flood, providing habitats for biodiversity and creating opportunities for recreational, educational and aesthetic experiences”.

With the burgeoning demands of climate change, water shortage, and conflicts between modern lifestyles, and what the earth can sustain, all architects and landscapers of the above orientation should be given the means to re-create urban environments that would provide a sense of community, belonging, a softer environment that is conducive to general well-being, conducive to children, and not conducive to violent crime, and one that engenders a common sense of responsibility instead of conflicting self interests that undermines the interests of everyone.


Arab News. “Wadi Hanifa Project to Protect Wetlands.” http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article49159.ece

Bodeker, J. “Document B #2258.SAU: Architect’s Record” 2001 Award Cycle.”

“Five Projects Receive 2010 Aga Khan Award for Architecture; Oleg Grabar Receives Chairman’s Award.”


Mostafavi, M. “Landscape as Ecological Infrastructure for an Alternative Urbanity.” Lars Müller Publishers.

“Wadi Hanifa’s Amazing Transformation.” http://riyadhciti.com/2010/04/salman-to-open-revitalized-wadi-hanifa-on-monday/

Related Topics:

When the Waters Were Changed

All Things Are Linked!

Making Cities Women Friendly!

Al-Biruni’s “Economy of Nature” in Modern Biotechnology

End to Nature’s Greatest Migration on Earth

The Echo of Life

Nature Helps Our Brain Connect!

A Food Revolution!

Finding a Global Balance

Can’t See the British Woods Without the Trees

And He Shows Us His Signs!

And He Shows Us His Signs!

By Hwaa Irfan

Tony Blair is probably the only head of state who has been quietly held responsible for their spearheading of the illegal invasion and occupation on Iraq by their people.  As the U.K. carries the burden of that cost contributing to U.K.s current period of anti-austerity, Blair has been very busy. Since leaving Office, Blair has converted to Catholicism, was paid handsomely for his memoirs, is one of the world’s highest paid speakers, is a handsomely paid senior adviser to the Wall Street Bank JP Morgan (which made a $29,980 contribution to Hilary Clinton’s campaign in the last election), and Zurich Financial Services, governance adviser to the Kuwaiti government; and recently a senior adviser in Silicon Valley. His unpaid roles include peace representative for the Middle East, has a leading role in the African Governance Initiative, the Breaking the Climate Deadlock initiative, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Tony Blair Sports Foundation, and possibly spearheading the planning committee for Brazil’s 2016 Olympics.

Allah comes to who He pleases, and is in need of Him. Sometimes when we lead the kind of life that does not nourish the soul, the soul cries out, or yearns for what is not always understood by the conscious mind.  Whereas Blairs direction in life after leaving Office has taken him in one direction, for his sister-in-law that direction took her into the belly of the beast – Belly of the Beast? Well, in Western paranoid terms, Islam and Iran (along with a few other entities) is the Belly of the Beast. Journalist and broadcaster, Lauren Booth, made her own decisions when it came to a matter of faith, which came as a result of her trip to Iran. Referred to as Blair’s wife’s half sister, (you are either related or not) in the British mainstream press, now wears a hijab, prays five times a day, and visits her local mosque.   

{We directed Moses by inspiration, when his (thirsty) people asked him for water…} (Al-Araf 7: 160) 

It was probably inevitable that Iran would be the country that inspired her as Lauren has worked for the English language section of an Iranian news channel. Prior to her trip to Iran, Lauren observed the strength and warmth of the Palestinian people despite their situation, and was one of the activists on board the flotilla to Gaza from Cyprus in 2008. She was amazed by the Palestinian endurance, fasting in the holy month of Ramadhan in a heat of 100 degrees without effort. To Lauren this represented their ability to withstand deprivation unlike anywhere else. Lauren donated her fee for participating in the T.V reality show “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here to Interpal, a Palestinian relief charity!

Lauren’s conversion to Islam came as a result of inspiration through her visit to Iran, and part of that trip included a visit to the Fatima El- Ma’sumah shrine in the old religious city of Qum. Lauren told the Daily Mail on Sunday:

“It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine – just absolute bliss and joy”.

Six weeks after that visit, Lauren took the decision to become Muslim. 

“Now I don’t eat pork, and I read the Qur’an everyday – I’m on page 60! I also haven’t had a drink in 45 days, the longest period in 25 years,” Lauren told Daily Mail on Sunday.

“The strange thing is that since I decided to convert, I haven’t wanted to touch alcohol, and I was someone who craved a glass of wine or two at the end of a day!”

Lauren was impressed by the Iranian pride and willingness to suffer in solidarity with the Palestinians, comparing it with her brother-in-laws expression of solidarity with the U.S. without “… illegal chemical weapons and a million civilian deaths”.

The Shrine

Once destroyed by the Mongols, the Shrine is known for its miracles including curing the sick, the mosque was built by Shah Abbas I, the Fatima El-Ma’sumah Shrine is in the heart of distinguished religious learning, Qum.  The Shrine has always been a focal point to Qum, because Qum’s reputation is as a result of the presence of the Shrine.  The Shrine began life as a cemetery, which was then made open to the public for  the sister of 8th Shi’a Imam Reza/’Ali ibn Musa Ar-Ridha (contains the bodies of three other members).The Fatima El- Ma’sumah Shrine is one of many shrines for pilgrims in Iran, dedicated to members of the descendents of Prophet Muhammed (SAW). In the form of a mosque, it was built from 1221 – 1519 on two levels with mirrored tessellations of tiny-stuccato blue and green tiles, which has a glow in the night sky.  The balcony is gold in color, and is constructed of multi-colored glass.

Functioning as a mosque where congregational prayers takes place, it is still used by scholars who provide classes for advanced students.  The Shrine is covered in text in praise of the descendents of Prophet Muhammed (SAW). Inside the dome it is written:

“Be aware that whoever dies having love for the family of Muhammad dies a martyr.

“Be aware that whoever dies having love for the family of Muhammad dies forgiven.

“Be aware that whoever dies having love for the family of Muhammad dies with faith and perfection.

“Be aware that whoever dies having love for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, the angel of death and the two angels, Nakīr and Munkar will give him good tidings of Heaven.

“Be aware that whoever dies having love for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, will be raised to Heaven.

“Be aware that whoever dies having love for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, Allah will open two doors leading into Heaven in his grave.

“Be aware that whoever dies having love for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, Allah will make his grave a place of pilgrimage for the angels of Mercy.

