Part 7

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January 28, 2022

7. There are few cities and towns in Ifriqiyah and the Maghrib.

This is because these regions belonged to the Berbers for thousands of years before Islam, as a Bedouin civilization.

No sedentary culture existed among (the Berbers) long enough to reach any degree of perfection. The dynasties of European Christians and Arabs who ruled (the Berbers) did not rule long enough for their sedentary culture to take firm root (among them).

The customs and ways of Bedouin life to which they were always closer, continued among them. Therefore, they did not have many buildings. Furthermore, crafts were unfamiliar to the Berbers, because they were firmly rooted in desert life, and the crafts result from sedentary culture.

Now, buildings can materialize only with the help of (the crafts). One needs skill to learn them, and since the Berbers did not practice them, they had no interest in buildings, let alone towns.

Furthermore, (the Berbers) have (various) group feelings and (common) descent. No (Berber group) lacks these things. (Common) descent and group feeling are more attracted to desert (than to urban life). Only tranquility and quiet call for towns.

The inhabitants of (towns) come to be dependent on their militia. Therefore, desert people dislike settling in a town or staying there. Only luxury and wealth could cause them to settle in a town, and these things are rare among men.

Thus, the whole civilization of Ifriqiyah and the Maghrib, or the largest part of it, was a Bedouin one. People lived in tents, (camel) litters, sleeping tents, and mountain fastnesses.

On the other hand, the whole civilization of the non-Arab countries, or the largest part of it, was one of villages, cities, and districts. This applies to Spain, Syria, Egypt, the nonArab ‘Iraq, and similar countries. Only in the rarest cases do non-Arabs have a (common) descent which they guard carefully and of which they are proud when it is pure and close.

It is mostly people of (common) descent who settle in the desert, because close (common) descent constitutes closer and stronger (bonds than any other element).

Thus, the group feeling that goes with (common descent) likewise is (stronger). It draws those who have it to desert life and the avoidance of cities, which do away with bravery and make people dependent upon others. This should be understood and the proper conclusions be drawn from it.

8. The buildings in Islam are few considering Islam’s power compared to the dynasties preceding Islam

This is because the Arabs, too, are firmly rooted in the desert and unfamiliar with the crafts. Before Islam, the Arabs had been strangers to the realms of which they conquered. When they came to rule them, there was not time 94 enough for all the institutions of sedentary culture to develop fully.

Moreover, the buildings of others which they found in existence, were sufficient for them.

At the beginning, Islam forbade them to do any excessive building or to waste too much money on building activities for no purpose. When the reeds which the Muslims had used before, in building al-Kufah, caught fire, and the Muslims asked ‘Umar for permission to use stones, his advice was:

“Do, but no one should build more than three houses. 95 Do not vie with each other in building. Adhere to the Sunnah, and you will remain in power.”

He imposed this (condition) upon the delegation, and then he ordered the people not to build buildings higher than was proper. Asked what “proper” was, he replied= “What does not lead you to wastefulness and does not take you away from purposeful moderation.”

The influence of Islam and of scrupulousness in such matters then faded. Royal authority and luxury gained the upper hand. The Arabs subjected the Persian nation and took over their constructions and buildings. The tranquility and luxury they now enjoyed led them to (building activities). It was at that time that they erected buildings and (large) constructions. But that also was the period close to the destruction of the dynasty. There was only a little time left for extensive building activities and town and city planning.

This was not the case with other nations.

  • The Persians had had a period of thousands of years.
  • The same was the case with the Copts, the Nabataeans, and the Romans (Byzantines, Rum), as well as the first Arabs, ‘Ad and Thamud, the Amalekites, and the Tubba’s.

They lasted a long time. The crafts became firmly established among them. Thus, their buildings and monuments were more numerous and left a more lasting imprint (than the buildings of the Muslim Arabs).

Upon close scrutiny, this will be found to be as I have stated. God inherits the earth and whomever is upon it.9. Buildings erected by Arabs, with very few exceptions, quickly fall into ruins.

The reason for this is the Bedouin attitude and unfamiliarity with the crafts, as we have mentioned before. 96 Therefore, the buildings (of the Arabs) are not solidly built.

There may be another aspect, more pertinent to the problem. That is, as we have stated, 97 that the Arabs pay little attention in town planning to making the right choice with regard to the site (of the town), the quality of the air, the water, the fields, and the pastures (belonging to it).

Differences with respect to these things make the difference between good and bad cities as regards natural civilization. The Arabs have no interest in these things.

They only see to it that they have pastures for their camels. They do not care whether the water is good or bad, whether there is little or much of it.

They do not ask about the suitability of the fields, the vegetable plots, and the air, because they (are used to) moving about the country and importing their grain from remote places.

In the desert the winds blow from all directions, and the fact that the Arabs travel about guarantees them winds of good quality. Winds turn bad only when people settle and stay in one place and there are many superfluities there.

One may cite the Arabs’ planning of al-Kufah, al-Basrah, and al-Qayrawan. All they looked for when planning (those cities) was pasturage for their camels and nearness to the desert and the caravan routes. Thus, (those cities) do not possess a natural site.

They had no sources from which to feed their civilization (population) later on. Such a source must exist if civilization is to continue, as we have stated before. 98

The sites of (those cities) were not naturally suited for settlement. They were not situated in the midst of nations capable of repopulating them (once their original population started to disintegrate). At the first intimations of the disintegration of (Arab) power and of the disappearance of the group feeling that protected them, (those cities) fell prey to ruin and disintegration and were as if they had never been.

10. The beginnings of the ruin of cities

When cities are first founded, they have few dwellings and few building materials, such as stones and quicklime, or the things that serve as ornamental coverings for walls, such as tiles, marble, mosaic, jet, 100 shells (mother-of-pearl), and glass.

Thus, at that time, the buildings are built in Bedouin (style), and the materials used for them are perishable.

Then, the civilization of a city grows and its inhabitants increase in number. Now the materials used for (building) increase, because of the increase in (available) labor and the increased number of craftsmen. (This process goes on) until (the city) reaches the limit in that respect.

The civilization of the city then recedes, and its inhabitants decrease in number.

This entails a decrease in the crafts. As a result, good and solid building and the ornamentation of buildings are no longer practiced. Then, the (available) labor decreases, because of the lack of inhabitants.

Materials such as stones, marble, and other things, are now being imported scarcely at all, and (building materials) become unavailable.

The materials that are in the existing buildings are reused for building and refinishing. They are transferred from one construction to another, since most of the (large) constructions, castles, and mansions stand empty as the result of the scarcity of civilization (population) and the great decrease in (population) as compared with former times. (The same materials) continue to be used for one castle after another and for one house after another, until most of it is completely used up.

People then return to the Bedouin way of building. They use adobe instead of stone and omit all ornamentation. The architecture of the city reverts to that of villages and hamlets. The mark of the desert shows in it. (The city) then gradually decays and falls into complete ruin, if it is thus destined for it.