3.1 Islamic cultural norms and their effects on the urban fabric – a gender perspective

3.1 Islamic cultural norms and their effects on the urban fabric – a gender perspective

In a traditional society in the Islam world, the city, or what is referred as the “Medina” by the Islamic scholars to differentiate their cities with the western cities, is regulated by the sharia, the Islamic law, which is in turn formed by interpretations based on the Quran. 1

There are a multiple ambiguous phrases in the Quran that could be transformed into something about urban planning.  Some laws could be understood by common sense. For example, the equality of mankind before god, or how everyone should love their neighbors. These laws have forcefully created neighborhoods within the Islamic world, different from the increasing segregation between neighbors in the west.2 The main difference though is that instead of suggestions, these are laws that the citizens must follow.

Probably the strangest law within the sharia is the Islam world’s regulation towards woman. Since the Quran indicates the importance of a family, the woman should be kept away from strangers in order to prevent woman and strangers from interacting. These principals has resulted in the act that woman would have to wear hijab when they go out to prevent men from seeing them.3

These principles regarding the segregation of woman from the strangers not only regulates the physical distance between woman and men, but also the sight lines. These strict regulations resulted in a specific formation of houses and neighborhoods, and most notably, a varying degree of privates. For instance, the Islamic building codes would specifically require how the traditional houses would have to build screenings for the rooms for woman, which are located on the second floor, in order to prevent outside male from peeking into the houses. (1.1) Urbanistically, these protective measures have contributed to the high dense low rise fabric of the city, as a high rise building would easily provide views into stranger’s buildings, and the formation of different sizes of neighborhoods within a cluster. 4

These sexist regulations, which calls for spaces of multiple levels of privates, would result in a different type of public space in the Islamic world, one that is very much different from the western world. One of the examples would be the harah passageway, which intertwines in a neighborhood and is considered a private space for woman to roam without a hijab.

These arrangements born out of the Islamic traditions would imply extremely refined privacy levels from the absolute public to something of a street scale, alley scale, passageway scale, all the way to privacy levels within a house.5

Because of these differences, some scholars argue that the western city and the Medina are two different concepts, and therefore they call for different types of planning strategies. As a result, one should not adopt the western modernization or typologies in any sense if one wants to keep the authenticity of of the Medina. 6

However, some other scholars would argue the western cultural invasion is inevitable and the idea would be how to modernize without losing identity. 7

footnotes

  1. “The Islamic City and the Western City: A Comparative Analysis.” In The Middle East City: Ancient Traditions Confront a Modern World, edited by Abdulaziz Y. Saqqaf, by Cyrus Mechkat, 25. New York: Paragon House, 1987.
  2. “The Islamic City: Historical Myth, Islamic Essence, and Contemporary Relevance.” In Urban Development in the Muslim World, edited by Hooshang Amirahmadi, by Janet Abu-Lughod, 25-30. New Brunswick, N.J.: Center for Urban Policy Research, 1993.
  3. Ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. “The Islamic City and the Western City: A Comparitive Analysis.” In The Middle East City: Ancient Traditions Confront a Modern World, edited by Abdulaziz Y. Saqqaf, by Cyrus Mechkat, 47. New York: Paragon House, 1987.
  7. Ibid

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