“Be aware that whoever dies having enmity for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, on the Day of Judgement, in between his two eyes will be written, “He has no hope of receiving the mercy of Allah.”

“Be aware that whoever dies having enmity for the family of Muhammad, dies an unbeliever (Kāfir).

“Be aware that whoever dies having enmity for the family of Muhammad will not even smell the fragrance of Heaven.”

On the tomb there are various verses from the Qur’an, including the Verse of the Throne, Ayat-ul-Kursi (2: 255).

On the glass wall around the grave is written from the Qur’an:

  • Yāsīn,
  • Ar-Rahmān,
  • Al-Mulk,
  • Hal Atā
  • Al-Qadr  

Also some of the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammed is written from the Shi’a tradition : 

“Whoever guards his tongue from dishonouring the people, on the Day of Judgement, God will forgive his lapses.” 

“Whoever causes a separation between a mother and her child, God will cause a separation between him and Heaven.”

“A good question is half of learning.”

“God, Most High, helps His servant so long as the servant helps his brother.”


Tessellation in sacred geometry is a fundamental part of Islamic architecture as it is the repetition of a pattern, liken to the cell structure of the tissues that make up our organs – it is mirrored symmetry, which combined with the application of small mirrors, magnifies the affect. The affect psychologically is an altering of one’s sense of time and space, allowing one to access one’s subconscious if one is open to one’s inner voice. 

Sacred places conceived with sacred intention are forms of objective art, and like all objective art, the effect is the same for those who are not removed from their personal truth.


Daily Mail on Sunday Reporter. “Tony Blair’s Sister-in-Law Lauren Booth Converts to Islam After a ‘Holy Experience’ in Iran.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1323278/Tony-Blairs-sister-law-Lauren-Booth-converts-Islam-holy-experience-Iran.html 

Jaffer, M. “Lady Fatima Masuma (a) of Qom” http://www.al-islam.org/masumaqum/

McSmith, A. “Tony Blair Gets Another New Job in Silicon Valley.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/tony-blair-gets-another-new-job-ndash-in-silicon-valley-1982962.html   

Related Topics:

A Sacred Place

Between the Builder and the Architect: Frederick II, and the Castel Del Monte

The Ramadhan Reminder: Taking Time Out With God

Rabbi Albert Lewis: Burning of Holy Texts Dishonors All Faiths

Letter to the Self # 15: Beyond the Limited Self

A Depleted Spiritual Bank Account

Arguing God from Being?

Deep Thinking

Showing Solidarity with Iran

AHome or a House!

Home or a House!

By Dr Ahmed Adam

I like my house, but I love my home

A house is made up of bricks and stones
But a home is made up of flesh and bones

A house is built with layers of bricks
But a home is built with layers of people

A house is a piece of Real Estate in your street
But a home is a piece of Real Estate in your Heart

A house is cold and empty
But a home is warm and lively

A house is made beautiful by furniture
But a home is made beautiful by those that you love

A house is a place for shelter
But a home is a shelter for your heart

A house has got property value
But a home is something that you value

A house has a price
But a home is priceless

A house has a rug and a ceiling
But a home has a hug and a feeling

A house is held together by cement and plaster
But a home is held together by love and laughter

A house is a place that nourishes your body
But a home is a place that nourishes your soul

A house is merely a collection of rooms
But a home is a powerful collection of memories

A house is held up by roof beams
But a home is held up by lofty dreams

A house is where you can walk around without a shoe
But a home is where everyone understands you

A house is a place where the paint is peeling
But a home is a place that is full of feeling

A house is a place that you can lease
But a home is a place where you can find peace

A house is a place for entertaining and socialising
But a home is a place where you don’t have to say anything

A house may not look like a castle on the inside and outside
But a home is a place where everyone is treated royally

A house is a place where you go to sleep at night
But a home is a place where someone worries when you don’t come home

A house is often a one year project
But a home is usually a life-long project

A house can be replaced
But a home is irreplaceable

A house can be rented, bought and sold
But a home is more precious than diamonds and gold

The best places in the world can be exotic and thrilling
But there is no place that is as sweet as home.

Related Topics:
Discovering Your Emotional Intelligence
Happiness Doesn’t Grow on Trees!
The Brain Says Men and Women are Different When It Comes to Stress
Hassan Fathy: The Barefoot Architect
Love and Time
Forced to Build Sandbag Homes in Gaza

Muslim Cordoba Going for a Song 

Muslim Cordoba Going for a Song

By Hwaa Irfan

It is more out of an attraction for the out of the ordinary that I find myself bemused by the auctioneer’s skill to sell lumber. Even more curious, when Christies of London, (the auctioneer house) aimed to sell these five 10th century wooden beams from the Great Mosque of Cordoba (The Mezquita) in Spain.

As someone who struggles with the onslaught of materialism and technology, the question that immediately comes to mind is who would sell (let alone keep) a set of wooden beams that are 11 centuries old for US$1.75 million (UPI), let alone something from a religion that seems a little too inconvenient to some. Then to add to it all, the sale was stopped by the Spanish authorities and the lawyer of the Cathedral of Cordoba. What is so important about those wooden beams to attract such attention?

Jonathan Wheeler, a lawyer, told Agence France Presse that the beams held “great cultural and religious importance” for Spain. Curious and more curious, considering it was in 2004, when a request to the Vatican by Spanish Muslims to pray in the cathedral was not open to dialogue on the idea. Muslims are not a part of the equation here, at least not on the surface, so what is all the fuss?

The Invasion

The wooden beams must have been some kind of structural support for what stands as the only monument left of the Muslim medieval past in Cordoba. Today’s Islamophobes would have us look at our past as an invasion into Europe territory, ignoring that there were dark-age “crusades” previous to the dawn of Islam in Europe. But when the Umayyad Emir Abd Al-Rahman was fleeing from Abbasid rule in Baghdad in the 8th century CE, there was no Muslim invasion on Spanish soil.

Emir Abd Al-Rahman was the only surviving member of his family. Being half Syrian and half Berber-Andalusian, the prince fled to live in exile in his mother’s country. Like all men before and since, Muslim outlanders and frontiersmen sought their equivalent of the “Wild West” in Spain since 711 CE (the historical date given for the invasion of Muslims) in seclusion. If there was an invasion in our sense of the word, how come it took 800 years for Europe to muster up an army? And how come such beautiful art was created and not destroyed as we see in Iraq under the American banners of “liberation”?

