Islam perceives the house as a place of matchless delight. It is a ground for taking pleasure in the most and best gifts (al-tayyibat) that Allah has made permissible to man. The term "maskan", which also means the house, is derived from an Arabic verb "sakana" which means to calm down, to repose, to rest, to become quiet and tranquil, to feel at ease with. Hence, the words "sukun" and "sakinah" mean calmness, tranquility, peacefulness, serenity, peace of mind, etc.1
The house is called "maskan" or "maskin" because it offers its inhabitants a chance to take a break from the demands and pressure of the outside world and concentrate on physical, mental and even spiritual recuperation. The house in Islam is a retreat, sanctuary, and one's source of rest and leisure. Thus, those who live in such houses do not need to impatiently look forward to breaking away frequently from the strains of work and everyday life and go for splendid holidays.
The people residing in a house are the only authors of a house ambiance and, as such, of their own emotions and overall conditions. For these reasons is there a maxim in many cultures across the world to the effect that "my house is my paradise". Everyone also is fond of saying that "there's no place like home", that is to say, one's home is the best place to be.
In the presence of one's closest family members in it, and due to the ways its spaces are designed, planned and utilized, the house in Islam is a perfect avenue for its users to disengage from the fetters of the outside life. One's house provides the environment to focus on the family institution and its development. To its users, the house in Islam is a "fortified" private "paradise" on earth. It has been granted by Allah, the Creator and Master of all things, as one of the best and most valuable earthly gifts so that within its realm the foremost joys and pleasures of this life could be appreciated and enjoyed. As such, no one could ever claim a right to deny, manipulate, or misuse this divinely given entitlement to man. On this, Allah proclaims in the Qur'an: "It is Allah Who made your habitations (houses) homes of rest and quiet for you..." (al-Nahl, 80)
"Say: Who has prohibited the beautiful (gifts) of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants and the good provisions? Say: These are for the believers in the life of this world, purely (theirs) on the resurrection day; thus do We make the communications clear for a people who know." (al-A'raf 32)
Because the pleasures, which the house phenomenon entails, undoubtedly symbolize the total pleasures of this world, the Qur'an sees it appropriate to refer occasionally to the concept of the house, or pleasant dwellings (masakin tayyibah) in gardens beneath which rivers flow, when referring to the eternal bliss of the Hereafter in Paradise (Jannah). It is a well-known fact that the infinite pleasures of Paradise are beyond the cognitive abilities of man in this world. What is mentioned in the Qur'an about Paradise is just with the aim of bringing the state of the same as close to the limited human mind as possible.
The actual similarities in the pleasures of this world and the Hereafter are in terms of names only. Nothing else is the same. Thus, due to the significance of the house in the life of man while in this world, the Qur'an refers from time to time to the same concept when describing and bringing close to man's mind the infinite pleasures of Paradise. That means the idea of the house is bound to play a central role in man's blissful life in Paradise as much as it does in this world, with the difference that the heavenly houses will be perfect, will have perfect occupants, and will function perfectly in perfect conditions and surroundings. The pleasures and joys of perfect heavenly houses, it stands to reason, will serve as a microcosm of the complete pleasures and joys of Paradise, just as it is the case with the notion of the house in this earthly life. Allah says about this, for example: "O you who believe, shall I lead you to a merchandise which may deliver you from a painful chastisement? You shall believe in Allah and His Messenger, and struggle hard in Allah's way with your property and your lives; that is better for you, did you but know! He will forgive you your faults and cause you to enter into gardens, beneath which rivers flow, and goodly dwellings in gardens of perpetuity; that is the mighty achievement." (al-Saff, 10-12)
"Allah has promised to the believing men and the believing women gardens, beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them, and goodly dwellings in gardens of perpetual abode; and best of all is Allah's goodly pleasure; that is the grand achievement." (al-Tawbah, 72)
This point becomes further elucidated by referring to a prayer of Pharaoh's believing wife, where she implored Allah to build her a house in Paradise in nearness to Him, as a representation of the heavenly bliss to her. She beseeched: "My Lord, build for me a house with You in the garden and deliver me from Pharaoh and his doing, and deliver me from the unjust people." (al-Tahrim, 11)
In some of his traditions (hadith), Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also referred to the importance of the roles the phenomenon of the house will play in Paradise. In one of them, he implored Allah to grant one of his companions, following the latter's death, a better house in Paradise than what he had in this fleeting world.2 The Prophet's occasional words that "Allah will build, or make, a house for someone in Paradise", as a reward for certain deeds that a person might do, are the Prophet's unambiguous reference to the ultimate salvation and happiness that a person concerned will procure in the Hereafter.
Finally, as the houses in Paradise will accommodate, facilitate and symbolize much of its bliss meant for its residents, in Hellfire, likewise, there will be houses which will serve the similar purpose, but in relation to accommodating, facilitating and symbolizing the torment of the residents of Hellfire. The Prophet (pbuh) said about this, for instance, that everyone has two houses, or places of abode, (manzil) waiting for him in the Hereafter: one in Paradise and one in Hellfire. When a person dies and if he enters Hellfire, the residents of Paradise will inherit his house there (while his house in Hellfire he will occupy himself).3
Dr. Spahic Omer, a Bosnian currently residing in Malaysia, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design, International Islamic University Malaysia. He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and philosophy of the Islamic built environment. He can be reached at spahicoyahoo.com; his blog is at www.medinanet.org.
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