”The external environment that people create for themselves
is no more than an externalization of their inner state.” S H Nasr

Islam In The Modern World, S. H. Nasr

Modernized Muslims And Architecture

From Chapter: The Architectual Transformation Of The Urban Environment In The Islamic World*

In this chapter S H Nasr describes the changes in (the arts and especially in) the architecture of the urban environment that surrounds Muslims living in the modernized parts of the Islamic world. These changes run in parallel to those which have already been observed in the domain of ideas. How imported foreign styles in architecture have been threatening to replace traditional Islamic architecture. The author defines his task in this respect as ”to study the transformations that have taken place within the minds and souls of contemporary Muslims resulting in that inner chaos whose externalization is to be seen in the architectual creations and urban design of much of the contemporary Islamic world.[fn2] The external environment that people create for themselves is no more than an externalization of their inner state. As the saying goes, 'As within, so without.'”

To understand this process he then reviews the two major effects of Westernization upon Muslims.[fn3]

”Traditional Islamic sensibility saw the world in its transient aspect; it was aware of its negation, or , of the shahádah … which reduces everything to nothingness before the Immutable Majesty of Allah. Hence, architecture sought to avoid the glittery and the worldly even in public buildings made to endure longer than private domiciles; it aimed to preserve and substantiate the basic intuition about the ephemerality of the world that the spiritualized form of Semitic nomadism … accentuated and strengthened.”

”Traditional Muslims looked at the houses in the city with full awareness of their passing, transient quality with repect both to God Himself and to virgin nature, the handiwork of God. Moreover, they saw the city as the extension of the natural environment, in harmony rather than in discord with it.”

”Islamic architecture remained faithful to simple building materials and employed the elemental forces of nature such as light and wind for its sources of energy. It brought nature into the city by recreating the calmness, harmony, and peace of virgin nature within the courtyards of the mosque and the home.”

”Modernized Muslims[fn3], whose spiritual sense has become dulled by the forces of secularization, have forgotten the ephemeral quality of human life on earth and the peace and harmony pervading nature. Like modern Westerners, whom they emulate, they want to build homes as if they were going to live forever and construct cities whose very existence is based upon defiance of nature, the violation of her rhythms, and the depletion of her resources.”

”One need only look at the glittering palaces built in the middle of the Arabian desert or the skyscrapers of the Persian Gulf to find clear examples of this assertion. Modern people, including secularized Muslims, want to create an ambience in which God is forgotten. This means creating an urban environment in total disequilibrium with that natural environment, which is created by God and which, being itself a reminder of the Divine, gives the lie to the very notion of secularism and desacralization.”

”In addition to the transformations brought about on the levels of intelligence, imagination, and sensibility in modernized Muslims, there is also a general loss of the sense of unity and integration of life that directly affects architecture and city planning. As has already been stated, Islam is based on Unity (al-tawhíd ) and is the means toward the integration of human life, and in fact of all multiplicity, into Unity. Every authentic manifestation of the Islamic spirit reflects the doctrine of al-tawhíd . This doctrine is the principle of all the Islamic arts and sciences as well as of the Sharīʿah, which integrates all human action and prepares people to return to the One…”


*fn1: Islam In The Modern World, S. H. Nasr; from IMW p.235
fn2: The responsibility for those changes ”should not be directed to all contemporary Muslims, but only to the members of the small Westernised minority who possess economic and social influence far exceeding their numbers, a minority that represents an elite (khawáss ) in reverse.” The changes that have affected ”this small yet very influential Westernised minority … have nevertheless had an effect upon the intellectual, emotional, and artistic aspects of the life of the majority.” Islam In The Modern World, p. 229
fn3: See: The Effects Of Westernization Upon Muslims