The Mezquita

It was not until 756 CE when Abd al-Rahman moved to Cordoba. Against the wishes of Baghdad, ‘Abd-ar Rahman sought to reestablish the Umayyad legacy with the building of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in 785 CE and much more. The original great Mosque of Cordoba was built on the strong geometrical principles of the square-circle on top of the place where the pagan Roman temple of Janus and the Christian Visigoth church of St. Vincent once stood.

To build the original mosque, it was not only finances that had to be mobilized, but also technical skills and craftsmanship. Even the Roman Emperor Constantine was solicited for a cargo of colored glass cubes and a master mosaicist. Old Roman columns (previously razed by the Visigoths) were reused in the building of the mosque. Having been improved and expanded upon five times, the eventual 23,400 square meter prayer hall and 500 columns are reflective of the size of the mosque, its place in the western Islamic empire and the growing Muslim ‘Ummah.

The forest of columns allowed sunlight through the hall, which had since been filled in by the builders of the cathedral inside the Mosque. With four entrances, the Gate of the Viziers (Bab Al-Wuzara), now called the Stephen Gate, stands as a memory to the important officials who would arrive in response to the call for prayer through this gate. In the Patio de los Naranjos (courtyard of the orange trees), which has survived to this day, Muslims would carry out their ablutions before entering the mosque.

For 300 hundred years, the great mosque had Christian worshippers; it was consecrated by King Ferdinand III when he conquered Cordoba. It wasn’t until the 16th century when the bishop of the cathedral decided to demolish the mosque in order to build a church on top of it. Sixty-three pillars were removed from the center of the mosque to allow for the cathedral’s structure.

Whereas the original mosque was built within the lifetime of ‘Abd-ar Rahman II (833-52 CE), it took over three centuries to complete the cathedral. Workers often dropped down their tools, not because they weren’t being paid, but because of frequent disputes that took place regarding building works spurred by a local attachment to the beauty of the mosque.

It was not until Roman Emperor Charles V gave a clear mandate in 16th century, when work on the cathedral progressed by consecrating the mosque as a Christian place of worship. When the emperor finally visited Cordoba, it was documented that he said, “Had I known what was here, I would never have dared touch the old structure. You have destroyed something that was unique in the world and added something one can see anywhere.”

In 1931, Allama Muhammad Iqbal prayed in the Great Mosque of Cordoba. In I980, Muslims were able to get permission to pray `Eid Al-Adha in the mosque from a local priest. In 2004, the Islamic Council of Spain made a formal request to the Vatican to pray in the mosque, but this was denied according to Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The Legacy of Cordoba

The Great Mosque of Cordoba stands as a symbolic testament of Muslim Cordoba (or Qurtuba in Arabic) which once contained 250,000 buildings and 3,000 mosques, palaces, and baths. Cordoba was the birthplace of the Roman stoic Seneca, the Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and the Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides (Abu ‘Imran Musa ibn Maymun ibn ‘Ubayd Allah).

Andalusia gave birth to others like Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Gerbert of Aurillac (955–1003 CE), who later became Pope Sylvester II, was sent to Catalunya to study mathematics, he benefited from close contact with Cordoba’s fountain of knowledge that contained over 400,000 books. In Europe, books were mainly kept in private collections and the Church had forbidden any investigation that was deemed to go against the Bible.
Cordoba’s fame for its knowledge of the sciences, arts, and commerce led to communication and dialogue between the Catholic Church and Muslim Cordoba. All the works of Aristotle, Archimedes, Apollonius, Euclid, Hippocrates, and Galen survived through Arabic translation into Latin to become valuable tools that led to the reanimation of civilization in Europe through the Renaissance. Through the medium of the Arabic language, Europe was reintroduced to part of its heritage.

Cordoba’s prosperity between the 9th and 10th centuries was nurtured by the introduction of irrigation systems designs brought from Damascus which assigned water to each cultivator in proportion to land size and Yemeni irrigation techniques were employed in the distribution of water over a fixed time period. The sahib al-saqiya (the person who was responsible for irrigation) managed the distribution of water that led to a cultivation of cherries, apples, pears, almonds, pomegranates, figs, dates, sugarcane, bananas, cotton, flax, and much more. Providing what seemed like exotic fruits and finery to Europe, economic reform was aided and abetted by access to international trade.

Spanish poetry, albeit originally based on Arabic models, evolved into a new form, its rhythm and rhyme came under the influence of Romanesque poetry. Under the patronage of the caliphate, literature flourished with scholars from the east emigrating to Spain. Grammar and philology came from Iraq, Aristotle’s philosophy was introduced and the medical standard was set by Galen’s books.

It was under the dictatorship of Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Amir when Cordoba fell, splintering into smaller states, namely Seville, Badajoz, Toledo, Saragossa, Albarrac’n, Valencia, Almer’a, and Granada which all bickered among themselves. Their disputes left them weak, vulnerable, and ripe for attack by ensuing armies from the Christian north and the impending Crusades.

A Symbol of Prosperity, Diversity, and Tolerance

On Cordoba, Earl Bertrand Russell, a philosopher and a recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature (1872-1970) wrote the following:

    “Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews had no part in the culture of Christian countries, and were too severely persecuted to be able to make contributions to civilization, beyond supplying capital for the building of cathedrals and such enterprises. It was only among the Mohammedans, at that period, that Jews were treated humanely, and were able to pursue philosophy and enlightened speculation. The Mohammedans were more civilized and more humane than the Christians. Christians persecuted Jews, especially at times of religious excitement; the Crusades were associated with appalling pogroms. In Mohammedan countries, on the contrary, Jews at most times were not in any way ill-treated. Especially in Moorish Spain they contributed to learning; Maimonides, who was born in Cordoba, is recorded by some as the source of much of Spinoza’s philosophy”.

The Christian Visigoths who ruled Spain prior to Muslim’s took control of Andalusia, made the following dictates on Jews in their code (constitution) as follows:

• Jews shall not celebrate the Passover according to their Custom.

• Jews shall not contract marriage according to their custom.

• Jews shall not perform the rite of circumcision.

• Jews shall not divide their food into clean and unclean according to their custom.

• No Jew shall subject a Christian to torture.

• No Jew shall testify against a Christian.

• The descendants of Jews may testify.

• No Jew shall circumcise a Christian slave

• Under no circumstances shall Christian slaves attach themselves to Jews, or be admitted into their sect.
• All Christians are forbidden to defend or protect a Jew, by either force or favor.

And much more…

Spain and Palestine had become the centers of Judaic literature development during a period that Jews referred to as “The Golden Age.” Even the Jewish Virtual Library acknowledges that Cordoba
was “the seat of Jewish learning, scholarship, and culture, gradually eclipsing the Babylonian academies of Sura and Pumbeditha.” Albeit, they attribute these facts to a Cordoban Jew. Jews were not second-class citizens, nor were they maltreated, rather, they participated in all levels of Cordoban society.
Not everyone accepts the “either/or” paradigm of history. One such person is Maria Rosa Menocal, philologist, professor of Spanish and Portuguese, and director of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University. Echoing Betrand Russell, Menocal illustrated:

    “Throughout medieval Europe, Arabic had a far more powerful impact on the transformation and shaping of culture than most narratives of our history reveal.”

In response to someone’s desire to live in a place “where the religions of the children of Abraham all tolerate each other and where, in the peace of that tolerance, and in the shade and fragrance of orange trees,” Menocal stated that such a place did exist and pointed out the following facts:

• The first generation of Muslims were immigrant Berbers from North Africa. Within a few generations, the majority of the Muslims, in part or in whole, were ethnically no different from those who remained Christian, such as the Celto-Iberians, Romans, and Visigoths.

• The unconverted Christians and Jews, called the dhimmis, of al-Andalus, were not very ethnically different from their brothers and neighbors who did convert; and soon enough they were not very different in other crucial ways, since Christians and Jews took to Arab culture. A ninth-century churchman of Cordoba once complained that young Christian men could barely write decent letters in Latin, yet they were so in love with Arabic poetry that they could recite it better than the Muslims themselves.

• Ibn Khaldun, a descendant of an old Andalusian family, was offered the restoration of his ancestral lands by Peter the Venerable if he would stay on as his vizier.

• In 1360, Samuel Halevi Abulafia had built for himself and his community a synagogue in the extravagant new Nasrid style. Writings on the wall were in Hebrew and Arabic (with verses from the Qur’an).

• Arabic poetry was central to the lives of all educated men in Andalus. This meant that the educated Jewish community came to know it, write it, and covet it. For hundreds of years, Hebrew was used only for liturgy. Pious Muslims could recite the Qur’an in God’s own sacred language, but for the Muslims, God did not hoard His language or keep it locked up in His temples, and so those same Muslims could also do a thousand different things in Arabic.

• New Hebrew poetry was born not out of “translation” in any conventional way, but out of that intimate understanding, gleaned directly from the use of Arabic as a religious and a secular poetic language, and born not in the comfort of Jewish society of Umayyad caliphate but rather in the exile of theTaifas.

• Maimonides, a Jew and a “Greek,” wrote “The Guide for the Perplexed in Arabic’.

• The translation movement from Arabic to Latin led to the translations of so much of the imperial culture of adab (the vast genre in Arabic traditionally translated as “belles lettres” but perhaps better understood as “humanistic study”) into the Castilian language at the end of the 13th century CE.

• The Abbot of Cluny was responsible for the translation of al-Khawarizmi’s great work on algebra (al-jabr). He was a key player in the introduction of the number system that would revolutionize computation in the west and make all modern calculations possible, using what we call Arabic numerals in English.

• In the courts of Languedoc, the jewelry boxes of the women who could afford them were engraved in Arabic. The style was introduced to Europe a form of luxury. Thus the first great songs of the vernaculars of Europe, those songs which Nietzsche composed defined the very essence of our culture, were sung in courts also graced with exquisitely carved ivory boxes, perfectly executed and engraved astrolabes, and of course new musical instruments upon which love songs were sung. And they were all part of a very Arabic world.

It shouldn’t be ironic that a seminar entitled Peace and Human Rights in Europe and the Middle East should take place in Cordoba. In Ken Coates’ summary of the goals of the seminar he wrote:

    “All the known works of Aristotle had survived in the Arabic language, but not in Europe, so that Cordoba could be said to have provided a vital link not only between the monotheistic faiths, but also between the ancient world and the dawning of modern times.”

The Beginning or the End?

I may not have found out who kept the five wooden beams in their barn or why; what the importance of the five wooden beams that led Christies of London to believe that they could be sold for US$1.75 million; or why the Catholic Church of Cordoba deemed them to be of such importance that they should not be sold, but a least, here, the beams served to remind us that Islam was brought to mankind as a mercy and that we as Muslims have helped to shape this world. For those of us who want a more harmonious life, this cannot be done in seclusion, with intolerance, or by being passive or blind to the 360 degrees that is Islam.


Shrine of the lovers of art! Visible power of the Faith!
Sacred as Mecca you made, once, Andalusia’s soil.
If there is under these skies loveliness equal to yours,
Only in Muslim hearts, nowhere else can it be.
Ah, those proud cavaliers, champions Arabia sent forth
Pledged to the splendid Way, knights of the truth and the creed!
Through their empire a strange secret was understood:
Friends of mankind hold sway not to command but to serve.
Europe and Asia from them gathered instruction: the West
Lay in darkness, and their wisdom discovered the path.
Even to-day in its breeze fragrance of Yemen still floats,
Even to-day in its songs echoes live on of Hejaz.

(from Menocal. M. R. ” The Literature of Al-Andalus.”)

AFP. ” Controversial London Sale of Spanish Mosque Beams Withdrawn ‘

Coates, Ken. ” The Cordoba Seminar on Peace and Human Rights in Europe and the Middle East”

Gedal, Najib. ” The Great Mosque of Cordoba: A Geometrical Analysis.”

Guichard,P. ” Cordoba the Magnificent.”

Kubisch,N. ” The Great Mosque of Cordoba.”

Menocal. M. R. ” Culture in the Time of Tolerance.”

Menocal. M. R. ” The Culture of Translation.”

Menocal. M. R. ” The Literature of Al-Andalus.”

Phyun5. ” The Middle Ages.”

Scott, S.P. “The Visigoth Code”

Sills, Ben. ” Cathedral May See Return of Muslims .” Apr. 19, 2004.

United Press International (UPI). ” Rare Mosque Beams Pulled from Auction .” Apr. 4, 2006.

Wikipedia ” Cordoba, Spain ”

Wikipedia ” Mezquita”

Related Topics:
A Sacred Place
Hassan Fathy: The Barefoot Architect
A Home Amidst a Never-Ending Cycle of Disasters

A Home Amidst a Never-Ending Cycle of Disasters

A Home Amidst a Never-Ending Cycle of Disasters

By Hwaa Irfan

When this was written, the Afghanis had been hit by a series of man-made and natural disasters for a period of over 23 years. Thousands had been orphaned by the Soviet War, and many had been sent to the former Soviet Union for long-term indoctrination, 10 million landmines and millions of lives were claimed, there were 6 million refugees, over 1 million disabled, 80% of the villages had been destroyed, thousands of lives lost to the U.S. occupation, and mass graves that were tied to the U.S. backed National Alliance were being uncovered.

Today the Afghans are still suffering, most are displaced, starving, and without a home or live in tents. Only 5 months into 2010, there has been 48 natural disasters:

1. Ecuador: Tungurahua Volcano – May 2010

2. Central America: Tropical Storm Agatha – May 2010

3. Guatemala: Pacaya Volcano – May 2010

4. DR Congo: Landslide – May 2010

5. India: Cyclone Laila – May 2010

6. Central Europe: Floods – May 2010

7. Sri Lanka: Floods – May 2010

8. Azerbaijan: Floods – May 2010

9. China: Floods – May 2010

10. Gabon: Severe Local Storm – Apr 2010

11. Afghanistan: Earthquakes – Apr 2010

12. China: Earthquakes in Qinghai Province – Apr 2010

13. Colombia: Floods – Apr 2010

14. India/Bangladesh: Severe Local Storm – Apr 2010

15. Tajikistan: Floods – Apr 2010

16. Brazil: Floods and Landslides – Apr 2010

17. Mexico: Earthquakes – Apr 2010

18. Peru: Floods and Landslides – Apr 2010

19. Russian Federation: Floods – Mar 2010

20. Solomon Islands: Cyclone Ului – Mar 2010

21. DR Congo: Floods – Mar 2010

22. East Africa: Floods – Mar 2010

23. Fiji: Cyclone Tomas – Mar 2010

24. Kazakhstan: Floods – Mar 2010

25. Madagascar: Cyclone Hubert – Mar 2010

26. Southern Africa: Floods – Mar 2010

27. Serbia: Floods – Mar 2010

28. Haiti: Floods and Mudslides – Mar 2010

29. Chile: Earthquake – Feb 2010

30. Madeira: Floods and Mudslides – Feb 2010

31. Caribbean: Drought – Feb 2010

32. Pakistan: Avalanche – Feb 2010

33. Cook Islands: Tropical Cyclone Pat – Feb 2010

34. Ecuador: Floods – Feb 2010

35. Afghanistan: Floods and Avalanches – Feb 2010

36. Mexico: Floods and Landslides – Feb 2010

37. French Polynesia: Cyclone Oli – Feb 2010

38. Solomon Islands: Floods – Jan 2010

39. Egypt: Floods – Jan 2010

40. occupied Palestinian territory: Floods – Jan 2010

41. Haiti: Earthquakes – Jan 2010

42. Mongolia: Dzud – Jan 2010

43. Montenegro: Floods – Jan 2010

44. Bolivia: Floods – Jan 2010

45. India/Nepal/Bangladesh: Cold Wave – Jan 2010

46. Pakistan: Landslides and Floods – Jan 2010

47. Solomon Islands: Earthquake – Jan 2010

48. Tajikistan: Earthquake – Jan 2010

Of those 48 natural disasters, disasters in certain parts of Africa, e.g. Malawi, have not been included. These natural disasters show that they could hit anywhere in the world – Europe, and the U.S. are no longer the safe zone that it had become. Some of those disasters have hit population centers/capitals spot on, leaving surrounding country sides unaffected as in Haiti, and Chile, but how prepared are we? Some people have been at the mercy of man-made disasters like the Palestinians of Gaza, to build homes from mud, because they have been denied the building materials we have all become accustomed to.

Traditionally, mud brick homes are referred to as “earthen” or “ceramic” in modern architecture – adobe homes. These types of homes are most common in regions where extreme weather conditions are prevalent. Well designed and built, these homes can last hundreds of years in the midst of an earthquake. They are cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. In Afghanistan, the homes built within the 23 year period of disaster have not been built so well, and there is a preference for the contemporary concrete homes, which are not conducive to an environ that experiences extreme weather conditions, are more prone to floods, and earthquakes, deteriorating rapidly. Concrete homes are very cold in the winter, and very hot in the summer, and are subject to regular repairs as they cannot cope with the sudden contraction and expansion necessary, as well the great demand on energy consumption that concrete homes demand. Yet, it is concrete homes that some NGO’s build assuming that this standard of their offering is what is required without really consulting the people who will live in them.

With good intentions, the Habitat for Humanity International, HFHI, donated building materials and tools to help returning refugees as a part of their Afghanistan Response Initiative based in Mazar-I-Sharif for North and North East Afghanistan.

The “Village of Hope” is the brainchild of Afghani architect Mazum Azizi in response to his people’s request for help. The vision involves:

    “… numerous villages, each with a school, orphanage, health clinic, mosque, park, and a playground all within a walking distance of 500 – 2,500 dwellings, enough for 4,000m – 20,000 residents in each village” said Azizi

The homes are “earthen”, containing cement, adobe bricks, mortar, and plaster to enhance water and seismic resistance. Barbed wire or bamboo is utilized in the brick courses. On architects.com, there are details of the design and components with step-by-step instructions to encourage access, and self-building. In addition, Azizi has been raising donations and a long list of volunteer experts to help in the construction of these homes, but success seems to have been remiss.

Engineer and architect, Nader Khalili is a renowned earthen architect and teacher who innovated the Geltaftan Earth and Fire System known as “Ceramic House”. Khalili is also the innovator of the super block construction system. Educated in philosophy and architecture in Iran, Turkey and the U.S., Khalili’s is a licensed practitioner who has received many commendations including the 1987 “Housing for the Homeless: Research and Education” award, the U.N’s International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development award.

The Geltaftan System and his Velcro-Adobe were presented at the 1984 NASA Symposium “Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century. Khalili’s concern for a healthy living space free from toxic materials “… evolved from meditation, hands-on-work, and searching for a safe and affordable shelter for humanity…” he said. Through Khalili’s CalEarth Institute, his designs passed crucial seismic tests in 1995 in earthquake vulnerable Hesperia, U.S. The Hesperia Building and Safety Department approved Khalili’s earthen construction systems. Tests included application of stress asymmetrically to the dome using steel cables to apply thousands of pounds of pressure to the structure. John Regner, senior plans examiner for Hesperia Building and Safety Division said:

    The testing equipment failed and the building didn’t!”

The super Adobe uses local building materials i.e. soil filled sandbags and a barbed wire construction system. Using standard or long tubular sandbags creates instant rammed earth walls that are cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. These can be made on-site to form walls, the vaults of Islamic and traditional architecture reinforced with strands of barbed-wire.

It was a spin-off from Khalili’s design that was used in the NASA space-lunar program now referred to as Superadobe Technology adapted to enable pumped earth coils. Khalili even developed an exterior plastering technique called “Rep-Tile” which does not require plaster mesh. This knowledge in application provided training to the U.N. transferring this technology to the TOKTEN (The Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals) program in order to rebuild refugee homes in the Middle East. A prototype of three rectangular bedrooms arching with vaulting roofs exists in the U.N. for a stable family. So what has happened?

Approved for disaster sites after passing six years of building codes to build on the Afghan-Iranian border were aborted after the border was closed to refugees. On the walls of the U.N. written are the words of the 13th century Persian philosopher Sa’adi, which states:

“Humankind are on the limbs of the same body, since they are created from the same essence. When one limb is in pain, other limbs are restless. If you are indifferent to other’s human suffering, you may not be called human.”

With no traces of this technology to be seen in the promised rebuilding of Afghan homes aware of the obstacles Khalili commented:

    “Once we receive a formal declaration of the human right to housing, the education to make it happen, and the networking amongst those who want change, things will change”

Over the odds, Khalili insists any problems regarding royalties and bureaucracies can be avoided by setting up a satellite dish and transmitting a do-it-yourself dome-building seminar in India, Afghanistan or anywhere else.

It is surprising how the answers are always there, but no one wants to see! Continued ignorance and belligerence will only lead us all further down the path of destitution when we are unwilling to recognize the needs of others because wreaking havoc and misery is so much easier.

The original was written in 2002

Associated Press “UN Suspects Afghan Mass Graves Could Be Work of US Backed Northern Alliance.”

Azizi, M. “Help Afghanistan Rebuild” http://www.construction.com/new/viewpoint0510302.aspPages
CalEarth.org “Nader Khalili, Architect and Author” http://www.calearth.org/khalili.htm

CalEarth.org “Elements #9: Newsletter of Geltaftan Foundation” http://www.calearth.org/elenews9.thm

Kamber, M “ Afghanistan’s Environmental Casualties”.

Kriner, S. “Natural Disasters Add to Labyrinth of Hardships in Afghanistan.” http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwbnsf/c7ca0ea6c79faae852567af003c69ca/Id2ff62c34fde50f8525bad00573ed6?OpenDocument

Laber, J. “Afghanistan’s Other War.” http://www.nytimes.com/articles/492_0Pages

Sengupta, K. “Afghans Lured Back to Villages Wait in Vain for New Homes.” http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asiachina/story.jsp?dir=71&story=288635&host=3&printtable=1

Trivedi, B. “Dirt Domes” Breakthrough in Emergency Housing. National Geographic.com.

Related Topics:
A Sacred Place
Hassan Fathy: The Barefoot Architect

Hassan Fathy: The Barefoot Architect

Hassan Fathy: The Barefoot Architect

By Hwaa Irfan

With increasingly hot summers occurring around the world and concrete buildings not proving their strength in unstable conditions, I am reminded of a time when 50°C (122°F) was an experience far less threatening, with fewer straight lines, corners and squares defining the nature of the buildings we used to live and work in. With low buildings and open spaces, it was not the clock that defined the day, but the Adhan/call to prayer that beckoned as it travelled with the wind as if natured intended it too. Life was almost a prayer with each part of the day lending a sense of purpose towards the next.

The home was a part of that purpose. The rooms looked inwardly onto the courtyard, where women and men both had their own time and space, and not onto hot dusty streets. The air was cool, clean and serene. As traditions weakened to external pressures, the art of living has only remained in the homes of those who choose to hold onto traditional designs that allow for inner rest, heartfelt sharing, and a common bonding that is open to the community. An outsider might consider the occupants to be simple people if not in harmony with the type of communication which demands fewer words and more thought.

One would enter a home made out of local natural resources with dome shaped ceilings and no electrical air-conditioning, to find a sudden descent of peace and calm within a cool atmosphere allowing the body to breathe. The power of one’s voice would adjust to become compatible with a world away from the outside world. If we are fortunate we can find or build a home accordingly, but for those who cannot….!

Conscientious architecture of today struggle with the precepts of the past when a home was a place of physical, spiritual, and psychological nurturing based on what were essentially scientific principles. In this context a mason was more than a builder.

    “The quality and values inherent to the traditional and human response to the environment might be preserved without a loss of the advances of science. Science can be applied to various aspects of our work, while it is at the same time subordinated to philosophy, faith and spirituality,” said the great Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, who was born at the turn of the 20th century.

As a violinist, his musical sensibilities nurtured within him a fine sense of harmony that was to carry through into his architectural designs. Inspired by Pharaonic and traditional Nubian architecture, Fathy was engineer-architect, musician, dramatist, teacher, professor, and inventor. Hassan Fathy re-inspired the living art of adobe architecture, giving it a mission for the 20th and 21st centuries.

Employing energy-conservation techniques, six fundamental principles underlie Hassan Fathy’s work:

a.. Belief in the primacy of human values in architecture

b.. Importance of a universal rather than a limited approach

c.. Use of appropriate technology

d.. Need for socially oriented, cooperative construction techniques

e.. The essential role of tradition

f.. The re-establishment of national cultural pride through the act of building

Hassan Fathy developed his own ideas, inculcating traditional Arab styles like the malkhaf (wind catcher), the shukshaykha (lantern dome) and the mashrabeya (wooden lattice screens). He designed complete communities including utilities and services, country retreats, and special projects and homes. Hassan Fathy had already worked for decades in his beloved Egypt before he designed and built for the homeless community of Gourna, Upper Egypt, which attracted international acclaim.

The old Gourna village was situated near archeological Pharaonic sites on the western shore of Upper Egypt. The Department of Antiquities commissioned Hassan Fathy to meet the challenge of providing a home for a poor community of 7,000 people. His solution differed drastically, not requiring the machinations of the established building industry of concrete and steel. For New Gourna he utilized natural resources using mud-brick, a signature of adobe architecture, and features of Egyptian architecture such as enclosed courtyards and domed vaulted roofing. He worked with the local people to develop the new village, training them to make the materials to construct their own buildings with. In this way, he was able to provide an environment specific to the inhabitants’ needs and revive decorative techniques that were quickly disappearing with the expansion of the Global Village.

While many may suffer from the amplified ultraviolet rays that hit our concrete structures and rebound onto us in hot weather conditions, Hassan Fathy’s contribution reminds us of the need for the climatically conducive, cost-effective, cooling promises of certain traditions that would force modern city planning to think more wisely about future development, and is eaiser on the family budget.

His work took him to many countries, especially since the publication of the 1973 English edition of the book Architecture for the Poor. In Athens he joined international planners, looked at the concept of cities for the future in Africa, and focused on natural energy solutions in major community projects for Iraq and Pakistan. He participated in the United Nations Habitat conference in 1976, served on the steering committee for the Award for Architecture and founded the Institute for Appropriate Technology.

For this level of dedication, Hassan Fathy received the Right Livelihood Award for saving and adapting traditional knowledge for adaptation to the needs of the poor. Known as the “Alternative Noble Prize,” it was established in 1980, the same year that Hassan Fathy was given an award that “embodies the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions, and taking only a fair share of the earth’s resources”.

Ambitious goals to be applauded, the principles of Right Livelihood are ones that are intrinsic to Islam, principles that, with commitment, create a pathway towards instilling balance within the societies in which we live.

Hassan Fathy died in 1989, but his legacy lives on in his disciples with ideas of their own. Muhammed El-Sharkawy and fellow young architects spent 1969-1972 under Fathy’s tutorship, researching the region for the viability of the Luxor Cultural Center in Upper Egypt.

    “We spent five months studying the region, going from village to village to understand what would be appropriate for the locals and tourists in order to conceptualize and then draw up the project.”

Now his focus has been the extended family which, despite its importance in Egyptian society, has an aspect that is rarely considered in building design. The materials used in modern building obstruct the flow of air, making air-conditioning essential. Sharkawy does not use Nubian vaults and domes, which would be difficult to employ in highly , populated Cairo but he worked on a design in the less populated 6th October City on the outskirts of Cairo. There, he re-introduced the internal courtyard on the first two floors. The stairwell serves as a ventilation shaft with a malkhaf (wind catcher) at the top.

Soheir Fraid and Ramy El-Dehan met under the tutelage of Hassan Fathy. More faithful to the principles of Hassan Fathy, their partnership in business as well as marriage has attracted much admiration in the tourist industry. They began the construction of Quseir Movenpick resort in 1987 and completed it in 1994. Their aim is not to challenge, impose on, or obstruct the local topography, nor to upset the social fabric of the region. Built on a peninsula:

    “We did not dig or fill the site, but we began by making a topographical map and study of the site. Every room is at a different level, depending on the curvature of the land,” said Soheir Farid.

The domes and vaults add a sense of mystery to the place, providing a natural means of ventilation.

American architect Michael Graves was impressed by Farid and El-Dehan’s self-assured and beautifully accomplished application of Fathy’s techniques in the vaults and domes of the staff dormitories in El-Gourna, southeast of Cairo. He was so impressed that he managed to convince Egyptian construction magnate Samih Sariwis to forget about concrete and steel for the five-star Miramar Hotel. Commissioned by Sariwas for this purpose, Graves built the Miramar entirely of brick, covered with concrete and gypsum and accessorized with domes and vaults. Ramy El-Dehan felt that Fathy would have been pleased because he also built for the rich, in the knowledge that the poor like to emulate the rich, and in this manner the taste for vernacular architecture would find its way back to the source. How fortunate it is that there are those who choose not to live any other way other than this because they feel claustrophobic within concrete walls. In this way, we can be reminded.

In his book An Architect for the People, American architect James Steele wrote of Fathy:

    “…rather than believing that people could be behaviorally conditioned by architectural space, Fathy felt that human beings, nature, and architecture should reflect the personal habits and traditions of a community rather than reforming or eradicating them. While he was certainly not opposed to innovation, he felt that technology should be subservient to social values, and appropriate to popular needs”.

If we think about it long enough, we might find that it is not us controlling our own personal spaces at all, but we are accepting those spaces with all their demands. If we were to adapt them according to our psychological, spiritual, physical, and economic needs, we might begin to experience a little of what Hassan Fathy set out to achieve.

This was orginally written in 2004…


Associated Press. “Legacy of Egyptian Architect, Seen in Graves Hotel.” 08/24/00. http://www.cnn.com/2000/STYLE/design/08/24/egypt.graves.ap/

A.U.C. “Hassan Fathy – An Outline of his Life”. 2. 06/16/04. http://www.aucegypt.edu/hassanfathy/Outline/outline.html

Kmtspace.com. “African Art and Architecture: Hassan Fathy- The Silent Dialog Between Tradition and Modernity.” 3. http://www.kmtspace.com/fathy.htm

Grove.ufl.edu. “Village of New Gourna”. 2. http://grove.ufl.edu/~jrosier/gurna.html

Right Livelihood. “The Right Livelihood Award.” 06/16/04. http://www.rightlivelihood.se.

Saddiqui, Yasmeen. M. “Through a Master’s Pupils: Four Projects by Disciples of Hassan Fathy.” Medina.15 (2000) 38 – 46. Egypt.

Fathy, Hassan. “Architecture and Environment”. Arid Land Newsletter. 36(1994). 4. Arizona.edu. 02/06/02.http://ag.arizona.edu/OALS/ALN/aln36/Fathy.html

Integraton.com. “The Virtues of the Dome”. 1. 04/27/01. Sacred Geometry http://www.integraton.com/5SacredGeometry/SacredGeometry.html

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A Sacred Place

A Sacred Place

A Sacred Place

By Hwaa Irfan

Of those who have struggled to obtain greater insight into God’s law, they have been blessed with a greater responsibility, to teach and guide the rest of us. As we tend to believe what is visible, importance is placed on the physical. When we seek refuge we run to a physical place. Rather than make the environment in which we live in a place of worship and remembrance we separate worship as something that can only be done in the domain of a building that has been designed specifically for that purpose.

A fundamental aspect to the design of some sacred places is geodesy meaning earthlike or spheroidal. Abu Raihan Muhammed ibn Ahmad Al-Biruni (362 A.H/973 B.C.) as a naturalist, geographer, astronomer, and astrologer, geodesy was classified as natural philosophy involving matter + form, and time + space, whereas it was classified as a mathematical science under ibn Sina. In the reductive times in which we live, geodesy has fallen under the physical domain, as a branch of mathematics that focuses on the size and shape of the earth. Regardless, it still involved geometry which is rooted in the religious sciences as sacred geometry.
Islamic religious architectural design is based on sacred geometry. One can find geometry in the design of all life forms from the cells of our bodies, plant forms, water, and geological structures hence the expression “geometry is God manifest”. As much as we try to move away from God, His presence is wherever we are. Water molecules, carbon atoms, proteins, cells, bodily tissues etc, are able to facilitate their purpose in the cycle of life because of their geometrical design. The ability of organisms to stabilize mechanically is due to their connectedness to a frame of triangles, pentagons, and hexagons etc.

Rahul Singhvi and others believed that by changing the shape of cells, they could switch God’s genetic programming. They tried to force living cells to take on other geometrical shapes, but their knowledge achieved little. Instead the cells became flat away from their geodesic dome shapes and developed a propensity to divide and activate apoptosis – death program. This is man dabbling with the laws of His nature.

Following through, an analogy can be drawn with man who forces others to be the same – we are not all squares or rectangles. Man is splitting and dividing the world, against the laws of nature, triggering a death wish can be witnessed by the extent of the violence that is occurring today at all levels of society.

The problem for man’s ego is, that geodesic forms existed in inorganic forms long before DNA existed even water molecules are structurally geodesic for all matter is subject to the same spatial parameters regardless of scale or position. This confirms that The Plan was set from the very beginning of creation.

Everything as a purpose and a purpose for everything, even art once served a greater purpose as objective art. George Gurdjieff, a philosopher who traveled much in the Islamic and pre-Islamic world described objective art as follows:

    “Among works of art, especially ancient works of art, you meet with many things you cannot explain, and which contains a certain something you do not feel in modern works of art.

    “Objective art requires at least flashes of objective consciousness; in order to understand these flashes properly and to make proper use of them a great inner unity is necessary and a great control of one’s self”

Both geodesy and objective art reflect fundamentals of Islamic architecture. Mechanically domes are power enhancers. A whisper on one side of a sound-reflecting dome building is easily heard because the sound becomes focused towards the center of the spherical shape. This principle applies to all forms of energy under a dome: a concave lens, dish antennae’s and electromagnetic waves.

Arab and Muslim builders who adopted the dome from traditions prior to Islam, introduced other concepts, and applied this knowledge into Islamic architecture. They have made the non-physical physical, through centuries of experience, knowledge, craftsmanship and artistry using local materials. From these contributions the attempt at environmental harmony as a reflection of the divine concept of humanity was made.

An Example in Time

It is this transcendence of objective art that the Dome of the Rock – El-Qubbet El-Sakhrah speaks of. In ancient Semetic tradition, this site was the intersection of the underworld and upperworld (which brings to mind the Hermetic axiom “As above, so below”). It was where Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham built an alter to sacrifice his son Ishmael, it was where God through Prophet Nathaniel rejected David’s wish to build a temple because he had shed blood (Bible: Samuel II 7:12 -13), it was where the Hellenic and Greek god Apollo was worshipped in the belief that this is the intersection of both worlds. It was there that Prophet Muhammed (SAW) ascended to his “Night Journey” leading prophet Abraham/Ibrahim, Musa/Moses, Issa/Jesus, and others in prayer. Today, Muslims do not pray inside the Dome, for it is forbidden for anyone to pray inside what is seen as the gateway between two worlds. Even the “halakhah” in rabbinical text does not permit entry into this site. Mustafa Mould, a convert to Islam from Judaism recounted:

“Standing at the wall of Solomon’s Temple, the Dome of the Rock, and El-Aqsa gave me an intense feeling I could not describe at the time. I can describe it now: I was sensing a feeling of holiness; it’s no wonder the Islamic name is El-Quds.”

Yitzhak Hayat-Ma’n describes the design of the Dome as one that creates movement in physical space causing the pilgrim to move in comprehension. This sense of circumambulation is reflect in the sensation of spiraling upwards as in the Sufi dance, the centrifugal force and the double helix of DNA.

Brian Wingate who loves to visit sites of Islamic architecture pondered on the Dome and said:

    “The designs are so intricate and geometric that they seem to turn in endlessly upon themselves, inviting your own mind to do the same”.

This is the difference between objective art, and modern art, as modern art has a different effect on each onlooker, whereas with objective art the effect is the same on all onlookers calling on the unification of man.

This was first written in 2002.

‘Abu-Sway, M. “Towards an Islamic Jurisprudence of the Environment” http://www.muslimonline.com/bicnews.Articles/environment.htm 1998.

Fathy, H. “Architecture and the Environment”. Arid Land Newsletter. 36 (1994) Arizona.edu.

Hayat-Ma’n,Y. “Investigation of the Dome of the Rock” Academy of Jerusalem”

Ingber, D. “The Architecture of Life” http://www.sciam.com/1998/0198issue/0198ingber.html 1998.

Integraton.com. “The Virtues of the Dome”. http://www.integraton.com/5sacredGeometry/SacredGeometry.html 2001

Lapidus, I. “A History of Islamic Societies”. Britain: Cambridge University Press. 1995.

Mould, M. “Odyssey to Islam”. http://jews-for-allah/Jewish-Converts-to-islam/odyssey_to_islam.htm 2001.

Nasr, S. “Islamic Cosmological Doctrines” Britain: Thames & Hudson. 1978.

Ouspensky, P. “In Search of the Miraculous” Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1983.

Sacred Sites. “Dome of the Rock” http://www.sacredsites.com/1st30/domeof.html 2002

Sakkal, M. “(Computational) Geometry in Islam Architecture”. University of Washington. http://www.kalam.org/abst.htm 2002

Templemount Faithful. “The Riddle of the Dome of the Rock”. http:///www.templemountfaithful.org/Newsletters/2001/5761-12.htm 2001

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The Great Flood & Noah’s Ark
The Patterns of Our Lives